The Garden in Autumn

Planting fava beans at Shorewood High School Culinary Arts Garden – a Youth Education Garden in Shoreline, Washington.

Gardening is a year-round activity in western Washington. That may be a bane or a blessing, depending on your perspective.  The garden year doesn’t end when we pick the last tomato at the end of summer. This quarterly feature will highlight what’s going on in gardens in King County. Our gardens can be productive year-round, yielding vegetables and herbs well into fall and through the winter. During October, November, and December we harvest remaining summer produce, clean up the yard and garden to prepare for winter, and plant cool-weather and cover crops for winter and spring.

Harvest the last of the summer-planted crops like green beans and those last few ripe tomatoes…or the green ones. Kale planted in June and July will continue to produce from now through the early winter.  Brussels sprouts planted in mid-July will probably be ready to pick toward the end of October.  Enjoy the fall-blooming flowers: asters, chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, and rudbeckia all supply fall color.

Clean up the garden beds and take away the slugs’ hiding places. The slugs have a baby boom going on this year so clean out dead leaves, deadhead and cut back summer-blooming flowers . Pull weeds to deny them the chance to pop up next spring; now is the time to spread mulch.  Compost flower and vegetable leaves and stems and put them to work for next year’s garden.

Plant for the seasons to come. Kale, spinach, onions, broccoli, bok choy and other Asian greens,  cauliflower planted in late August and early September will supply fresh produce even as the nights get longer and the days shorter.  Some greens planted in October, like arugula and leaf lettuce, will produce all winter; they may need to be covered during very cold spells. Carrots planted in late September will mature next spring, about when you think about planting spring and summer vegetables.  And don’t forget spring-flowering bulbs.

After the vegetable garden is cleaned up, planting cover crops in the garden achieves two purposes: adding nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil and crowding out weeds. Fava beans (Vicia faba) are a great cover crop: they supply the nitrogen-fixing properties of the roots in the soil plus the beans.  Other cover crops like crimson clover, winter rye grass, and common vetch are all good choices for this part of western Washington.

Autumn is a good time to aerate, seed, and fertilize the lawn.  Overseed bare patches to give the grass a head start for next spring and summer. An organic or slow-release fertilizer promotes healthy grass roots.   Now is also the best time to plant or transplant trees and shrubs. Evergreens and other woody perennials establish themselves during this dormancy period, getting ready for the growth spurt in the spring.

This season can be as busy, if not busier, than spring. The turn of the seasons offers plenty of opportunities to get outside and get your hands dirty.

By Marty Byrne

Master Gardener Intern

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