Fall Gardening Tips with Sandy Bender

Did you know that the best way to ensure a beautiful garden in the spring starts with fall preparation? That’s right; a little work now will go a long way towards producing gorgeous spring flowers and food. You can even plant a few more things now if you’re not ready to close up shop for the year. We’ve created a checklist, with help from Sandy Bender, South Franklin Circle Director of Dining Services, to help you prepare your plants and beds for the coming cold.

The first step for any gardener is to determine your USDA hardiness zone. This tool provides average temperatures and frosts, which allows you to choose what and when to plant. Cuyahoga County has three separate zones within itself, and Judson has residents in each one! South Franklin Circle sits in zone 5b, Judson Park is in zone 6a, and Judson Manor, just one mile away, resides in zone 6b. If you want to look specifically at any other portion of Ohio or the country, here is a great interactive map.

The first frost for all of these zones occurs sometime during the last ten days of October. Before that happens, you will want to get a few things out of the way.

  • Sandy advises removing all annual vegetables. Her tomatoes are still coming along and will have a few more harvests, but she will remove them in the next few weeks. Also, be sure to remove all plant matter, like stems and roots, because that is where disease and pests can linger and wreak havoc next spring.
  • Bring in any potted herbs. Sandy says her rosemary has never survived the harsh Ohio winter, so she will dig it up and bring it in this year. Other perennial herbs can be trimmed back and mulched to provide them with some warmth and protection.
  • Remove tender summer bulbs for overwinter storage. Annuals will not last the winter. Sandy is a fan of letting her dahlias die back a little before digging up their bulbs. Once you dig them up, gently brush excess dirt off of them. Do not rinse, wrap, or bag them as that may encourage rot—store bulbs in a cardboard box and place in a cool (never frozen!) and dry place. Basements and closets are good choices.

After the above tasks, you can move onto garden bed maintenance.

  • Remove and clean any plant supports like stakes and trellises. Washing them with a diluted bleach solution will ensure that pests don’t survive the winter.
  • Compost healthy spent plant material, and throw away damaged or diseased plant matter.
  • Protect your garden beds with a blanket of organic fertilizer like compost, composted manure, or other natural fertilizers. While chemical fertilizer bolsters blooming plants, the slow release of natural fertilizer will nourish the soil all winter long and make for better growth next year.

Finally, consider planting a few things for the winter or spring.

  • A cover crop is an excellent option for empty garden beds. Sandy prefers Winter Rye, a grass, for hers. Cover crops help crowd out weeds and add nutrients back into soils depleted from the summer and fall harvests. Come spring, you can easily mow down the plants into the ground. Sandy suggests a black gardener’s cloth if you don’t want to plant a cover crop. Otherwise, the weeds will happily make their home in your plot!
  • Sink spring bulbs. Sandy plants a few different types of garlic at the end of the month. She has found they grow better and emerge more robust in the spring if planted now.
  • If you want to add any trees or shrubs, fall is the best time. The dormant period during winter helps to limit transplant shock while supplying plenty of moisture.

So enjoy the last flowers and veggies and then get digging! Sandy just pulled her popcorn cobs and is about to harvest her Thai Bottle Gourds once they get a little bigger. Speaking of harvests, keep an eye out for a golden beet salad in the Bistro soon. Those are Sandy’s beautiful Badger Beets, and they are just about ready to make their trip from her garden to your plate.

To learn more about Sandy’s garden at South Franklin Circle, check out our recent blog post!

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