September To-do Lists Nudge Gardeners

Winter squash is ready for harvest now.  Photo:  Home & Garden Information Center

I know. I know. You’re tired after a long season of gardening. Especially with all that heat we had. But there are still a few things to tick off your fall to-do list.

Have you planted your garlic yet? Now’s the time. Nestle cloves into the soil through the end of October for harvest next July. Get tips here: Growing Garlic in a Home Garden.

Even if your vegetable garden is looking ragged, keep harvesting. My cucumbers finally gave up the ghost, but I’m still getting enough tomatoes and basil for Caprese salads.

I just harvested butternut squash, too. The rind was finally hard enough not to dent with my fingernail, so they were ready. I’ll cure them for a week in a warmer room, then store them in my cooler basement. Learn more: Growing Winter Squash in a Home Garden.

And yes, I’ve started to remove spent and scruffy vegetable plants, clearing the bed of fallen fruits, leaves, and stems. And no, it’s not just because I’m a neatnik.

Soilborne diseases are the most common cause of vegetable problems. Those plant bits can harbor fungal spores which can reinfect plants year after year. 

So I’m ruthless in removing plant debris. I compost healthy plant parts, but bag and trash anything that has had disease issues.

After cleanup, I add compost. It feeds the soil, adds organic matter, improves drainage, holds nutrients, attracts earthworms, and suppresses disease. What’s not to love?

Buy compost or make your own. Mix leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials into a pile. Stir it now and then, water it when it’s dry, and let it cook down into the best soil food ever. Learn: How to Make Compost at Home.

a gardener working on a compost bin
Master Gardener Gary Stallings turns compost in a teaching garden. Photo:  Shanon Wolf

This year I’ll top off my vegetable beds with an inch or two of compost to improve the soil and act as a winter mulch and weed blocker.  

Yes, weeds grow in winter. Winter annuals such as chickweed, henbit, and speedwell love bare soil, germinating in late summer and fall and returning vigorously in spring.

Don’t let them get a toehold. Cover bare soil with compost, mulch, or a cover crop.

Cover crops are all the rage, a classic farming technique that’s discovered new life in gardening circles. Sown from seed, they block weeds and slow erosion.

Best of all, cover crops feed and improve soil. Their deep roots mine nutrients and their leaves, stems and roots break down to add organic matter when they are turned into the soil in spring.

Many cover crops can be planted in the fall. Which is best for your garden? Find out here: Cover Crops for Gardens.

crimson clover
Crimson clover is an attractive cover crop that improves soil. Photo:  Home & Garden Information Center

After I tend to my vegetable beds, I dig and divide perennials. Most perennials should be divided every 3 years. Just lift a clump, cut it into sections, and transplant and water well.

Resist the urge to cut back your perennials in the fall. They provide crucial overwintering sites for pollinators and food for birds and other wildlife. Only cut back plants that had serious disease or insect issues.

Fall is a time to put a tidy bow on the gardening season, to lay to rest your beds after you squeeze out the last harvests. Feel the change in the air, breathe deeply, and enjoy the delicious ache of a job well done.

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension.

This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.


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