Roots and Shoots: Fall Prep

Even if you aren’t experiencing any sort of back-to-school momentum in your daily routine, the seasonal shift makes the garden feel different. Maybe it inspires reflection and an evaluation of your landscape or vegetable garden. Or it motivates you to try or learn something new. 

I have all these feelings: pride, awe, melancholy that it passed so quickly, regret for missed chances to plant a few more seeds, and a focus on what happens next year. 

Here’s what I have planned for the garden. 

Tussock moth caterpillars have been busy eating leaves and growing fast for their next stage. Photo by P. Doan

Tussock moth caterpillars have been busy eating leaves and growing fast for their next stage. (Photo by P. Doan)

Sort the compost 

There are a few months left until the decomposition process slows and halts during the cold months. The goal is to add it to the garden in February or March to prepare for vegetables. I will empty one of my three bins now because it’s ready and I need to start fresh. I have a raised bed I didn’t plant this season and it can take a few inches of material. I’ll put in a layer of shredded leaves then add the compost on top to rest until spring. 

By swapping the compost bins, I can keep one bin that I’m not adding scraps into that will be ready in spring, a second bin that I’m adding scraps into and a third that will be ready to use late in the season next year. 

Order garlic and bulbs 

I can already check this off my list. I usually wait for the annual garlic festival in Saugerties to buy seed garlic and overthink what I’m going to plant and what to use for cooking. I can’t bear to not eat all the delicious varieties and neglect to plant any. By ordering now, I’ve simplified the process. 

I’ve planted a few alliums in the past and like the way they complement the flower beds. In clusters or single stalks, they add a punctuation of color and shape. 

Cut off the heads of flowers I don’t want spreading

This pains me. I love leaving the seed heads for birds and appreciate dried foliage in winter. But if I’m being honest, there are too many of some plants in my landscape. The Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), for example, is making its way into all the garden beds. 

Goldenrods are an important source of nectar for pollinators in the fall, when many plants are finished for the season, and I’m not pulling it out. I just don’t want to keep expanding the plant’s population again next year. 

The other goldenrods in my yard — wrinkleleaf, bluestem, stiff and early summer — aren’t as pushy. They get to go to seed. 

Seed fall greens 

If I plant leafy greens now, I can harvest for the next two to three months. Arugula, here we come! With less than six weeks to harvest, this easy-to-grow green will appreciate cooler temperatures. I could keep it going longer with a row cover to keep more heat in the soil, but we’ll see how much time I have left. 

Lawn care 

I only recommend adding fertilizer to a lawn if you have a soil test done so you know what nutrients it needs and how much to add. But adding a layer of compost on top of the soil in the fall can’t hurt and won’t create a nutrient imbalance. It won’t run off into streams, either. 


Keep it up. Annual weeds are setting seed and spreading for their reemergence next year. I’ve been cutting weeds at the base more than hand-pulling in an effort to disturb the soil less often. I haven’t noticed results yet, but I’m trying to create a soil-seed bank that has more desirable plants and fewer that I’m trying to control. 

Plant perennials and trees 

Your yard can always use more plants. This cooler season before dormancy is a great time to reshape the yard and take advantage of end-of-season plant sales. There is still a lot of great inventory out there at nurseries.

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