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Fall Garden Care

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
September 17, 2014        
Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties

Fall Garden Care
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (9/10/14) — Check the calendar, fall officially is just around the corner. For gardeners fall can be a busy time.  Frankly no one really knows how many more warm, beautiful days we have left until a hard frost and snowflakes appear.  It is time to put your fall garden chore list together.

As you harvest the last of your vegetable crops, begin to clean up the plant material. Removing the plant material and litter from the garden is important to remove any disease, fungus, or other pests attempting to be stowaways until next year. If your plants were unhealthy, it is important to dispose of the plant material in refuse or burn. However if the plants were healthy, utilize that material and put on a compost pile which within a few years will be a valuable resource to put back into the garden. Another thing to note is how well the varieties of your plants performed. Keep track of this information in order to plan a successful garden in the future, avoiding the varieties you didn’t care for and replanting the varieties you did.  Another important piece of information you should note is location of the plants; crop rotation is important in a garden.

Another fall chore is to take care of amending the soil. This can also be done in the spring, but often time is limited in the spring, making fall a better option.  Amending the soil can be done in many different ways, but knowing what your soil is lacking is important.  Production of this year’s crops can be an indicator; however that is more of a guessing game than it needs to be.  Having a soil test done will give you a more accurate measurement of your current soil’s state.  Soil testing can be done through the University of Minnesota. Soil sample forms and instructions can be found at There are both lawn and garden sample sheets as well as agricultural. The basic yard and garden soil test is $17. Samples can be brought into your local Extension Office with additional shipping costs of approximately $3.  To collect a sample, simply remove any vegetation or litter and collect two to three cups of soil.  Depth of the sample varies depending on what type of site; for example existing grass samples should be taken in the top 0 to 3 inches, while new grass and gardens should be taken from 0 to 6 inches, finally trees and shrubs should be taken from 0 to 12 inches.  Multiple “cores” or samples can be taken from the same area and combined, and then placed into a sealed container.  Results will be mailed to the individual’s address in approximately two weeks.

Preparing your perennials for the cold winter is also a good fall chore to complete. If the perennials were healthy and the plant material provides an attractive winter interest, it is completely acceptable and encouraged to leave that plant material until spring. However if the plants were unhealthy or the material is unattractive, cut the material down to approximately three inches after a hard frost.   Hardiness of some perennials may be questionable so to help ensure their survival placing down a good layer of mulch will help insulate them.  Mulch can include leaves, pine needles, meadow hay, or straw and should be placed on as soon as the soil begins to freeze.  Be aware that you may be introducing some weed seeds from some of these sources, and will have to address those weeds next season. As much as six inches should be placed over the plants to help provide protection and insulation. However, be sure to remove that mulch in the spring before temperatures begin to warm up too high and either mold begins to form or it suppresses the perennial from growing. Frequently check for plant growth or mold to remove the mulch but keep some on hand to temporarily add protection for a late frost.

So put the beautiful fall days to use and start your fall garden chores.  From harvesting and cleaning up the vegetable garden to preparing your perennial garden for winter, there isn’t a lack of things to do.


Beth Berlin
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 255-6169
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