This is an exciting time of year for many gardeners; spring is in the air, the ephemeral plants like daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses are all starting to bloom. Trellis is ready to jump into another exciting season of growing with you, but first there are a couple steps to take. In order to prepare your garden (and you!) for the spring, here are some tips and tricks that will help as we begin the growing season.
Step 1: Spring Cleaning!
Trellis youth mulching
The first step is to do a bit of spring cleaning. Remove any weeds, plants, old crop debris etc. from your growing beds. Make sure that no pest critters have been overwintering in old crops, or dead plants.
If you have used a mulch in your garden, like leaves or compost, these can be left in place. If the layer of leaves is more than a couple inches thick still, take some of these off (reduce to ~1 inch of cover) and put them into the compost or anywhere that could use some extra. This layer will stay in place even through planting – more on that soon!
Spring cleaning isn’t restricted to our gardens or our storage spaces – it’s also a good opportunity to clear the clutter and debris that have accumulated in our minds, hearts, and spirits – our interior garden space. Let go of past failures or disappointments, pull the weeds of complaint and bitterness, make space for something new to grow in your life, and in you!
Step 2: Cultivation Leads to Growth
Food for All gardeners cultivating
If your soil has been uncovered all winter, it can become compacted, cracked and damaged. You may consider cultivating the top 1-2 inches of the soil to loosen the surface and allow for water infiltration. This also makes direct sowing and planting seedlings much easier. Damaged soils can also be improved by adding organic matter, like compost.
A healthy garden can grow more than fruits, vegetables, and flowers – it’s also a place where community can grow too. As we emerge from the winter and a period of social distancing, your garden can be a place for people to come together and grow in new ways. Cultivate community by extending invitations and making sure others know they are welcome and have something to offer, even if they aren’t avid gardeners!
Step 3: Make Sure the Water is Flowing
New gardeners & energy –bring your kids to work day at SAP America – Garden Olympics Compost Toss
Before the planting, make sure the water to your garden is turned on and accessible. If you have one of our recommended drip-tape irrigation systems, do your best to assemble the components and test it if you are able (we can help as needed when the time comes)
Water isn’t the only thing that flows into a garden – new people and new energy can flow there too. Make sure nothing is blocking that from happening, and work out any kinks you find.
Step 4: Get Organized!
Dornsife gardeners organized for action
Gather, sort and organize any other materials that you may have on hand- like row cover fabric, hoops, staples, stakes, twine, tools, fertilizers, etc. Getting an idea of what supplies you have will help you plan for the rest of the season.
As you also assemble fellow gardeners green or seasoned, with faces new or familiar, do the work of getting organized, getting on the same page, and getting excited to grow in new ways. If you need some help, ask us about the Trellis Community Building Playbook.
Make sure to keep your eyes on the forecasted frost for your specific location. This can range widely across the region, and even in smaller microclimates that may keep some locations warmer than others. If you see a forecast that shows temperatures down in the low 30’s, that’s a great sign that you need to harvest your last big batch of summer crops. Even a light frost can damage peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and other warmth loving plants. As the weather starts to average in the 50’s during the day, you can consider removing these plants from your garden entirely as productivity slows down dramatically.
Luckily, fall crops often thrive with a light frost. Plants can sense colder weather incoming, and they move sugar from their roots up into their leaves and main tap roots, like carrots, radishes or beets. As the sugar increases in specific parts of the plant, those sugars act as an insulating force and actually prevent damage from freezing temperatures. Not only does this keep your plants happy, but it makes them taste sweeter too!
If you’ve never tried eating a fall crop after a frost, you will have a chance soon!
Many people are taught to ‘clean up’ their gardens before winter. While this can be good practice for keeping your veggie gardens free of pests and diseases, the same rules do not apply to pollinator gardens and many types of flowers. In fall, some types of pollinating insects burrow into the stems of plants like echinacea, black eyed susans, goldenrod and joe pye weed and many more. Additionally, the seeds of these species are valued food for bird species that will consume them and spread them.
It’s important to leave these plants standing in your garden to make sure the pollinators are protected through the winter months. You can then clip these back to a height of 6-8 inches in spring, around mid-April.
Make sure you have some organic material on top of your garden beds to protect it over the course of the winter. Winter weather can bring lots of rain and snow, high winds and harsh temperatures. These can all contribute to erosion and degradation of your soil. Using leaves can be a great, cost-effective way to cover that soil, but make sure you hose them down after applying or they can blow away with blustery fall breezes. Compost and straw will also work wonders to keep your soil protected. In a pinch, you can also use landscape fabric, an old blanket or cloth will also work to cover the soil. Be careful using woodchips as they can take a long time to break down and can change the soil chemistry in the process.
The month of October is one of the most glorious times for a gardener. Our summer plants are still producing delicious food, while the fall crops are starting to come in. The weather is cooler and less humid, making it absolutely perfect to spend time outside.
We could go on and on about the joys of gardening in the fall, but this is also the perfect time of year to provide some care for your garden before putting it to rest for the winter.
Remove Plants with Pests or Diseases
Aphid infestation on kale leaves
As our summer plants come towards the end of their service they can start to look a little ragged. Plants have immune systems, just as we do, and changes in the weather can contribute to disease problems. When weather gets cooler, and rain becomes more frequent, the spread of bacterial and fungal infections speeds up. This can also lead to more pest insects on your plants, as they have an instinct for locating weakened plants.
Make sure that any plants that are showing signs of disease or pests are removed from your garden. For plants that are really sick or infested, we recommend you remove the plants completely from the garden, by bagging them up and disposing, rather than composting. Composting plants that are unhealthy can exacerbate things if you use that compost again in your garden. Garden sanitation is a great way to ensure that your garden stays healthy, year after year.
Collect those leaves!
Fall leaves can be used as mulch
As autumn takes hold of our regions, many trees display incredible beauty as they drop their leaves. These leaves are often collected and sent away to decompose somewhere else. These leaves can actually be an incredible resource if we keep them and repurpose them to encourage healthy soils in our gardens.
As you may know, keeping your soil covered is very important for keeping that soil alive and healthy. This can be done with living plants (the best method), compost, or other materials like landscape fabric, but leaves make the most cost effective and locally sourced mulch.
If you are lucky, some trees might shed their leaves in close proximity to your garden, and maybe even fall right onto your beds! If you are like most gardens, you may not get that lucky but you can rake the leaves up and use bags to transport them over to your garden.
Shredding the leaves can also help them break down quickly and feed the soil. Distribute a layer of leaves 2 inches thick on top of all garden beds, and spray them down thoroughly with a hose so that they don’t blow away.
If you have noticed an especially successful plant in your garden, it may be a good time to save some seeds. Selecting the healthiest and most robust plants with characteristics you like can be a great way to preserve those genetics year after year. This depends on the type of plant of course, as many hybrid plants will never grow “true to seed” as their parent plants leave the offspring with diverse genetic potentials. Many species of plants are heirlooms, seeds of this type generally grow out the exact same way as their parent plants.
It’s also possible that you are already breeding your own hybrid plants in your garden. If you have more than 1 variety of a plant, they might be cross pollinated by insects and create a new variety. This can be fun and exciting, and has led to many new and interesting varieties, but it may not yield the fruits you expect.
If you want to preserve a single type of crop, make sure that you isolate it far from any other plant in it’s potential breeding pool. This can be a fun experiment to do with kids, and it makes an exciting surprise during the next gardening season; you never know what you might grow!
Plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers should all be ripened past the point that you might harvest so that the seeds can fully develop. Other plants like beans, peas, and other flowering plants can be harvested when they have dried on the plant. In general, you should remove the seeds from the flesh of the plants, and rinse off any debris that remains on the seed. After this you can dry them out, and store them in a cool, dry, dark place.