By Terry Kelley
University of Georgia
But don't abandon the garden spot before the job is finished. Gardens need to be put to bed for the winter. Some fall maintenance will help you avoid several problems next year.
The end of the season is the best time to note the varieties that performed particularly well or not so well. Make a map of garden areas that had problem weeds or that stayed wet or didn't produce well. Identify the weeds if you can.
This is an ideal time to take a sample for nematodes, too. The highest populations are while the weather is still hot and plants are still growing. Mark your calendar to take a soil test within the next two months so you'll have time to apply any needed lime well before spring planting.
Remove any trellises you've put up. Store them in a dry place. This will help to preserve the life of the trellis materials. Remove any string or plant debris and knock off any excess soil.
If you have an irrigation system in the garden, get it ready for winter, too. Remove hoses, sprinklers, drip tape, etc. Store these out of the elements for the winter, after you remove any excess soil or plant debris. Be sure to repair, sharpen and lightly oil garden tools before storage as well.
Once all the obstacles are out of the garden, run a rotary mower across it to chop up any plant debris that remains. This allows this debris to dry down faster and keeps weeds from going to seed before frost. Applying a burn-down herbicide after mowing is even better.
During the fall, add organic matter such as composted grass clippings, manure and leaves to the garden. Bury the organic matter and debris by turning the land. Then plant a cover crop for the winter. This will help to prevent any soil erosion and can build up the soil when you turn the cover crop under in the spring. A grain such as rye or wheat works well for this.
Finally, don't forget to order your seed catalogs by the end of the year and begin planning next year's garden. Ordering your seed early in the year will better your chances of getting the varieties you want.
Do these things and your garden will have a cozy winter nap. And don't fret. Spring will be here before you know it. Your garden will awaken refreshed and ready for those summer veggies once again.
(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)