It’s so hard to believe that this gardening season is over. I like to use this time of year to reflect on how this year’s garden did and figure out ways to improve next year’s garden. Nothing wrong with planning now so that we can improve the harvest next season while it’s fresh in our minds.
I really enjoy planning for the coming year. It helps these cold, short winter days be more manageable. Plus, if planned correctly, you will definitely see an improvement next year. An added bonus is you’ll be able to get off to a great spring because you’ll have your garden ready and your plan written out so that you’re ready to go.
If you work on your garden now and plan accordingly, you’re definitely going to see an improvement next year. Plus, you’ll be able to get off to a great spring because you’ll have your garden ready and your plan written out and you’ll be ready to go.
15 Questions to Ask To Improve Next Year’s Garden
Did You Have a Problem With Weeds?
I know, who doesn’t right? But, were they exceptionally cumbersome to the point you felt like you couldn’t keep up? Now is the time to decide what measures you can take to decrease the weed count in the garden next year.
There are several natural ways to control weeds in the garden. Some are more preventative measures than others. We have a time with weeds in ours, so I plan on smothering them with black plastic and making sure we mulch heavily between the plants next spring. The plastic will smother them out and the mulch will help keep them manageable.
I also plan to schedule time to keep the beds weeded this next spring. Maybe once a week. I will add it to our chore list and have the kids help me. I’m also considering purchasing a wheel hoe to make it a little easier. Weeds are an inevitable part of gardening, especially organic gardening, but that doesn’t mean they have to overwhelm you and take over. It just takes a little planning and using this year’s mistakes and problems can help you improve for next year.
Did Your Garden Seem to Have a Problem With Disease?
Now is definitely the time to plan to deal with disease issues before they become an issue again. Did you have a particular problem with a disease this year? Write it down.
I find that filling out my garden planner and taking notes is essential to success the following year. So, I always write down when I fight disease (or pest) issues in the garden.
Sometimes things can’t be helped. The weather can be a big contributor to some disease, but we can try to plan accordingly so that if we have a super wet year again, those things won’t happen.
One big way to combat disease in subsequent gardening years is to rotate your crops. This is another reason why I love using my planner. I can sketch everything out and then I know exactly where I planted everything and move them accordingly for the next year.
Another way to make sure that the same disease doesn’t come back next year is to make sure you remove all of the plants from you garden in the fall.
What Pest Problems Did You Have?
Pests… they are the organic gardeners nemesis. We struggle with grasshoppers, hornworms, and cabbage worms on a regular basis. But, we are slowly finding ways to help combat them before the season even starts.
Just like disease, you need to write down what you struggled with in the garden. And then, over the winter, you can come up with a game plan. Creating a garden that is inviting to beneficial insects can be a great start. Sure, you can add those beneficial insects and natural enemies, but unless you have the plants to keep them there, they’re going to go do their business elsewhere.
Maybe you have a problem with cabbage worms, you can try using row covers earlier in the season next year. Or, you can till up your garden to kill off some of the hornworm larvae this fall if that’s an option.
Removing all of the plant material is an important part of combatting pests. And if you have the ability, using ducks and/or geese to help keep those bugs at bay is an amazing, natural, symbiotic use of your backyard poultry.
Did You Go Overboard?
Who doesn’t do this once in a while? You set out with the best intentions and then realize, too late, that you planted wayyyyy too many things. I know I’m guilty of this. Last year I planted all of the things. And I couldn’t keep up. I took on way too much way too fast.
Gardening is amazing. The pride you feel when you harvest that food to put on your family’s table is indescribable. But, it’s something that can be overwhelming and should be taken slowly. Start small and build up little by little each year. Because if you try to do too much too fast, you’re going to get overwhelmed and burnt out and that’s never a good thing and it’s certainly far from enjoyable.
If you went overboard this year, that’s okay. Plan for less next year. Plant fewer of each plant, or try to start fewer on your own. Take notes on how overwhelming it was and figure out ways you can back off until you get a better sense of what you’re doing. Slow and steady….
Did You Plant Enough?
I always have a gardening goal in mind to supply all (or as close as possible) of one vegetable for us to consume for the entire year. And each year, I will add another vegetable. That way it’s not overwhelming and we get closer and closer to our goals to self sufficient living.
But whether that’s how you plan and set goals for your garden or not, you have to ask yourself… did you plant enough? If you wanted to provide all of the green beans your family would consume throughout the year, or onions, garlic… did you succeed?
Of course, you won’t know for absolutely certain until you run out, but you can have a pretty good guess. If you feel like you were lacking on a goal or that you didn’t have near enough of a particular crop that your family loves, try to figure out how much more you need to plant to be a little more successful next year.
What Would I Like to Try Differently Next Year?
Trying new things in the garden is fun. It could be trying a different methods like containers or vertical gardening, starting your own seeds, using cold frames, trying more succession planting or learning more about companion planting.
If you tried something new this year and it didn’t work, maybe you can troubleshoot why it wasn’t successful and try it a little differently next year.
We will be using more companion planting and trying a little container gardening here for next season and I’m really excited about it. It gives me plenty of time to research a little more and get the supplies I need to try my hand at growing some blueberries in containers.
Does My Soil Need Amended?
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” – Wendell Berry
If you garden, your soil probably needs some nutrients added to it. Just about all gardens can stand for a decent layer of healthy compost in the fall. But, maybe yours needs a little something extra.
Testing your soil can give you so much amazing information about the health of your soil so that you can amend it appropriately. You can buy a test online or utilize your county extension office to figure out what it needs and get it thriving.
Fall is the absolute best time to amend soil. It allows it to overwinter and really work its magic in the nutrients. Soil tests are incredibly inexpensive and an invaluable resource for anyone gardening. Fix it now… your harvest will be that much better for it next year.
Are The Perennials Thriving?
How are your fruit trees and berry bushes? What about any other perennials you have planted in your garden? Do they need tended to? Are they still growing?
Now is a great time to assess how these plants are doing. You can decide if they need replaced, if they need pruned or specific fertilizer and now is the time to make those decisions.
Another thing you can do is decide if you need to divide them. If your plant is getting too large for the space or container it is in, you can always divide it and replant it. Fall can be a good time for this, assuming you can avoid the frost before the plant becomes re-established in its new home. The soil is warmer and more workable which can make dividing them without cutting off too many roots a lot easier.
Does Anything Need Replaced?
This can be plants that you’ll want to plan for and order over the winter or into the spring, or containers, boards on raised beds, even your gardening tools. Take stock of what you have, how it looks and whether or not you believe it’s going to survive the winter.
If you need more of something, add it to a shopping list you specifically make for your garden. You can then make sure you budget for those items accordingly. We know that we are going to be purchasing orchard trees and some berry bushes along with the need for a few containers to put them in. Our rake broke and my husband re-welded it, but it’s a lot heavier now so it wouldn’t hurt to replace that.
It’s easy to make a list and you can plan and budget for it better. You never know, if you broke something that’s a little more on the expensive side in your garden tool shed, you might be able to find a used one for cheaper during the winter and save some cash.
Is There Anything I Can Plant Now?
Garlic, tulip bulbs, even fruit trees can, and often are planted in the fall. If you have anything that you can get in the ground now, it’s just one step ahead come spring time. Planting in the fall can be advantageous because the soil is much warmer and workable making planting a lot easier.
But, it can also be a battle of time to try to beat the first frost in enough time for your plants to become established. But, if there’s anything you can, or need to, put out now, go for it. I love planting bulbs just so I can see those beautiful pops of color in the spring. And garlic… always have to plant garlic so we can see them sprout up in the spring and eat the delicious scrapes.
Another thing that you can plant in the fall is cover crops. These can be an amazing benefit for your garden. They can even be used in raised beds. They supply nutrients, help combat weeds, and prevent erosion. They’re also incredibly cheap and super simple to plant.
What Seemed to Work?
Did you try something that really seemed to help out and work for you? Write it all down. If you found a new method for controlling weeds or pests. Or maybe you found a way to keep the birds from eating all of your berries or the deer from taking all of your apples. Whatever it is, if you did it and it helped and worked out, take note so that you can do the same thing again next year.
Gardening is an organic learning experience. Things are constantly changing and what works for one of us may very well not work so great for someone else. But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue doing what works.
What Didn’t Work?
Maybe you spent tons of time covering your blueberries only to have them eaten away anyway. Or maybe you tried to fence off your garden, but the rabbits still got all of the lettuce. Whatever didn’t work is just as important as what did work. So, again, write it all down. Spend some time researching while it’s fresh in your mind so you can troubleshoot and plan to do things differently next year.
When Was Your First Hard Frost?
We typically have our first hard frost by October 15 in our zone. But… it hasn’t hit us yet this year. Last year it was early. Writing it down helps me keep track of the earliest (and latest) dates it frosts so I can plan any fall gardening and cleanup accordingly.
I want to make sure my fall garden has plenty of time to grow before I have to put it to bed and I don’t want to be out in the freezing cold with frozen ground trying to do that. So, I usually err on the side of caution and stick with whatever date has been earliest for us (so far). As time goes on I will start using the average. But since we’ve only been on this property a few years I’ll stick with October 5 knowing that I need to plant my fall garden at least 6 weeks prior to that if we want one.
Next Year Record When Your Last Hard Frost Is
Come late April and early May I start keeping track of the frosts and always write down when we get our last hard frost. I’ll write it on my garden calendar every morning so I can keep track and then after the threat of frost is long gone, I record that last date in my garden planner. It helps me know that if I help the soil warm up quicker by using some black plastic what I can realistically plant out when without it dying or me having to take drastic measures to keep it alive.
Frost dates can be incredibly important and while every zone has a “window” to help guide you, keeping track of the actual dates and temperatures yourself can be incredibly helpful. I track these things all season until our first frost and begin again around April so I can keep track of the temperatures and the weather.