Your fall garden checklist
By Katie Marks, Networx
Now that pumpkins are starting to adorn stoops and fun-size candy is filling store aisles, it's time for you to do a few things to put your garden to bed for the fall and winter -- while you may be producing some fall crops, other aspects of the garden need to be secured so they'll stay safe and cozy in cold weather. First frosts are rapidly descending across the country, along with signs of snow, so it's officially time to put away the patio furniture and spend a weekend in the garden battening down the hatches.
Condition your soil
You've been working your soil hard all summer to produce crops and flowers. Even if you're growing fall crops, it needs some attention. Use a cultivator to loosen it up and prevent compaction, and then work in compost, mulch if necessary to lighten it up, and fertilizer if necessary. This is also a good time to dig out between beds and make sure you have stepping stones, planks, or gravel down so you won't slip and slide in the mud this winter.
Divide bulbs and perennials
It's time! Once everything has finished blooming and started dying back, dig up and divide your perennials and bulbs to give them more room to grow. While you're at it, check the roots for any signs of disease and, you guessed it, grab the opportunity to weed and condition the soil. While you're at it, now is the time to plant bulbs.
Mow fall leaves
Raking is fun and all, but mowing is actually better. It shreds and mulches the leaves to condition the soil under the lawn, so if you can, mow and keep mowing until they're too thick. At the same time, add some potassium-rich fertilizer to the lawn to get it ready for winter, and if you haven't already, sow any overwintering grasses like rye.
Get your cool-weather annuals planted
Some flowers, like violas and mums, like the winter! Now is the time to transplant -- and to bring in your delicate potted plants. At the same time, you should also set up your frost protection for fragile plants that can't be moved. Add stakes so you can wrap them in frost cloth or other coverings, set up cold frames, and get ready with water jugs to station around your plants so you can stave off frost damage.
It's winter, so nothing can live, right? Well, actually, insects and other pests will keep right on going after fallen fruit, and you'll want to avoid an exterminator's visit, so make sure to clear your harvest well. At the same time, plan a crop rotation, because if the same plant is grown year after year in the same place, infection with a pathogen is more likely. Keeping a gardening log or journal is helpful for charting information about crop rotations, seeds, and other garden details.
Cut back and trim
Cut back your dead plants so they won't harbor pests, and so they can start growing anew. Now is also a good time to trim, clip, and organize other plants. Meanwhile, all these clippings will make a great layer in the compost, which can also include fall leaves at this time of year. (You can also make a separate leaf pile for composting.) If you have any plants with diseased foliage, do not put them in the compost! Bag them and dispose of them separately.
Garden shed cleanup and maintenance
The summer tends to be a period for gardening exuberance, which equates to a seriously messy shed. Take the time to organize, clean and sharpen tools, clean the shed, and make sure everything is tidy for spring. This is also a good time to take a census of any seeds and other supplies to determine what you're going to need in the coming months. Check on the shed to see if you need to call a handyman to make any repairs before it starts raining!
With your garden tucked away, you'll have a few months off except for basic maintenance while your plants get a break too -- and everyone will be happier come spring.