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Fall jobs: Putting the garden to bed

The reason gardeners live longer is they always have something to do, now and in the future.
With vegetable harvest complete, it's time to prepare the garden for next season. Photo Metro Creative Connection

Fall is a time for reflection and preparation for the next garden season.

One of the first jobs is fall planting. These are hardy bulbs that stay in the ground year after year, including crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, snowdrops, and tulips. Choose large, healthy bulbs. The larger the bulbs the better the flowers. Select a location that will receive a full spring sun, except for snowdrops that thrive in semi-shade. Spring bulbs like a soil that is slightly sandy, well drained so the bulbs do not rot, with lots of compost mixed in.

Plant the bulbs in mid-August to early September. Place the pointy end up at a depth three times the height of the bulb, about 6 inches apart. Water once. It is best to plant in clumps, 4 to 6 in each clump. Add about 2 inches of mulch to reduce the impact of the freezing and thawing.

Fall is also the time to plant garlic. The hard neck variety thrives in Zone 3. Garlic likes a well-drained soil. Do not over-water as wet soil will rot the bulb. Plant in mid-September. To start, break cloves from a garlic head and plant each clove about 8 inches apart with the pointy end up about 3 inches deep in loose soil. Cover the area with 2 inches of straw or mulch.

After you have harvested your produce, you can clear up the mess and prepare for next year.

Do a deep weed cleaning. Remove all weeds, digging them up by the roots. At the same time divide flowers that have overgrown their area. For example, when an iris has expanded beyond the space you allocated it.

Remove dead vegetation from your garden, placing it into your compost box or bin. However, don’t cut down flower growth; let it continue to store food for the next spring’s growth. Leave the seeds for the birds. Leave some of the fallen leaves and other vegetation in your perennial flower garden to be removed next spring; it protects a variety of cocoons, overwintering queen bumblebees, worms, and beetles, all of which may benefit your spring and summer garden. In the spring, leave the debris until the average daytime temperature reaches 10C.

Remove fallen fruit from around your fruit trees. This should be done immediately after the fruit falls. Fallen fruit provides a haven for larvae that become fruit flies that will infest your fruit next year.

Refresh your soil by placing as much compost as you can onto your raised beds and flower beds. One five-gallon pail of compost for each 80 ft2 of a garden bed is a recommended amount. Work it into the top few inches of the top soil. Don’t worry about it getting the compost down any further, beneficial insects will bring it down. If necessary, adjust your soil pH, especially for blueberries and potatoes.

Mulch your perennial flowers, strawberries, fruit bushes, and fruit trees. Mulching protects plants, bushes and trees from the damage of thawing and freezing cycles.

An easy way to make mulch from fall leaves is to mow a pile of leaves with your lawn mower, catching the shredded leaves in your mower bag. They are then easier to spread.

Shred tomato stalks and leaves with the lawn mower, catching them into the mower bag, and dig them into the soil where next year’s tomatoes will be planted. Tomato plants are somewhat cannibalistic.

Water your berry bushes, fruit, and other trees generously.

Repair your raised beds.

Fall is a good time to stock up on your spring needs. Stock up on potting soil, seed starting soil, organic fertilizers, tools, etc. Many stores will be selling these items on sale.

Remember crop rotation; record what and where you planted this year, and plan what and where you will plant next year.

The more you do in the fall, the easier it is to start up in the spring.

Charles Schroder gardens in the Edmonton area.

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