Mother Nature makes it easy to end gardening season, prep for next year

It’s time to say goodbye again to most of the garden. Just after the boom of tomatoes hits, it’s pretty much over. When the first biting frosts leave their droopy, shriveled evidence in the crisp autumn morning, it’s probably time to move on.

At this point in the gardening season, I gauge my successes and failures to assess the overall outcome of the summer. I save seeds when I can, and write down where I planted everything so I can properly rotate crops next year, after the blanket of future snow melts and there’s a clean slate.

I make sure to note what varieties grew amazingly well and which ones aren’t worth the space again next year, before I get sucked into the addictive vortex of seed catalogs this winter.

I also decide if it’s worth it to fight Mother Nature. At first frost warning, we rush to cover everything with old sheets, with hopes of making the garden last a little longer. It always seems that after the first frost, the weather turns incredibly beautiful and I kick myself for forgetting to cover something up when it could have lasted for a whole week or two longer.

Some gardeners extend their season with cold frames — structures meant to shield tender greens from frost and retain heat to protect plants.

These can be as simple as a clear tarp draped over a frame, or as elaborate as one built out of glass panes and placed over a raised bed, kind of like a portable greenhouse. If you have the time and interest, there are tons of options on Pinterest, Mother Earth News and Gardener’s Supply Co. (

Some people cling to their produce desperately as the season ends, salvaging what they can manage before it turns too cold. My mother used to pick the green tomatoes that had just started to blush and wrapped them carefully in newspaper, hoping they would ripen. They did, in fact, and she had a few garden tomatoes through the first of December one year. But honestly, they didn’t taste quite right and the texture seemed a little mealy.

I forget to check for the ripe ones often enough and have ended up with rotten tomatoes. I’m not as devoted to my green tomatoes, and I pretty much cut my losses.

I’ve decided after years of resisting Mother Nature, I’m going to just accept this season is over and move on. There’s plenty to do in the garden this time of year. I’ll start by cleaning up the old and making way for the new.

As much as you might want to just walk away from the garden and the weeds now, you’ll be happy next spring if you put in the time now.

No matter what, I always clear out the old squash and zucchini vines and throw them in the trash. I don’t want any chance of squash bug eggs overwintering and getting a head start on their attack next year. I also clear out any leaf piles or debris anywhere in the vicinity of the squash plants, as the bugs may have sought refuge in those areas.

All the other dead plant material I either compost or till directly back into the garden, unless it was diseased (and by now, I would have disposed of diseased material in the trash). Under the soil surface, that organic matter will begin to decompose and enrich the soil for next year’s garden.

If you’re hankering for something to plant now, purchase some bulbs. It’s prime time to plant tulips, garlic, narcissus (daffodils), crocus and any other bulb-like plant. It’s the perfect reward for finishing your garden cleanup chores.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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