University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Enriching the soil for next yearís garden, planting garlic, and saving dahlia tubers are some of the gardening tips for this month.

As you empty annual beds this fall, there are two main ways to enrich the soil for next year: spreading compost or planting cover crops.  While this month may be a bit late to sow cover crops such as buckwheat and annual rye in your area, you can apply compost.  Before you spread compost, dig or lightly till in any plants that aren't diseased to return nutrients to the soil. Spread compost, even if it's not well decomposed yet. It will protect the soil over the winter and break down by spring planting time.

Plant garlic now for harvesting next summer. Purchase garlic sold specifically for planting, or buy organic garlic. Commercial, nonorganic, supermarket garlic may have been treated to inhibit sprouting. Break the garlic head into individual cloves, keeping the largest ones for planting. (Use the small cloves for cooking.) Plant cloves about 3 inches apart with the pointy side up. Try some different varieties to see which you prefer. Mulch the bed well with straw.

When the first frost blackens the foliage of dahlias (or if a hard freeze is predicted), cut off the stems about 6 inches above the tubers. Carefully dig the clumps with a spade or fork, and rinse them off. Let them dry out of direct sun and wind for a day (not too long or they'll begin to shrivel). Store the tuber clumps whole, or carefully separate the tubers from the stem, making sure to include any "eyes" (small, raised nubs near where the tubers attach to the main stem) with each tuber. These are the future sprouts. Store tubers in ventilated plastic bags filled with peat moss, vermiculite, or sawdust. Place bags in a box and keep them in a dark, 35- to 50-degree F location.

If you test your soil and add any needed amendments now, the soil will be ready for planting when you are in the spring.  Contact your local Extension Service office for a soil-testing kit, also available at many garden stores.  Since your soil can vary from location to location in your yard, if you notice different characteristics of the soil in different beds, test them separately.

Keep leaves raked from lawns so they donít smother the grass.  Spread a thin topping of compost on the lawn after you rake up leaves, and rake again to settle the compost.

Other gardening tips for this month include checking and replacing faded garden labels, carving pumpkins, and potting paperwhite narcissus for holiday bloom indoors.  Visit the National Gardening Associationís web site ( for more information on gardening and regional reports

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