Fall Clean-Up

End of Season Gardening

I may be a bit of a laidback gardener, but I love to exercise outside in the cool autumn weather. Besides, there are still things I can do in the field that will save me time next spring. So here are my end of season gardening tips.

Fallen Leaves

Of course, I don’t collect my dead leaves on the lawn, because we run the mower over them. I do, however, shred them where I have an abundance of leaves and put a 5 to 10 cm layer on my vegetable garden and the flowerbed in front of my driveway. But I sometimes need to renew this mulch during the summer. So I need a lot of dead leaves, which are only available in autumn. I also need dry leaves all year round to balance the “green” matter in the compost. So I keep at least 8 to 10 bags behind my garage and in a box next to my composter.

Fortunately, there are some very brave gardeners who put them in bags at the curb. The trick is to weigh the bags to see if the leaves are relatively dry, because if they’re too wet, they’re likely to decompose in the bag over the course of the year and will be harder to spread. Ideally, you should find someone who shreds them before bagging them, and make a friend out of it!

Large paper bags are perfect for using the leaves right away, but if you want to keep them until next spring, you’ll have to cover them with a tarpaulin or put them in plastic bags. Photo: Ville de Prévost

Do You Plan Your Vegetable Garden?

If you haven’t already done so, make a plan of your vegetable garden before you forget how you’ve organized your vegetables in 2023, because you need to rotate every year. This is particularly important for demanding species such as tomatoes and squash, which deplete the soil to a greater extent, but also to avoid the spread of diseases and pests that are specific to each plant. Ideally, we suggest 4-year rotations before planting a particular species in the same spot.

Fall Clean-Up?

Permaculture suggests leaving everything on the ground until next spring: wilted vegetables and their roots, so as not to disturb the soil. Then sow or plant directly through all that the following year. I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work well for me. Firstly, because I still get weeds despite the mulch, which I try to keep everywhere. Secondly, because there are crops that require us to disturb the soil quite a bit at harvest time, like root vegetables and potatoes, for example. So I remove weeds and vegetables at the end of production and mulch the whole vegetable garden before winter. In spring, I use the broadfork to prepare the areas where I’m going to sow root vegetables.

A mulch of dead leaves is easy to collect by putting the bag on the mower (for a change). If your vegetable garden is in a very windy area, you may need to protect this mulch with wire netting or a few old boards until the snow arrives.

Some Vegetables That Enjoy Cooler Temperatures

Obviously, when gardening at the end of the season, I leave the vegetables that resist the cold well in place as long as possible, such as leeks, parsnips, kale and a few lettuces like escarole and lamb’s lettuce. I’m going to cover the latter with canvas, just before the first frost, to harvest as long as possible, and the lamb’s lettuce will be “reborn” next spring before going to seed.

Parsnips hold up very well in the cold, but leeks don’t survive the winter where I live in the Eastern Townships.

Parsnips overwinter very well in Quebec soil. They’ll even be sweeter in spring, but I haven’t had any success with leeks and carrots, which rotted in spring.

Autumn Seeding

Many vegetable plants resow themselves if allowed to go to seed. So, rather than have chervil, oregano or dill appear in unsuitable places next spring, I’m going to sow them in November wherever I decide, just before the frost. With the good advice Mathieu gave us recently, you can sow many species before winter.

For my part, I keep at least one parsley and parsnip plant each year to let them go to seed the following year, as the seeds of these 2 species are only viable for one year, so I don’t need to buy new ones every year. What’s more, these two species produce pretty umbels that attract thousands of beneficial little parasitoid wasps during the summer.

Parsnips, like parsley, will produce flowers and seeds in year 2.

And of course, don’t forget to plant your garlic before the ground freezes!

End-of-season gardening makes for a busy autumn… But it’s less expensive and closer than going to the gym!

Edith Smeesters is a biologist and a pioneer in ecological horticulture in Quebec. She has given countless conferences and workshops and written several books on the subject for over 20 years. She founded and has been president of several environmental organizations, such as Nature-Action Québec and the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. She was a key figure in the creation of the Pesticide Management Code of Quebec, which has been in effect since 2003. She has received several awards for her involvement in the environment and is a member of the prestigious "Cercle des Phénix".

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