This is the last “Get It Growing” gardening column for the 2019 growing season. Clallam County Master Gardeners hope you had a bountiful harvest that was shared with family and friends. We also hope that you learned from your mistakes and became a better gardener with a little help from us. See you in 2020!
When you’re done harvesting the bounty from your vegetable garden, the work is not over. It’s time to put the garden to bed. The following steps will help bring this year’s vegetable garden to a satisfying close and get it ready for a successful gardening season next year.
Step 1: Clean up
Harvest fall-planted kale, lettuce and Swiss chard, but consider leaving the plants in the ground since they can overwinter and take off when temperatures warm in early spring.
Although some gardeners leave root crops in the ground as a convenient means of cold storage, this can contribute to the establishment of pests such as the carrot rust fly. If you have had pest problems in the past, harvest carrots, beets and parsnips now and store in a cool indoor place.
Remove all other annual vegetables that are no longer producing; they are sources of insect pests and diseases for future plantings.
Do not remove perennial vegetables (such as rhubarb, asparagus or artichoke) or herbs (such as oregano and rosemary) unless weakened or diseased. Prune back sage, oregano and marjoram. Do not prune bay leaf or Rosemary at this time.
Throughout the garden, collect and discard fallen leaves, fruit and vegetables to discourage diseases and rodents. Compost only disease-free vegetation; discard any that is questionable.
Clean containers by removing remaining soil with a dry scrub brush and scouring the inside with a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part bleach. Once the pots have dried, stack them upside down with newspaper between them so that they don’t stick together.
Disconnect and store hoses. Before rolling them up, drain them and pull the entire length of the hose straight to remove any twists or kinks.
Step 2: Protect your garden from ravages of winter
In winter, mice and rabbits can damage or destroy fruit trees and blueberry bushes by eating the lower bark. If this has been a problem in your orchard or blueberry patch, use cylinders of mesh hardware cloth or plastic tree guards to protect your plants.
Mulch empty beds with leaves. The leaves will help protect your soil from erosion and compaction. They also will break down over time to provide nutrients and help suppress weeds.
Step 3: Prepare for next season
Organize cages, plastic plant ties and identification tags for reuse. Clean, repair and sharpen garden tools; coat wooden handles with linseed oil for weather-proofing.
Amend soil with organic matter. Work 1-2 inches of compost into the top 6-8 inches of soil.
Test your soil if you have not done so in three or more years. Clallam Conservation District does the test for a reasonable fee and provides written recommendations to improve the fertility of your soil. Because changes in pH take time, apply lime (if soil is too acidic for intended use) or sulfur (if soil is too alkaline) now as indicated by the soil test. Do not add chemical fertilizers at this time; apply them in the spring before planting.
Step 4: Take stock of this year’s successes
Review your garden performance and make notes for next year. Update records of what was planted where in your garden so that you can rotate crops next season (that is plant vegetables from a different family in a particular spot). Crop rotation helps minimize diseases and pests and makes the best use of soil fertility.
Step 5: Sit back and relax
Steps taken now will give you a jump on gardening when spring rolls around and allow you to relax once cold and wet weather arrives in earnest.
Jeanette Stehr-Green and Judy English are WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardeners.