Fall is a wonderful time to look back at your summer garden and evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Reviewing your gardening success from season to season is one of the best ways to design your gardens for next year and beyond. We learn by doing, and you’ve just finished up an entire season of in-the-trenches, hands-on gardening experience.
So, whether your gardening experience this past year was good or great, bad or ugly … there’s always something you can learn from it. We gardeners have a slogan we abide by: There’s always next year.
Garden Successes … and Failures
Think about the things that went well in your garden. Which plants were successful? Which ones brought a smile to your face? Which plants did you absolutely dislike, and why?
Answering these questions will give you a good road map when planning next year’s garden. Grow what works, and most of all, grow what makes you happy. Here in the south where I live, almost everyone grows azaleas. Well, I don’t really like azaleas, and I can’t grow them all that well. I tried them for a few years purely out of a sense of obligation to tradition. But it was a bust. I finally gave myself permission NOT to grow azaleas. I dug up my failing azaleas and replaced them with Mexican petunias and butterfly bushes that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, which I love. I’ve never been happier.
For vegetable gardens, evaluate which plants produced well and what didn’t. What do you wish you had more of, and what was a complete waste of time? Why are you growing 10 varieties of squash if nobody eats it in your house?
I learned quickly this past year that I need to plant more okra plants, as it is a family favorite, and that my little strawberry patch was a complete disaster and waste of my time and efforts. Through trial and error, I also discovered that my little corn crop shaded my green bean plants too much, and I should redesign the layout for that area better. You can’t do better until you know what to do.
Troubleshooting Pests and Problems
Did you have particular pest problems in the garden? Powdery mildew? Squash bugs? Evaluate what gave you headaches and decide on a plan of action for next season. Doing this now will give you plenty of time to research natural and organic methods of dealing with pests and diseases in the future.
Problems like too much rain may be out of your control, but other problems may be easily fixable with the right solution.
What About Weeds?
Okay, time to tell the truth. Did you let the weeds get away from you this season? Weeds are one of the peskiest chores that must be tackled in the garden. There’s just no getting away from the chore of weeding.
Perhaps you can keep a closer eye on it next year, with a daily hand-pulling regimen. Doing some garden and bed maintenance this fall and winter to clear out the weeds once and for all may be your best bet. So don’t pack up the shovel and trowel just yet … performing some weed maintenance on these upcoming cool fall days could very well save you numerous headaches next year.
Pick One New Thing to Try
So you’ve evaluated what worked and what didn’t, and you’ve thought about problems and weeds. Now think about one or two new things you’d like to try in the garden next year.
We gardeners tend to overextend ourselves, and we try to do too much at once. Burnout can be a real problem if you get easily overwhelmed. I find that adding one or two new things, especially to my vegetable garden each year, is a good way to ease into learning new gardening skills without becoming overwhelmed. Choosing a new plant or two now will allow you plenty of time to research how to grow them and what you’ll need to do to be successful come spring.
Does your neighbor grow something that really catches your eye? Consider swapping some plant cuttings or seeds with another gardener. This is a great (and usually free) way to try new plants. Many garden clubs have swaps for this very purpose.
Seed catalogs usually begin to arrive in the mail sometime around late December to early January. They will give you plenty of new plants to consider for your garden. Start making a list and checking it twice. If you’re new to gardening, most seed catalogs can be requested online.
Gardeners tend to love nature a little more than the average Joe. Perhaps this winter is the time to build yourself a little patio or outdoor living area where you can literally “stop and smell the roses.” Maybe it’s a new fire pit, a birdbath or feeder, a hammock, or a water garden you’ve been wanting to build. Take the time now to plan and build so you can actually enjoy more outdoor living next spring and summer!
It’s also a wonderful time to plan and build that compost bin or rain barrels you’ve always wanted. Doing the work now means you’ll have them up and running by springtime.
Last but certainly not least, allow yourself some time to just rest and relax. Spring and summer will be here before you know it – at least the seed catalogs will! If you’re anything like me, while you are resting, you’ll likely be daydreaming of heirloom tomatoes.