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Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Fall Gardening

From the crisp mornings and yellowing leaves to football games and the start of another school year, there’s no denying that fall is in the air. While fall induces thoughts of warm apple pie, tailgate parties, and hot cocoa, it’s also a very important time for gardeners who are ending another successful growing season. The same tender love and care that you have given your garden throughout the spring and summer months must be shown just as equally as the plants finish producing fruits and vegetables in the fall. Here are a few tips for making the transition as fruitful and efficient as possible.

1. Do: Know Your Plants

As your months (or years) of gardening have taught you, each plant, vegetable, and fruit has different qualities. Growth time and ripening rules are included in this truth. It is important to know when your produce is ripe and ready for the picking, and if you’re new harvesting, this can be tricky with some plants. Growing season guides can give you an indication of when your plants will be ready to harvest.

Don’t: Be Over-Eager

After a season filled with dedicated nurturing of your garden, harvesting time is exciting and purposeful. I find it hard to keep myself in check during this time, eager to gather my garden goodies, but it’s important to do so. If you pick your produce too soon (or too late), it will impact the quality of the food, or worse, ruin it altogether. Know the signs of a ripe fruit or vegetable, and patiently wait for it to that point before harvesting.

2. Do: Use Season Extensions

Products such as mulch or row covers are terrific resources for stretching the growing season to its maximum potential. Both of these tools will protect your plants from light frosts, and for some plants, it will keep them producing until the ground freezes.

Don’t: Ignore Damaged Plants

If your plants have been damaged from frost or bugs, it’s important to dispose of them immediately. While frost-damaged plants can be added to compost piles, bug or disease-damaged plants should be pulled from the ground, wrapped in plastic, and disposed of separately to avoid transferring the problem to other plants.

3. Do: Remember to Plant

All of your fall starters should be planted at this time. Remember to plant your rhubarb roots! In the rest of your yard, don’t forget those perennials.

Don’t: Forget to Insulate with Mulch

During the fall gardening process, mulch is your friend. Use generous amounts to insulate your fall starters. Mulch can be purchased or, even better, composted at home with organic materials.

4. Do: Pot Herbs

Your herbs can survive the winter comfortably from your home. When putting your garden to bed for the winter, pot your herb plants. Place these pots in a sunny, warm window.

Don’t: Bring the Pots in Immediately

While you don’t want your herb plants to experience a freeze, it’s more than okay to keep the potted plants outside until the first frost.  This gives them every possible opportunity for direct sunlight and fresh air prior to moving indoors for winter.

5. Do: Rebuild and Structure

Now is the perfect time to incorporate those architectural changes you want to make. I love to look at this as my first true effort at next year’s garden. Spend some time rebuilding beds or constructing box frames to prepare for the next season. Upturn soil to aerate and expose to the coming cold.

Don’t: Fertilize

All fertilizers should be administered in the springtime, prior to planting your next season’s crops.

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6. Do: Trim Growth

Trim away grass and other vegetation from your garden beds. This helps reduce the spread of weeds while giving your garden a tidy and “put together” appearance for the winter months.

Don’t: Dispose Trimmings

Do not dispose of any grass or vegetation clippings. As long as these plants are disease and bug-free, they can be used to create compost for the coming gardening season.

7. Do: Test Your Soil

This may sound like an intimidating feat to a novice gardener, but soil testing is simple and can be done with household items. The pH (acidity) level in your soil is vital to how efficiently your plants grow and produce fruits and veggies. Most plants thrive in a 6.5 pH soil, which is slightly acidic. Soil testing kits are available for purchase, or alternatively, you can use the good old baking soda and vinegar trick. Drop a few tablespoons of vinegar onto your soil. If it fizzles, your soil is alkaline. Conversely, if you drop a few tablespoons of baking soda onto your soil and it fizzles, your soil is acidic.

Don’t: Ignore the Results

Limestone is often used to “sweeten the soil,” or reduce the acidity of the dirt. Once you know the pH level of your soil as well as your soil type, you can calculate how much lime you will need to add to your garden to create an ideal leaving space for your plants.

8. Do: Use Plant Remnants

The plant remnants left behind after harvesting, along with fallen tree leaves and other organic material, are perfect for building your own compost pile. Creating your own compost saves you the cost of purchasing it, plus, it’s a fantastic and natural process that is healthy for your soil, plants, and yard!

Don’t: Play the Guessing Game

If you’re new to composting, it is essential to do your research prior to beginning. While this process is great for the environment and its very own form of natural recycling, it has potential to be dangerous or ineffective if done incorrectly. Be sure to create a compost pile in a safe and responsible way.

9. Do: Clean Up

Fall cleanup in your yard and garden not only looks great, but it’s also a fantastic start for the next season and one less thing you’ll have to do when the snow melts. Remove any remaining weeds or unwanted components, rake thoroughly, and allow yourself to bask in the satisfaction of a productive, fruitful season.

Don’t: Make It Perfect

I love things that can be left messy, and this instance, messy is better. Be sure to turn up all of your soil and leave it rumpled. This will aerate the ground and expose any disease or bugs to the cold air. Many of these nuisances can be eliminated from your yard and garden by using this simple step.

10. Do: Use Mulch

Use a thick layer of winter mulch throughout your entire garden, covering each bed in several inches. This will return much-needed nutrients into the ground and prepare the soil for the spring planting.

Don’t: Mulch Before Frost

Mulching before the ground is frozen can invite unwanted critters into your yard and garden. Rodents looking to nest for the winter will find your mulch layers warm and inviting.

Season’s End

After you’ve given your garden it’s fall pampering, your gardening season is complete. With your months of hard work paid in delicious and fresh fruit and veggies, you’ve earned a moment to bask in your success. Step back and appreciate your achievement. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and look forward to spring, with the promise of another great growing season just around the corner.

©2012 Off the Grid News

© Copyright Off The Grid News


  1. Limestone is used to raise alkalinity of the soil, not acidity.

    • The article says that limestone is used to REDUCE acidity, not raise it; which is the same thing as raising the alkalinity.

      • I read the article when it was first published and it said that limestone would raise the acidity. It has since been corrected.

  2. Taminator 013 is right!!! If you do want to acidify your soil use ‘flowers of sulpher’ (powdered sulpher) sparingly.
    I disagree with the idea of a cover mulch for overwintering. Instead, put the muclh aside for composting or spring mulching, and plow or till the garden in the fall. to allow the freeze-thaw cycles to break down the soil. That works well here in middle MO where the weather goes through many such cycles in the course of a season.
    Also, the dark (uncovered) soil will warm more quickly in the spring.
    Of course a portion of the garden can be set aside for fall plantings or left untouched if the plantings are already in.
    Happy gardening, all. 🙂

  3. Do you have any tips for deep south gardeners who set out plants for a fall garden in late August after already harvesting everything from the spring-summer garden?

  4. When is the best time to plant cover crops like vetch be planted to help amend clay soils. These would then be plowed into the ground in the spring. I haven’t tried this yet.

  5. Limestone is often used to raise acidity levels in alkaline soil?

  6. As a newbie to gardening I have nothing to say except thanks to all for the tips. I planted a full (small) garden and killed my squash when I tried to replant it to give it more room. Lesson learned. The only things that really grew were the mint, all my pepper plants my tomatoes were very poor in production. All the rest of my efforts did no t ever come up or they died very early on. I was going to buy a compote barrow but it sold out at the discount price and was too pricey when not on sale. Thanks again for all of your tips. Will try harder this coming spring. I did plant a few things for winter garden since here in Texas we have summer and not so much summer as our two main seasons.

  7. Off The Grid Editor

    You guys are right, and I apologize for the error! Our writer got tangled up in her pencil and the editing staff didn’t catch it. Thank you! I’ve corrected the article. 🙂

  8. After reading thru Marjory Wildcraft’s $7 short gardening course (more of an ad to buy her DVDs) I found some hints and a reference to “How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You …” by John Jeavons. Both sources reinforced that proper soil preparation is imperative and compost is of ultimate importance. I wish that I had known when establishing my plots that I need to dig up the first 12″ (which I did and mixed in plenty of compost) but also that you should break up/loosen the next 12″ of dirt (don’t mix the bottom and top layers). I did not know that so many vegetables had roots that would grow down 2′, 4′, 6′ and more!! With my fall/winter garden already in, I almost hope for a hard winter in SE Texas so I have reason to loosen that bottom foot of dirt.

  9. i have bought mulch from the big box stores; and found most of it comes with ‘bugs’……….found out most mulch is make from gardeners whom took out bad trees/etc and grind them up……..bugs don’t get killed……….
    my trees that were in need; got taken out by the bugs……even leaving a 6inch gap between tree and mulch……healthly trees mulch helped………….
    where can we get mulch at a workable price; without bugs?
    Now i try and put mulch in compose pile………..

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