By Hayden Remick
First Frost Forecasting
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!
Year Round Pollinator Habitat
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.
Covering your Soil for the Winter
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.