For gardeners, late summer and early fall are all about the harvest: reaping the bounty you’ve sown and deciding what to do with all that produce. However, it’s also an excellent time to start planning for an even better garden next year!
Like many things, gardens tend to turn out better if they’re planned ahead of time. Maybe you got a late start on this year’s growing season, or this was your first year, and you’ve been navigating the learning curve.
Either way, now’s the time to set your sights on next year’s crop! The simple steps below will get your garden ready for success in 2021.
Stay on Top of Weeds
Even if you’ve already gathered your year’s harvest, don’t let the weeds take over. From now through the fall, be diligent about pulling up weeds that threaten to take over your plants.
If you have all your weeds pulled up by the roots when winter arrives, they won’t be able to come back so easily in the spring, which will make for an easier planting season.
Save Your Seeds
As you gather this year’s vegetables, save some seeds to plant next year. While you can always buy new seeds, it’s fun and satisfyingly DIY to save your own.
Peas, beans, peppers, and tomatoes are especially good candidates for seed-saving. Heirloom plants are also ideal, as they’ll grow with the same characteristics year after year.
Save seeds from the healthiest plants with the nicest fruits, and you can grow the best of the best next year. Check out these tips from the University of Minnesota on how to harvest and store vegetable seeds.
Plan to Plant Shrubs and Trees
Fall is actually a good time for planting shrubs and trees, which means you’ll want to start planning now. Check out your local garden center for an end-of-summer sale.
Scope out your yard to see what kind of tree or shrubs would work best. For example, you might want to plant a small tree near a garden bed that needs more shade.
While many shrubs are merely decorative, others, like blueberries, can also add to your harvest bounty. Here are a few ideas for shrubs to plant.
Try Planting Cover Crops
If you want to be lazy and ignore your garden all winter, but still have it improved by spring, cover crops are what you need! These plants boost the soil quality, and can even attract helpful insects, while you sit back and relax.
You’ll want to plant cover crops in the late summer or early fall after the harvest. Then, you’ll till the plants into the soil in the spring. They’ll keep your garden looking green and pretty during the winter, while protecting and improving your soil.
Check out this handy guide on various cover crops and the regions in which they thrive.
Clear Away Debris
From harvest through the start of winter, take some time to clear away any dead plants or plant debris in your garden. Dead plant matter can attract unwanted insects and even cause disease in your healthy plants.
If you have a compost pile, you can add this debris to it. However, if you have debris from diseased or insect-ravaged plants, keep it out of your compost to avoid contaminating the whole thing.
Test the Soil
This is a great time to gather a soil sample and send it to a testing facility. In many states, you can send your soil sample to a university extension for testing. You can also buy a kit where you send in a soil sample to a professional lab. You can even buy a home soil-testing kit if you prefer. Testing allows you to see what your soil’s pH is, and it’ll also reveal any nutrient deficiencies—though advanced results do require sending the soil away for analysis.
Armed with this information, you’ll know which plants will grow best in your garden next year, as some thrive at certain pH levels.
You can also use sulfur or lime in the fall to lower or raise the pH.
Make a Garden Map
Before you finish your harvest, make a map of your garden, so next year, you’ll know what was planted where. This will also help you plan next year’s garden.
It’s usually best not to plant the same crop in the same place year after year. Your map will help you rotate your plants strategically so your soil won’t be depleted.
Invite Birds to Stay
A healthy population of birds keeps unwanted insects in check. Some, like hummingbirds, even help pollinate your plants. Before fall arrives, you might want to set out some bird feeders for the species in your area.
It’s harder for them to find food as summer ends, so feeders are important if you want to entice birds to stay or come back next year.
Clean Your Equipment
The end of growing season is also a good time to take an inventory of your gardening equipment, clean things up, and replace anything that’s damaged.
Also check the expiration dates on products like insecticides and toss them if it’s past that date. Make sure you check the responsible disposal method for whatever you have, though—not all chemicals can go in the trash.
Clean your tools and organize everything before you store it, so you can easily find your gardening supplies next year.
Gardening might be a mostly spring and summer activity, but a little year-round planning can go a long way. With these tips, you’ll have an even more productive garden next year!