By Hayden Remick
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
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!
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.
Save Some Seeds!
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.