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Tips From a Pro: Keys to Fall Gardening


Over the past few years I've become more interested (borderline obsessed) in developing my "green thumb". What I've learned is that successful gardening takes planning and patience. As someone who tends to be impatient and a bit scatterbrained, gardening has been as challenging as it has been rewarding. I've also learned that it's equally important to find friendly experts who don't mind being peppered with endless questions and phone calls. 

My friend Dan Armitage has been a Fairfield county-based Landscape Designer for over twenty years. He's patient, forward-thinking and knowledgeable about best practices and regional horticulture. In other words, when it comes to gardening, he completes me. 

Dan was kind enough to offer a few practical tips to prep your garden for its winter rest.  

Fall Gardening Tips  

Westport, CT resident Dan Armitage has been a landscape designer and nursery professional for over 20 years. 

Westport, CT resident Dan Armitage has been a landscape designer and nursery professional for over 20 years. 

By Dan Armitage

There may still be some tomatoes on the vines, and plenty of herbs to continue to harvest, but with fall upon us it is time to prepare your garden for its winter rest. One of the keys to effective gardening is to get to the roots.  

Before you move forward, look back.

A little analysis now will yield great benefits moving forward. Think basics first: sun, soil and water. Did you have a low yield on your tomatoes? Trim some overhead branches and let some more sun in. Did your carrots grow no larger than the size of a jalapeno? Time to till deeper. Did your cucumbers melt with powdery mildew before they were pickle size? Improve airflow and drainage in your beds.

Start from the ground up.

Testing soils helps keep excess fertilizer and pesticides out of our water.
— Dan Armitage

Healthy soil is a key component to your garden and unless you can truck tons around, it takes time to get it right. 

Healthy soil = healthy garden. 

Healthy soil = healthy garden. 

  1. Test your soil.  Yes, you can do soil test kits from hardware stores, but why not take advantage of The Connecticut Extension ServiceSend them a bag of soil and they will tell you whether you need lime, nitrogen or potash.  And if the analysis leaves you confused, a good garden center should be able to show you what your soil needs. I personally recommend Coast of Maine soil amendments. They are organic and wonderfully effective. Keep the Extension Service in mind for your lawn and landscape as well. Testing soils helps keep excess fertilizer and pesticides out of our water. 
  2. Make the necessary adjustments. If your soil is compacted add some gypsum. If it is sweet (alkaline) add some composted leaves or holly tone. (Some suggest Aluminum Sulfate but it may be too strong if not applied properly. It will however give you the bluest Hydrangea on the block!). If it is sour (acidic) add some lime.  
  3. Keep it clean. When you are putting your beds to rest remember to keep a clean garden. If you had trouble with any of your plants dispose of them in the garbage rather than the compost pile. A clean garden will be less likely to have recurring pests.
  4. Put it to rest.  Many people suggest mulching your beds for the winter. It is a good way to loosen soil and get early jump on planting as the mulch insulates slightly.  Although early spring frost will still be a threat!  It is important to mulch with the appropriate material.  If you have a bark mulch that is a good option.  Shredded leaves are good but some leaves, especially oak, can acidify soils. And never, ever use wood chips. Their decomposition robs nutrients from the soil!
  5. Be patient. It is important to remember that changing soil takes time. Soil acidity cannot be changed immediately. Lime breaks down slowly and can take six months or more to take effect.  

This winter, when looking out at your snow-covered, raised planter planning your cold season veggies for the spring, know that the preparations you made in the fall are hard at work while you are not. 


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