Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Fall Planting

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As summer starts to slowly drift into fall, it’s a great time to begin preparing the vegetable garden for fall planting.

Getting ready for your fall crops is not much different preparing it in the spring, but there are a couple of differences.

Here is how I prepare my vegetable garden for fall planting.

Clean the Vegetable Garden

When I say clean the vegetable garden, you may think I mean to go buy bottles of Mop ‘n Glo.

Not exactly.

What I mean is to remove any of the old remnants from your summer garden. Remove all the left over plants, weeds, and mulch from the planting area.

You want your planting area to look like brand new for fall planting.

I mostly use rows in my vegetable garden. I pull up all plants and weeds from the rows and pathways. Then I rake the mulch used in the rows into the pathways to give me a row of just naked soil.

Remove Plants and Mulch from Row

If you use raised beds, do the same thing. Remove any old plants, weeds, and mulch if you used any.

The old plants and weeds can be added to the compost pile as long as the plants are disease-free and the weeds have not gone to seed.

If either of these exist then discard them in the trash. You don’t want that stuff coming back to haunt your vegetable garden next season!

Loosen the Soil

With all of the plant materials removed from the bed (or row), it’s now time to loosen the soil.

This can be accomplished by using an ordinary flat shovel, or a digging fork.

Simply thrust the shovel into the soil about six to eight inches deep. Tilt the handle of the shovel down to slightly lift the soil, then just flip the soil over. Use the blade of the shovel to chop up the larger clumps of soil.

Thrust the Shovel Into the SoilTilt the Shovel Down and Flip the Soil Over

That’s it! Continually do the “thrust-tilt-flip-chop” action until you have the entire row or bed loosened. I like to do this at least twice for each row to make sure I have it loosened up well.

Soil is Loosened Well

Amend the Soil Well

With your soil loosened up really good, it is time to start amending the soil. There are many different kinds of amendments, but the best is compost.

I’m using a mixture of my own compost and mushroom compost I purchased from a local garden center. I can’t make enough compost to support amending my rows so I have to buy some to compensate.

I place the compost mixture in a wheelbarrow and then shovel it onto my row. I add a two to four inch layer of the compost mix on top of the loosened soil.

Add a Layer of Compost

Once I have the compost layer added I mix it in using the same “thrust-tilt-flip-chop” method I used for loosening the soil. This action helps to really mix the compost into the soil.

Mix the Compost Into the Soil

If you have a small tiller that would work, too. I prefer doing it by hand because doing it mechanically tends to sling soil all over the place where much of it ends up in the pathways.

I want my precious compost where it really counts, not where I’m walking.

Once you have the compost mixed in, repeat the same process again. Add another two to four inch layer of compost and mix it in well.

You can do this as much as you want depending on how much compost you have available. The more compost you add, the better your soil will become.

I’m fairly limited on the amount of compost I have so I added two layers to my rows.

A quick word about amending the soil with manures. Remember to always use manure from a herbivore animal; never a carnivore or omnivore. In other words just use manure from horses, cows, donkeys, rabbits, chickens, alpacas, or similar animal.

If using manure, make sure that it has been composted for at least six months. Never add fresh manure to your garden before planting. There is one exception – rabbit manure. Rabbit manure is safe to add directly to the garden.

Depending on what I intend to grow in a particular row, I may add a couple other amendments to the soil.

I want to plant kale in this row. Since kale is grown for its leaves it will benefit from a little more nitrogen content in the soil. Knowing this ahead of planting, I can amend the soil in this row to have a little more nitrogen.

This can be accomplished in a couple different ways. One way is to add composted manures because they are a good source of nitrogen.

Another way is to add worm castings, or an organic fertilizer with good levels of nitrogen. It’s not a good idea to go crazy with nitrogen, because too much can lead to other issues.

Since i don’t currently have any composted manures I’m adding some worm castings to the soil. I will also add worm castings and compost mixed together in the planting holes when I plant my vegetables.

Worm Castings Are a Good Soil AmendmentWorm Castings

And also an organic fertilizer called Garden-tone. Garden-tone has a N-P-K rating of 3-4-4. It is 3% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 4% potash (potassium). This is a good foundation of nutrients and can be used with just about any vegetable.

Garden-tone Organic FertilizerClose-up of Garden-tone Organic Fertilizer

I lightly dust the soil with the worm castings and Garden-tone, then mix it into the soil using the “thrust-tilt-flip-chop” method with the shovel.

Dust the Garden-tone and Worm Castings Onto the Soil

Now my soil is loosened well and is amended with compost, worm castings, and Garden-tone.

Use a rake to smooth out the top of the row. This will make planting and covering the row much easier.

Cover the Soil

The next phase of preparing the vegetable garden for fall planting is to cover the soil. Usually I use some type of organic mulch, like straw or shredded bark.

I’m not even going to kid you – I had a difficult time with weeds this season. They were relentless, and if I pulled up one weed three grew back in its place.

So, I decided to cover everything with black plastic sheeting. I removed the mulch from the pathways, lined them with black plastic, and replaced the mulch.

I’m also covering the rows with black plastic as well. This will help suppress weeds much better and keep the soil warm once temperatures start to drop later in the fall.

You don’t have to use plastic. Use whatever you are comfortable with – whether that’s straw, leaves, grass clippings,etc.

I spread out the black plastic and anchored it down using landscape fabric pins, pulling the plastic tight as I anchored it.

Cover the Row with Black Plastic

With the plastic anchored, I then added mulch around the edges to help hold it down.

When I’m ready to plant I will cut a large “X” in the plastic, and fold the corners back to expose the soil.

This Row Is Ready for Planting

Amending the Soil Is Key

It is very important to amend the soil as heavily as you can when preparing the vegetable garden for fall planting. The summer crops have used quite a bit of the nutrients in the soil, so you need to add more back in before planting fall crops.

Once the fall crops are done for the year you will need to repeat this preparation for upcoming spring crops.

Any time you are planting vegetables in an area where you just grew vegetables you need to replenish the soil for the best possible results.

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Comments

  1. Can you describe problems you mention with use of too much nitrogen please?

    • Hi Karen – Sure. Too much nitrogen can cause different problems for different vegetables. For instance, if you add too much nitrogen to tomato plants it can cause the plants to become large, lush plants, but impede fruit production. So, you end up with a beautiful plant, but no fruit.

      On the other hand, nitrogen is needed for many brassicas (like cabbages or Brussels sprouts) and other leafy greens because it helps promote better foliage growth which is what those vegetables are grown for.

      Too much nitrogen can burn plants and has been known to increase pest damage as well.

  2. What about using non-shiny cardboard instead of plastic? I’ve heard that is good because it makes a weed barrier but also breaks down and feeds worms. Any downfalls I should be aware of?

    • Hi Amy – Corrugated cardboard and newspaper is a great weed barrier to use in the garden. I chose the black plastic because it is more permanent and it was easily available. This might sound a bit lazy, but I really didn’t have that much cardboard on hand, and it would have taken me weeks to collect enough (going around from place to place collecting it). I needed something soon and I could get the plastic pretty quick.

      I wanted something that would last, where as newspaper and cardboard would need to be continually added and re-added each season. Maybe even a couple times each season depending on how fast it breaks down.

      There are positives and negatives to using plastic. A positive is it is a permanent and is an excellent weed blocker. The negative is it doesn’t break down easily so it’s not as eco-friendly.

      There’s always a trade-off when using something in the garden and I haven’t found anything that’s 100% perfect…. except compost. But even compost can be bad in some small cases.

      • Thank you! I love your site. :) Keep all the great info coming.

      • When is compost bad, just curious?

        • Hi TJ – Compost can be bad when it has been created using contaminated materials, like grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides, along with other things. Compost that has too much fresh manure added can also be bad because it could contain high levels of nitrogen or ammonia.

          As long as the proper materials are used for creating compost then it’s the best stuff in the world for developing good soil. If the wrong stuff is added it could become the worst thing. That’s what I meant by “bad”.

  3. we had to remove all of our tomato plants due to blight (I think) and now want to plant a fall crop. Should I be doing anything else to the soil in case there is disease in the soil?

    • Hi Lesley – the best thing you can do if you have had blight issues is to rotate your tomatoes. In other words, don’t plant them in the same location next year. You can also try solarizing the soil by laying down clear plastic over your soil from now until the start

      • thank you for a reply! I was afraid you were going to say rotate the crops. We only have a 12×10 garden and only plant tomatoes so I can’t rotate. So I guess I will be trying the pastic. Thanks.

  4. previously I’ve always dug down the old plant remains. I think I’ll give your method a try.

  5. I also had a similar problem to lesley, but i planted them in the same location… plants have grown ok, but there seems to be an odd dis-colouration with the tomatoes?

  6. Hi We had a pine tree cut down and we heard that wood ashes are good for a garden. We want to burn the pine limbs where we have our garden and just till it in. Of course we have to wait for the burn ban to be lifted. What do you think? Should we or shouldn’t we? burn the pine limbs in our garden. That is the question. LOL JKing

    Thanks Jane

    • Hi Jane – Yes, wood ash is good for the garden. It is a good organic source of potash (potassium). Just keep in mind that wood ash can raise the soil pH (make it more alkaline) if added in large quantities. Most vegetables like a soil that is slightly acidic.

      Knowing this I would add just a little at a time and check the soil a few weeks later with a soil test kit from Lowe’s or Home Depot. If the pH is ok, then add a little more of the wood ash.

      The main point is to keep an eye on your pH levels while adding the ash to make sure you do not create alkaline soil conditions.

  7. On a different matter, What and when do you do to sprawling pumpkin vines?

    • Good question TJ. My pumpkins vines have left the garden area and are taking over my yard. Not to mention the sprawl over/into my other fruits and veggies. Now that they are out in my yard, I can’t mow there and the grass is getting so tall, I think it’s killing the pumpkin vine. Suggestions? I have Jack-o-lantern and jumbo pumpkins. Thx!

      • What I have done with vines before they get out of control is put some horse , hog or even the smaller wire used for rabbit cages around the vine in a large circle esp.for pumpkins. Just keep putting the vines that try to come thru just keep turning them back inside the wire. Or you can do the same with a large raised bed,just keep putting them back inside,going around inside the box.

  8. Shelley Humphreys says:

    I planted a variety of tomatoes this year, but our favorite was an Italian tomato plant our neighbor gave us. He got lots of plants from his daughter and didn’t have enough room in his garden. Unfortunately, nobody in the family knows what kind of tomato they shared. I’d like to grow more of these next year. Can you tell me how to harvest seeds to plant next spring?
    Thanks for your time and expertise.
    Shelley

  9. Great blog! Nice information! I will incorporate this to my garden and hope that it will also be great for planting.

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