The 2022 growing season is coming to an end here in the St. Louis area, and many vegetable gardeners are saying “good riddance!” The growing season got off to cooler-than-average start through early May. Then, in June, temperatures rose and stayed high through most of July. During that same period, we saw very little rainfall. The heat and drought came to an abrupt end with two record-breaking rain events in late July and early August. While August had milder temperatures overall compared to June and July, the damage had already been done. Most home gardeners had little to no yield from tomatoes, cucumbers, and many other crops.
Zinnias and sage add color to the William T. Kemper Vegetable Garden in late September. Photo by Kristina DeYong.
Preparing Your Garden for a Fresh Start Next Spring
While this year was a bust for most home-grown vegetables, preparations can already begin for 2023. Cool-season crops such as cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts that are currently growing in garden beds can be left to grow a little longer as they are tolerant of light frost. Simply begin the bed cleanup process when these crops are ready to be removed later in the fall. Here’s what you can do with the rest of your garden in the meantime:
A gardener pulls unwanted weeds from the ground. Stock image via Unsplash.
Fall is an important season to keep up with weeding. Many weeds are setting seed now, and removing them will help to reduce their numbers next growing season. Weeds left in and around vegetable garden beds can also harbor pests and diseases that will overwinter in the weedy growth and then negatively impact next year’s vegetable crop.
Remove any vegetable plants that have died back.
Curling, discolored tomato leaves have been damaged by spider mites. Image via the William T. Kemper Home Gardening Center.
Similar to weeds, plant debris can hold dormant pests and diseases and should be removed in the fall. This can help prevent the return of frustrations like spider mites, whose damage usually begins to affect tomato plants in hot, dry summers (pictured above).
Grow a cover crop or apply mulch.
Red clover, which can be grown as a cover crop, is pictured here in flower. Stock image via Unsplash.
Cover crops and mulch can both be used to suppress weeds and prevent erosion. Cover crops in the pea family such as red clover (pictured above), berseem clover, or winter peas can also improve soil nutrition by producing nitrogen in underground root nodules. When the plants die back, the nitrogen remains in the soil and can be used by vegetable crops. Mulch options include wood chips, straw, fallen leaves, or a thick layer of compost.
Install season extenders now.
A gardener harvests flowers beneath hoop tunnels. Stock image via Unsplash.
Hoop tunnels, row covers, cold frames, and other structures can be used to lengthen the growing season both in the spring and fall. Spring is usually a busy time for gardening, so tackling these types of projects in the fall can help to reduce amount of work that needs to be done in the spring.
Winterize irrigation systems.
A clean garden hose is wrapped up and stored for the season. Stock image via Unsplash.
Drain and store rubber hoses and soaker hoses in a dry location. Larger drip irrigation systems can be drained manually or using compressed air to blow out the lines. Once drained, replace end caps loosely to keep out debris while still allowing water to escape.
As colder temperatures approach, now is the time to take advantage of the mild weather and get your garden ready for winter. Although most gardens this year were plagued by poor growth, poor flowering, and poor fruiting, there is still one comfort remaining as the season comes to a close—there’s always next year!
Public Information Coordinator