Healthy Beginnings

Harvest Gardening Tips to Keep Your Garden Plentiful – Even Through Winter

The end of summer doesn’t need to mean the end of beautiful flowerbeds and bountiful crops. Although the end of summer sparks the beginning of harvest season – the time of year garden vegetables are ripe and ready to be gathered and enjoyed – it’s a great time to plant fall annuals, spring perennials and other crops to make the most of the autumn gardening season.

Why bother with fall annuals?

Many people question the wisdom of planting fall annuals – why bother, when winter is quickly approaching? Well, there are many benefits to adding new flowers and foliage to your garden and flowerbeds in autumn.

  • Staying active in the garden throughout the fall will encourage you to keep up with weeding, composting and other care that will keep your garden in top shape all year.
  • Fall annuals are often on sale for great prices, providing plenty of gardening enjoyment even on a small budget, and it’s a great time to stock up on other gardening equipment too.
  • Fall wildlife such as migrating birds and butterflies can take great advantage of fall flowerbeds and gardens to help them survive falling temperatures and changing seasons.

When is it time to plant?

The exact timing to plant fall annuals will vary depending on local climate, weather patterns, soil temperature, moisture levels and daily temperatures. As summer wanes but before the first leaves have begun to show their hidden colors, it is time to plan fall annuals and get ready for their planting. The nights should be chilly, but the days still warm and the soil moist and warm to carefully shelter roots so plants can thrive. Fall annuals should be snug in the ground several weeks before the first frost, and if they are well established, hardy fall flowers and plants will extend the growing season long past the beginning of autumn.

What types of annuals should I plant?

A wide range of plants is ideal for fall planting, depending on your soil chemistry and local climate. Popular plants that thrive in fall include asters, chrysanthemums, marigolds, ornamental kale, pansies, purple fountain grasses, rosemary and sage.

Along with planting fall annuals this September, it’s also time to plan October’s garden tasks. In October, it’s important to winterize your garden and continue planting for spring harvest season. This September and early October, plan to:

  • Plant hardy perennial bulbs. Sturdy bulbs can be planted in fall to ensure a bright flowerbed as early as possible in spring. Tulips, daffodils, alliums, irises and crocuses can all be planted in October for a stunning spring display.
  • Dig up delicate bulbs. Delicate bulbs that could be damaged or killed by frost, such as begonias, dahlias and gladiolas, should be dug up and stored appropriately before the first freeze. They can be replanted in spring after freeze danger has passed.
  • Provide adequate mulch. As temperatures drop, a thin layer of mulch can help keep plants warmer without stressing them from sudden temperature changes, helping plants harden o their roots for winter. A thicker mulch layer can be applied as soon as overnight freezes begin.
  • Plant trees. So long as the soil is still warm through September to November, it’s not too late to plant trees including apple, pear and peach trees. In fact, planting trees in fall when they are already dormant lessens the transplant shock and allows the trees to focus on root strengthening and growth so they will become established more quickly.
  • Rake, mulch and compost leaves. Leaves are falling in October, and it’s best to mulch them into small shreds to return their nutrients to the lawn, or use mulched leaves in the garden or compost pile to help enrich soil. Keeping up on this task throughout the month will make it easier.
  • Keep weeding. Weeding is a never-ending task, and it is easier to keep ahead of the weeds rather than let them grow fast and furious in fall. October weeding will ensure there are fewer weeds to compete with tender new plantings or seeds in spring.
  • Keep watering new plants. New plants, including trees and shrubs, should be thoroughly watered until the ground freezes. This will help reduce winter stress and keep the plants healthy through their first winter. The exception is grass, where watering should gradually be reduced in fall.
  • Finish the harvest. As October winds down, it is time to finish the fall harvest and freeze, dry or otherwise preserve the bounty before frosts and overnight freezes destroy the produce. And don’t forget herbs when closing the garden – they can also be dried or frozen for winter use.

Even though harvest season tends to mark the end of the year’s gardening tasks, much can be done to preserve your harvest and even continue gardening well beyond October. If you’re interested in preserving your food by canning this fall, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website for a comprehensive how-to canning guide.

If you’re ready to enjoy fresh, local vegetables year-round, head to Rail City Garden Center to purchase a copy of Eliot Coleman’s “The Winter Harvest Handbook”. In his book, Coleman (who is recognized as one of America’s most innovative farmers ) shares that it’s possible to achieve year-round vegetable production in even the coldest climates using organic techniques and unheated greenhouses.

“What people don’t understand, is they can have fresh vegetables 365 days a year,” Pawl Hollis, owner of Rail City Garden Center, said.

Although fall harvest season will be in full force and your hands will be full of colorful vegetables, take time to do some research and continue your garden throughout the winter months. Many vegetables thrive in well-prepared soil throughout the winter. Add these vegetables to your autumn garden planting list – you might have a bumper crop (a crop that has yielded an unusually productive harvest) to enjoy early next year:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes

    Shallots and Chives



 Rail City Garden Center has been locally owned and operated since 1996. For harvest tips, information about special gardening tools and products, or to enjoy more from their blog, call Rail City Garden Center at 775-355-1551 or visit