As summer comes to an end, we look ahead to enjoying our fall garden. With a few tips in mind, a fall garden can be as abundant and picturesque as a summer one.
Here on Governors Island, mid-August to early September - with warmer days and cooler nights - are perfect for planting out a fall garden.
Let’s look at some common questions about fall gardening:
What vegetables can I grow?
Think back to early spring, a lot of those same crops will thrive in the fall. Radishes, peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and cabbage love the cooler fall weather. Some vegetables, like kale, collards, and parsnips actually get sweeter with a light frost!
Beets and carrots might also thrive, but be sure to calculate the ‘days to maturity’ on the seed packet to make sure they’ll have time to mature before the frost (November 15th is our first frost in NYC) OR make sure you are ready to keep them toasty in a cold frame or tucked under row cover.
It’s also time to start thinking about planting garlic and spring flower bulbs for next year! These will be planted in mid to late October in NYC.
Should I worry about cold weather or the threat of frost?
We mulch our perennial plants including fruit trees and herbs every fall in preparation for winter. We also mulch our garlic. We use straw, but any type of mulch will do – woodchips, shredded leaves, or even newspaper. The key to mulching a vegetable garden is to make sure the mulch is at least a few inches thick, this ensures the soil underneath stays a warmer than it would if it was exposed to the elements.
How can I prepare now for a more productive Spring?
Mulching is also great for suppressing weed growth and, if using a natural mulch, adding nutrients back to the soil as it decomposes. Cover crops are also a great idea to prevent erosion and start building your soil for spring. Try mixing a grass like rye or barley with a nitrogen-fixing legume like clover or vetch. If you still have vegetable crops in your garden beds but want to try a cover crop, simply sow the cover crop between rows. Make sure you plant early enough for them to establish themselves before the colder weather. We like to plant before the end of September.
It is also a great time to clean up any debris from summer crops and dispose of it properly to disrupt pest life cycles in your garden. If your plants are disease free you can put them in the compost pile, but if you saw signs of any diseases you should plan to either burn or trash the plant matter. All trellises and stakes should be cleaned with a diluted bleach solution, rinsed, and left in the sun to dry.
After your perennial fruits (raspberries, blackberries) finish fruiting, you can prune them back, generously water, and mulch with several inches of woodchips or straw.
If you didn’t have a written crop plan this season, there is still time to write down what grew where. This is important for a successful spring, do not rely on your memory over the winter!
Create a simple map of your garden listing what was planted where, so that you can practice simple crop rotation next year to minimize pest pressure and avoid depleting the soil of the same nutrients repeatedly.
Are you growing a fall garden, or eagerly preparing for next spring?