Step 1: Clear out your garden
When starting on your fall cleanup, either cut down or clean out the dead and exhausted crop residue. In many situations, it is preferable to clear out residue because your old crops may be carrying pests and/or diseases. Burying these residues in the beds may exacerbate these issues the following year. Plant residue is much better composted in a controlled site, out of the garden beds. A well-managed pile of plant debris will allow temperatures to increase enough to kill pests, diseases and weed seeds. Keep in mind that, if you are making compost at home, it is essential that it reaches 160-170 degrees so that you don’t reintroduce the fungal spores and other contaminants into your garden.
Related: Your Guide To Cleaning Up Your Garden In Fall
Step 2: Test your soil pH
Once crops have been cleared, test your soil pH. Vegetable gardens prefer a soil pH of around 6.3-6.9, which means the soil is just slightly acidic. For many of the same reasons it is helpful to add compost in the fall, lime works best when applied this time of year. The winter allows it to slowly react with the soil and adjust the pH into the preferable range by the following spring. Spread lime as needed based on your pH reading, and fork it into the soil.
Related: Everything You Need To Know About Soil pH For A Healthy Garden
Step 3: Pile on the compost
After clearing your crops and adding lime, the compost application process is just the icing on the cake. All you need to do is cover your beds with 2-3 inches of high quality compost. Spread the compost evenly over the beds and rake smooth. You can apply this compost to all areas of the garden. Cover all of the spaces vacated by summer crops but also closely surround any fall or over-wintering crops that are still in your beds.
Related: How To Defend Your Soil From Diseases That Will Ruin Your Garden
Hilary Dahl is a co-owner of the Seattle Urban Farm Company, where she helps beginning and experienced growers create beautiful and productive gardens. She has worked on a wide range of projects, from small backyard garden plots to multi-acre vegetable farms. She also works in her own garden every day when she gets home. Hilary produces a weekly podcast called Encyclopedia Botanica, where she and her co-host, Kellie Phelan, discuss seasonal garden topics and share the joy of growing your own food.