Master Gardner: Fall is the time to start a new garden | Lifestyles


Fall is a great time to be in the garden.

There’s plenty to do, especially if you’ve been running late this summer. Catching up on some of that maintenance can give you a head start next spring.

Now is a good time to assess your gardens with the end of the season. This is also a suitable time to plan and start new beds so that you are ready to plant in the spring.

Setting up a brand new garden requires some planning.

First, call Dig Safely New York to make sure all underground utility lines are properly marked before you start digging. This service is free and must be completed at least two full working days, but no more than 10 working days, before starting your project.

Then determine if the site is suitable for what you want to develop.

Vegetables need full sun for at least six hours a day, eight to ten would be even better.

Well-drained soil is essential for growing vegetables. It is also essential for successful wintering of many perennials.

A raised bed can be a good alternative if drainage issues or heavy clay soils are an issue.

Mark the boundaries of the garden. You can use spray paint, string, or even a garden hose.

If the future bed is currently a lawn, try leaf composting or “lasagna gardening”.

First mow the grass flush. This is the only time you can scalp your lawn.

Control perennial weeds by hand or by spot treatment with a herbicide. Cover the floor with several layers of damp newspaper or pieces of cardboard.

Top it with several inches of compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings or rotten animal manure.

Future flower beds can be covered with mulch. By the spring the grass will have decomposed – It can take four to eight weeks for the grass to die if you decide to try this method in the spring.

When spring arrives, you can plant seeds, seedlings or plants directly into the organic matter. The less you disturb the soil, the less weed seeds will be brought to the soil surface where they will germinate and grow.

If you’ve never tested your soil’s pH before, fall is a good time to take a sample.

Soil pH tells us whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral.

Most plants prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. You can add lime to raise the pH if it is too low or if your pH is too alkaline, you can add elemental sulfur to lower it.

Adding amendments in the fall gives them time to work before spring planting.

Most local cooperative extension offices can perform soil pH testing. If you need information on nutrient levels, organic matter, etc., your local CCE office can help you find a lab that does soil testing.

Plants need food, water and oxygen to grow. While plants can produce their own food through photosynthesis, just about all they need comes from the soil they are planted in.

Whether you grow trees, perennials, bedding plants, vegetables or herbs, every growing season they draw nutrients from the soil. These nutrients must be replaced to ensure a healthy plant and next year’s harvest.

One way to do this is to add compost to the soil.

Adding composted organic matter to your soil can be done in the spring or fall.

Compost is a term for organic matter that has broken down into a form usable by plants. Compost has many benefits, including keeping organic material out of landfills.

Compost improves your soil and helps keep plants healthy.

Organic matter improves the water-holding capacity of the soil, which helps the roots to absorb water. Compost provides humus, a completely decomposed organic matter, which helps soils provide nutrients to plants.

It also improves soil structure by binding soil particles together.

Compost can improve water retention in sandy soils and improve drainage in clay soils. When adding compost to vegetable gardens, mix 1 to 2 inches of compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of topsoil.

Organic matter is the key to improving any type of soil. If you are creating a new garden, it is relatively easy to incorporate compost when preparing the area. I

If you have existing flower beds, you can always add organic matter.

During fall cleanup, cover flower beds by adding a few inches of compost around and between existing plants.

Do not bury the crowns of plants. If possible, dig it out a bit, but don’t damage existing roots.

When removing dead annuals or perennials, add compost to this area.

I like to add compost when I plant new plants in the garden. The compost will decompose over the winter and be available to plants in the spring.

If weeds have escaped you this summer, get them out of your garden before they drop their seeds.

When you start cleaning your vegetable garden, remember that bare soil is an invitation to more weeds. Cover it for the winter.

Use mulch, like layers of damp newspaper covered with shredded leaves, cut grass – no herbicides – straw, compost, or rotten animal manure. Or plant a cover crop like winter wheat, winter rye, and annual ryegrass.

Cover crops are planted about six weeks before the first expected frost date. Either of these practices will help control weeds and erosion while adding valuable organic matter to the soil.

The success of any garden begins with the soil. Adding organic matter every year is the best way to improve your soil and give it an annual tune-up.

A question about gardening? The volunteers of the master gardeners are normally in the office from 10 a.m. to noon, Monday to Friday.

You can stop by our Cornell Cooperative Extension office at 420 East Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or by e-mail

Thank you to everyone who came to our fall garden last Saturday. Special thanks to the following people and businesses who donated plants, books or items to auction: Batavia Home Depot, Darlene Almeter, Karen Grinnell, Jackie Shepard, Annette Zuber and several anonymous donors.

On the first Tuesday of the month, join the master gardeners of Genesee County for our lunchtime garden talks from noon to 12:45 pm On October 7, the program will be “Winter Bird Feeding 101”.

This free program will run on Zoom. Please register on our CCE website events page at to get your personal link. The programs are recorded and published on the YouTube page of CCE Genesee.


About Charles Holmes

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