Columns, In the Garden

Plan in Fall for a Spring Garden

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photo by Deborah J. Benoit
Planning a spring garden in the fall by completing tasks such as weeding, testing soil,  cleaning tools and taking a garden inventory will save time next year when it’s time to start the garden.

by Deborah J. Benoit, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont 

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – Every gardener has a fall to-do list to complete: pulling annuals, raking leaves and storing hoses and other garden tools. They aren’t the most exciting tasks, but planning for your spring garden now saves time next year.  

While you have your garden journal out to record this year’s observations, do a garden inventory.  Are there plants that aren’t doing well that you may want to replace or try in another location? Is there a spot that’s just right for a new garden bed or a place for plants on your garden wish list? The garden is full of possibilities. 

If you plan on adding new beds, fall is a good time to get started. Sheet mulching (also known as lasagna composting) will give you a head start on new garden beds in grassy or weedy areas.  

By laying down cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper and covering it with mulch, the weeds or grass will be smothered over time. While this works well in the spring, starting in the fall will put you that much further ahead in the gardening game.  

It seems that everywhere you look this time of year, there’s a tempting display of spring-blooming bulbs for sale. Planting spring bloomers now will give you much welcomed color in early spring before the rest of the garden awakens. If planted in clumps, bulbs will provide a welcomed pop of color, while scattering them throughout existing beds will provide a subtler display.  

Likewise, perennial flowers can be planted in fall to give them a head start to get established in advance of the next growing season. Check your local nurseries for sales on the perennials on your wish list. 

This is the time to remove the remains of annual weeds (including disposing of seed heads outside the garden). Pull up perennial weeds now when they aren’t actively growing. Any weed that has gone to seed should be disposed of in the trash rather than the compost pile, as should any diseased plant material.   

If you don’t already have a compost pile for yard waste, start one now. Even though the process will slow over the cold winter months, you’ll have a head start when spring rolls around.  

For more information on composting, visit the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener Garden Resources web page at go.uvm.edu/garden-resources and click on the “Composting” tab. 

Once you’ve cleared the weeds away, consider doing a soil test in the fall to beat the spring rush. The results can tell you the soil pH, available potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca) and sulfur (S), as well as recommendations for soil amendments and other information specific to your garden. For more information on soil testing, see go.uvm.edu/soiltest

If needed, by adding soil amendments and a layer of mulch in the fall, the garden will be ready with minimal additional work for planting in spring. 

If you’re interested in starting plants on your wish list from seed this year, check out available garden catalogs online, and add your name to the company’s mailing list. Catalogs will arrive in time to chase the winter blues away.  

Finally, instead of just storing garden tools and equipment at the end of the season, take some time to give everything a thorough cleaning. Oil and sharpen tools as needed and make note of any replacements to buy. If there’s a tool you don’t have, add that to your list and shop before you need it.  

Spring is a busy time in the garden. By planning and doing some prep work in the fall, your garden will be as ready to go as you are come spring. 

[Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.]

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