Summer may be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean New Jersey residents should throw in the towel on their gardens, whether it’s plants, flowers or vegetables.
There’s still a lot of gardening to do for a great fall garden.
Crops like radishes, kale and lettuce are cool-season crops that thrive when the nights get colder and there’s still plenty of daylight for them to grow, said Lauren Errickson, director of Rutgers Gardens and Campus Stewardship at Rutgers University.
For soil improvement, this is a great time of year to add finished compost, she said. So if gardeners have worked their own compost pile, they can add some to the soil, or they can find finished bagged compost at a local garden center.
What makes a great fall garden?
Mums are the most common flowers planted in the fall. Errickson said they come in all different colors like white, yellow, orange, red, and purple, and they come in all different sizes and shapes. Mums are always a lovely addition to a fall garden.
She said it was also a good time of year to start thinking about next season.
“So getting spring flower bulbs, like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths in the ground in October, works really well for spring color,” Errickson said.
Also, many people may not know that this is a great time of year to plant perennial flowers that would be potted at a local nursery right now, she added. They might actually have flowers on the plants that gardeners can enjoy this fall. But next year the plants will come back even stronger with even more blooms at this time of year.
Fall is also a wonderful time of year to plant garlic, Errickson said. In New Jersey, late October/early November is the perfect window to plant garlic.
Garlic bulbs are planted in the ground, covered with a little compost and a solid mulch. It’s also a great way to reuse fall decorations. If you had a bale of straw to put pumpkins with corn stalks and scarecrows on, the straw mulch can be used to cover the garlic, she added.
In the spring, garlic sprouts begin to emerge and the garlic is ready to harvest, usually late July/early August, she said.
However, it is too late to plant pumpkins. She said it was wise to plant these seeds in June, so they could harvest in the fall.
What to do with our summer flowers?
Errickson said it’s a great time of year to think about feeding the birds some of our summer flowers.
She leaves her sunflower stalks standing. She saw goldfinches enjoying the seeds almost every night.
If someone has perennials like coneflower, coneflower or other seed-producing coneflowers, the birds really like them, Errickson said.
Leave them standing for most of November. Rather than cutting them right away, cut them before the first snowfall to clear the garden then, she suggested.
If your summer herbs are already potted, Errickson said you can move them indoors to continue harvesting them, like basil.
Usually, for perennial herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary, the best thing to do (if planted in the ground or in a container with a good amount of soil) is to leave them outside. They can continue to be harvested outdoors for most of the fall, until the first frost or heavy snowfall.
These herbs will keep some green on the plants which can continue to be harvested, she said. Gardeners can even dry them out if they wish. Sage, rosemary, and lavender bunches hung in the dry air and away from direct sunlight should dry them out quickly, and then these dried herbs can be used throughout the winter.
What does letting the soil breathe mean?
Letting the soil breathe means aerating the soil. Errickson suggested aerating the soil in the spring rather than the fall.
“When I’m preparing to plant annual crops in April, May and early June, depending on what I’m planting, I would use a sturdy gardening pitchfork to dig into the ground, rock it a little and don’t even flip over completely, but just lift the soil a little to aerate it in the spring for planting,” Errickson said.
But at this time of year, to prepare the garden for fall, in addition to adding compost to flower beds, Errickson said to consider adding mulch to areas where summer plants have been. removed from the garden.
Covering what is now bare soil with mulch will help hold that soil in place when the wind picks up and heavy rains can erode the soil, she said.
A layer of mulch such as straw or wood chips will help keep this soil preserved for spring.
Early fall is a great time to keep planting, so have fun getting creative to bring out the best fall colors and vegetables!
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at [email protected]