You’ve picked every pepper and harvested the last basket of tomatoes from your summer garden. Now what? Your end-of-season care plays a big role in whether or not your edible garden will continue to perform well in the future. This post-harvest garden care guide — including how to restock soil nutrients, when to mulch, which plants not to compost and more — will help set up your edible garden for success for years to come.
1. Finish the Harvest
When you’re ready to finish up your summer garden, pick all remaining fruit, veggies and edible leaves. Many fruits, such as tomatoes, will continue to ripen once they’ve been picked. Have an end-of-summer feast and make plans to preserve, freeze or give away excess produce.
2. Remove Summer Edibles and Weeds
Strip plants of any remaining fruits and seeds and remove them from the garden beds. Remove and discard any plants that show signs of disease. Plants covered in powdery mildew, which often shows up as dusty white spots on leaves, should be added to the garbage or yard-waste bin.Once soil is exposed, use your hands or a garden hoe to remove weeds that have been hiding under summer plants. Weeds that have not yet formed seeds can be composted; those that have set seed should be thrown away.
3. Replenish Soil Nutrients
Good soil is the secret to having a successful and productive edible garden year after year. The herbs and vegetables you grew this summer have spent months taking up soil nutrients to fuel their growth and fruit production. If you plant the same crops in the same soil next year without adding nutrients back to the soil, the plants won’t grow as tall or produce as many fruits and veggies. But if you take care of the soil and replenish its nutrients, you can maintain a healthy edible garden season after season.
Soil amendments and cover crops are the two most common ways to return nutrients and organic material back to the soil.
Soil amendments. If you have a supply of homemade compost, now’s the time to put it to use. Otherwise, you can pick up bagged compost at your local nursery. You can also find organic fertilizers designed to replenish nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for specific crops. Spread a thick layer of compost over the top layer of soil.
If your soil felt heavy when pulling out plants, it may also benefit from even more organic material, such as compost, straw or fully dried leaves.
After adding compost, soil amendments and any other organic material, turn over with a shovel, working everything into the soil.
Add a layer of bark, straw or dried leaf mulch over the soil’s surface. The mulch will help suppress weed growth and keep the soil warm for newly planted cool-season crops and maintain soil moisture.
If you follow these steps, you have fully prepared your garden for a bountiful crop next season. Happy soil, happy plants!