The leaves are changing color, and the weather is cooling off, which can only mean one thing: it’s time to start thinking about your fall garden! These seven tips will help you sustainably grow your own food to enjoy a delicious and nutritious harvest all season long.
Start with a soil test.
Healthy soil is the foundation of any good garden, so it’s critical to start on the right foot by getting your soil tested. This helps you determine what nutrients your soil needs and amend it accordingly. You can usually get your soil tested through your local Cooperative Extension office.
Soil pH levels indicate how acidic or alkaline a soil is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is considered acidic, while anything above 7 is alkaline. Soil pH levels can have a significant impact on plant growth.
Most plants prefer slightly acidic soils, with a pH between 6 and 6.5. However, some plants (such as blueberries and azaleas) prefer more acidic soils with a pH below 5.5.
On the other hand, very alkaline soils can be toxic to plants, causing reduced growth or even death. As a result, it is essential to test your soil regularly and adjust the pH level as needed to ensure optimal plant growth.
Use cover crops.
Cover crops are often used in agricultural settings, but they can also be valuable to a home garden. Also known as green mulch, cover crops are fast-growing plants planted between rows of slower-growing crops.
They help to improve soil health by preventing erosion, suppressing weeds, and adding nutrients to the soil. Cover crops are typically planted after the main crop has been harvested in the fall. This allows them to develop strong roots over the winter months and provides a protective cover for the soil when the weather is at its worst.
In the spring, the cover crop can be plowed under to provide a nutrient-rich mulch for the garden. As a result, cover crops can play an important role in improving the health of your garden.
Some common cover crops for the fall garden include rye, barley, buckwheat, and oats.
Mulch your beds.
Mulching helps conserve moisture in the soil and keeps weeds at bay. You can use shredded leaves, straw, hay, or even newspaper as mulch in your fall garden. Just make sure to leave a few inches of space around your plants’ base so they can still get air circulation.
Plant early-maturing varieties.
One way to extend your growing season is to plant early-maturing varieties of fruits and vegetables that can handle cooler temperatures. Some examples include broccoli, cabbage, kale, lettuce, radishes, and spinach. Check with your local nursery or Cooperative Extension office to see what varieties best suit your area in the fall.
Use row covers.
Row covers are pieces of fabric placed over rows of plants to protect them from frost damage and pests like insects and rodents. Be sure to use row covers that are light enough to allow sunlight and water to reach your plants but heavy enough to withstand strong winds and heavy rains.
Water deeply and less often.
Watering deeply encourages roots to grow deeper into the soil, where they can access more moisture and nutrients.
As the days grow shorter and the weather cooler, many gardeners wonder how to best care for their plants during the fall season. One of the most critical considerations is watering.
Though requirements vary depending on the type of plant, in general, fall is a time when plants need less water. This is because cooler temperatures cause the plant to transpire less water vapor from its leaves.
Additionally, rainfall typically increases during the fall, providing plants with natural hydration. However, there are still some instances in which supplemental watering may be necessary.
If the soil is particularly dry or the forecast calls for extended periods of dry weather, it may be necessary to give plants an occasional drink. When watering, apply the water slowly, so it has a chance to seep down to the roots.
Over-watering can actually be just as harmful as not watering at all, so exercise caution.
Keep an eye on pests.
Be proactive in dealing with pests by regularly checking your plants for signs of damage (e,.g., holes in leaves). If you find pests, try using traps or natural controls like ladybugs before using chemical pesticides. If you do use pesticides, ensure you follow all label instructions carefully.
By following these seven sustainable gardening tips, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a bountiful fall harvest!