Although fall in Northern California can be slow in coming, there’s no doubt that colder weather is beginning to make its presence felt in Napa and Sonoma counties. While perhaps the most beautiful time of the year, the season change does bring with it a good deal of extra outdoor maintenance. Luckily, the stunning autumn scenery is something we wouldn’t want to miss anyway, and yardwork is the perfect excuse for getting outdoors!

If you’re like us, you’ve already been thinking about how you can best prepare your garden for the colder weather. Take a look at what our team of Northern California custom home builders have found to be effective. Whether you’re planning to plant a winter garden or simply preparing plants for optimal growth in the spring, implementing these strategies will help ensure the healthiest growth possible.

  1. Clean up rotting vegetation – The first step in preparing for next year’s garden is cleaning up last year’s growth. Besides looking unappealing, old plants can harbor insects, disease, and fungi. Removing or burying old plants ensures that pests won’t be able to burrow and lay eggs in old plant stalks. In addition, using organic waste as a fertilizer for your next crop can help improve soil tilth and overall health. Just make sure that the material you’re composting is not diseased or infested with pests, as they have the potential to affect the next crop you plant.
  2. Pull weeds – Now is the perfect time to clean house on all those invasive weeds that have gradually been encroaching on your garden space. Make sure to dig out the roots as you remove them to prevent their return, then place them either in the trash or on your fall burn pile. Resist the urge to simply dump them into your compost heap as most weeds can still germinate and spread after being pulled.
  3. Prepare your soil for spring – Instead of leaving this activity for spring, get a head start by preparing your soil this fall with manure, compost, bone meal, kelp, and rock phosphate. Starting now will provide additional time for nutrients to break down and absorb into the soil. Once you’ve finished preparing the soil, cover the bed to prevent winter rains from washing away all your hard work. When the sun comes back in early spring you can remove the sheeting and lightly till the soil to prepare for planting.
  4. Plant cover crops – Planting a cover crop is an excellent way to replenish soil nutrients, suppress weed growth, prevent soil erosion, and create a better seedbed for spring planting. There are two main categories of winter cover crops: winter-killed and winter-hardy. Of the two, only winter-hardy can be planted in the fall and survive the onset of cold weather. Examples include winter rye, hairy vetch, legumes, and crimson clover. Many of these plants have the added benefit of being able to convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into soluble nutrients that can later be absorbed from the soil.
  5. Prune perennials – Fall is a perfect time to trim some perennial plants, but make sure you do your research first. While most perennial plants benefit from pruning, others such as raspberry canes continue to nourish the plant’s crown into the winter and do not benefit from pruning. Instead, focus your pruning attention on plants such as rosemary, thyme, asparagus, rhubarb, etc. Simply remove dead, unseemly, or crossing branches to help control overly vigorous growth.
  6. Replace your compost – Now that the heat of summer is over, the material from your compost heap has most likely been completely decomposed. Using this rich compost, you can top garden beds, replenish deficient soils, and fertilize lawns and landscaping. In addition, cleaning out your compost heap makes room for next year’s batch. Until then, keep the soil’s microbes working through the cold winter months by making sure to build your compost up with leaves, sawdust, and straw, layered with kitchen scraps and other organic matter.
  7. Replenish mulch – Similar to summer mulching, winter mulching helps reduce water loss, protects the soil from erosion, and inhibits weeds. In addition to these benefits, winter mulching can help the soil transition to colder weather by regulating soil temperature and moisture. Good mulch sources include leaves, grass clippings, peat moss, wood chips, and straw.