Venture: Putting the garden to bed

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Since June, my kitchen has been awash with bright colors and the fresh, earthy smell of homegrown vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes and spicy jalepenos have perched there, as have carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers.

Judging from the countertops, this has been a very good summer.

Already, though, the lush greenery that produced so many delicious salads, salsas and sauces has begun to fade with the pending arrival of colder months.

This time can wreak havoc on your manicured plot, but it doesn't have to. Most garden experts say that fall and winter aren't the end of the current growing season - just the start of the next one.

"A lot of people overlook that, put stuff away and just look at seed catalogs until spring," said Joe Lamp'l, a master gardener, syndicated columnist and host of GardenSMART on PBS. "The more you do in the fall, the earlier your start and the healthier your garden will be."

Here are some tips for starting next year off right.

Take notes

Because experience is the best teacher and each garden is unique, take detailed notes and pictures showing what worked and what didn't. Record how much space each plant took up, any area that got too shady and which staking techniques worked best.

Remove annuals

Decaying green matter is safe haven for pests and plant pathogens. Remove all annual plants and weeds, including the roots. Add the healthy stuff - nothing moldy, mildewed or diseased - to the compost bin.

Cut back perennials

Perennials survive frost with healthy roots, while bushiness above ground is a liability during winter. For flowers and leafy plants, cut off dead foliage a few inches above the crown, where the stems meet the roots. Most trees and shrubs should be pruned in late winter or spring, so they don't start new growth when it's cold.

Bring herbs inside

Herbs like thyme, mint, dill, chives, sage and basil can thrive inside. Put each in small pot that will drain but not leak all over your carpet. Find the sunniest place in the house - usually a window facing south - and don't over-water them.

Add nutrients

Add at least a half-inch of good organic compost to each bed and work it into the top six inches of earth by hand. (Tilling can damage the soil.) Early entrance allows the compost to release maximum nutrients before spring planting.

Shred your leaves

Often seen as a nuisance, fallen leaves can benefit to your garden. Gather them together, shred them with a lawnmower and spread a thin layer over your beds. You can add a bunch to your compost pile, too, but make sure you're balancing it with other additives.

Mulch the beds

Bare soil is at-risk soil. Remedy this with a layer of mulch. Triple-shredded hardwood mulch works well because it easily breaks down. Most types will do as long as the bag has a seal from the Mulch and Soil Council, which ensures that the source wood is free of chemicals.

Plant cover crops

Instead of adding mulch, you can plant what's known as "living mulch." Sow seeds of rye grass, clover or winter wheat, which all grow in the cold and prevent erosion from winter and water. Next spring, simply cut the stalks and turn the roots into the soil.

Store tools

Keep shovels, rakes, cages and other supplies in a cool, dry place. After sharpening metal tools, spray them with Pam to ward off rust. Rub down wooden handles with linseed oil.

Sources: Franklin Park Conservatory,, Joe Lamp'l,, University of Purdue Gardening News

For more garden tips and outdoor adventures, click to the Venture blog.