Your end-of-season care plays a big role in whether or not your edible garden will continue to perform well in the future. This guide to post-harvest garden care — including how to restock soil nutrients, when to mulch, which plants not to compost and more — will help set up your edible garden for success for years to come.
Strip plants of any remaining fruits and seeds and remove them from garden beds. You can add the plants to a compost pile, if you have one, or toss them in the green wastebin. (Fall is a great time to start composting.) Remove and discard any plants that show signs of disease. Plants covered in powdery mildew, which often shows up as dusty white spots on leaves, should be added to the garbage or yard-waste bin — not the compost pile.
After harvesting all remaining fruit or edible leaves, remove tired or dying summer herbs and vegetable plants from containers.
If the plants show no signs of disease, you can empty the containers’ soil onto the compost pile or onto garden beds. Spread out the soil with a rake and remove any root balls by hand.
Clean pots with a brush and a solution of vinegar and soapy water. Store them upside down in a sheltered area until next spring or fill them with fresh potting soil for new cool-season plants.
Soil amendments. If you have a supply of homemade compost, now’s the time to put it to use. Otherwise, you can pick up bagged compost at your local nursery. You can also find organic fertilizers designed to replenish nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for specific crops. Spread a thick layer of compost over the top layer of soil. Add other amendments as needed according to package instructions.
If your soil felt heavy when pulling out plants, it may also benefit from even more organic material, such as compost, straw or fully dried leaves.
After adding compost, soil amendments and any other organic material, turn over with a shovel, working everything into the soil.
If you live in a mild-winter region, you may choose to replant beds at this point with cool-season crops, such as peas, carrots and cabbages. In cold-winter areas, you may allow the beds to rest until spring planting.
A cover crop is not grown for harvesting. Its primary purpose is to replenish soil nutrients and organic material without the use of added fertilizers. Rye grass, oats, barley, clover and nitrogen-fixing legumes are commonly used as cover crops. Planting a cover crop will take a bed out of rotation for a season, but the soil will be healthier for the next round of planting.
Fava beans, shown here, are easy cover crops to try in a small garden. Plant a bed with favas, allow them to produce pods for harvest (if you want to eat them) and then cut or mow the plants on the bed, allowing the fallen cuttings to stay on the surface of the soil as a “green manure.” Till the organic matter into the soil two to three weeks before spring planting to give them time to decompose and help improve the soil.
Cut back thin or straggly vines, unwanted side shoots and larger vines on grapes, kiwis and other fruit vines.
For brambles, such as blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries, choose four to six of the healthiest, most vigorous canes to keep on each plant, cutting all others to the ground.
Thin strawberry beds by dividing plants and replanting them in rich, well-draining soil where there is room to spread out. As asparagus and artichokes start to naturally die back at the end of the season, cut back plants to about 6 inches above the ground.
All of the edible perennials mentioned — grapes, brambles, strawberries, asparagus and artichokes — benefit from sprinkled organic or synthetic fertilizer at the base of each plant and a layer of bark or straw mulch to protect them from cold winter temperatures.
Store trellises, tomato cages and other garden supplies in a garden shed or covered area over winter. Organize tools and give them an end-of-season cleanup.
Dip the metal parts of shovels, spades, hand trowels and pruning shears in a diluted bleach solution to prevent the spread of diseases, then wipe dry. Sharpen tool blades that need it. Condition both the metal and wooden parts of tools with a light coating of oil to prevent rust and to keep handles hydrated. Store tools in a garden shed, garage or covered area.
Don’t forget to take time to make notes for next year’s warm-season edible garden. Ask yourself what your favorite varieties or most successful plants were. Were there any plants that did not thrive? Could your next edible garden benefit from more pollinator-attracting plants? If so, plan on planting them around the edges. Jot down these garden notes now so you’ll have a plan for success next spring.