Tilling your vegetable garden is traditionally seen as a spring project, but it doesn’t have to be.
The fall is a great time of year to till your vegetable garden, as it breaks down any roots left over from the main growing season. Tilling aerates the soil, creating little air pockets that keep the soil moist and provide oxygen for the growing plants.
Let’s look in more detail at the subject of tilling your vegetable garden in the fall, and discover more about the benefits and how exactly to do it…
Is it OK To Till My Vegetable Garden in The Fall?
The fall is an excellent time to till your vegetable garden, making sure that the soil is all good and healthy for the winter months ahead.
We’re used to the idea that tilling is an early spring job. This is the time we prepare our yards for the long growing season ahead, and this is when we tend to dig over, till, and add compost to our beds.
However, it’s also great to give your vegetable garden a treat at the end of the season. It’s been busy growing your crops all spring and summer, and now’s the time to dig in more compost and get the soil ready for winter. Tilling will break down any roots left in the ground after the main growing season, adding to the nutritional mix.
Also, if you’re planning on planting bulbs ready for spring or a few winter crops (there are plenty of leafy and root vegetables that thrive in the cooler weather), you need to keep your veg patch in growing condition all year round.
What Are The Benefits of Tilling My Vegetable Garden?
Tilling breaks up and aerates the soil, creating those little air pockets that keep the soil moist and provide oxygen to the growing plants. To make sure your vegetable garden produces delicious plants, you need to look after the soil.
Tilling breaks down roots and stems from previous crops, as well as getting rid of those pesky weeds. Dig in some fertilizer, compost, or manure, creating a fertile and healthy growing bed.
The end result: fine, weed-free, and nutrient-rich soil that’s ready for seeds, bulbs, and young plants.
Can I Till By Hand or Using a Machine?
We’ll be honest. Tilling by machine is easier; however, there’s something very satisfying about preparing the soil by hand. If you don’t have a tiller or have a relatively small vegetable patch, here’s how to till by hand:
- Spread a layer of compost over the area to be tilled
- Starting at one end, dig a ditch along the length of the bed, about 10” deep if possible
- Keep the soil you’ve dug out to one side
- Then, dig a ditch alongside it, of the same depth
- Use the soil you’ve dug from the second ditch to fill the first ditch
- Dig a third ditch, and put this dug soil into the second ditch
- Carry on, working your way across the bed, moving the soil between the ditches
- You’ve reached the end! A cold drink has never felt more inviting… First, fill the last ditch with the soil you saved from the first
- One more task. Rake the whole bed for a lovely, fine finish
This is called the “double digging” method. It loosens and aerates the soil really well, and you actually reach deeper than you do with a tiller. But, it is hard work, and if you have a large vegetable garden, we’d recommend buying or hiring a tiller.
If you haven’t used a tiller before, this short YouTube tilling tutorial takes you through the basics. As you’ll see, it’s a quick and simple way of tending to your soil.
What Other Times of Year Should I Till My Vegetable Garden?
The most common time of year to till your garden is in the spring. When in the spring depends on which zone you live in, as you need warm, pliable soil to be able to till properly. If you think there may be a frost, hold back a little longer.
We’d suggest tilling your vegetable garden twice every year: once after the last frost, and again before the first frost. Take a look at the USDA map to get an idea of gardening zones across the US.
What Veggies Grow in The Fall? (Can I Plant Right After Tilling?)
There are lots of lovely vegetables that thrive from being planted in the fall. However, if you’ve just tilled your vegetable patch, give it a couple of weeks for the soil to settle before planting directly into the ground. You can always get your seedlings going indoors in the meantime.
The best veggies to plant at this time of year tend to be leafy brassicas or root vegetables like beet, carrots, and parsnips (not potatoes, unfortunately, as they need a good few weeks before the frost sets in). Sprouts, kale, cabbage, and chard all do well, as do alliums like garlic and shallots.
It’s also a good time of year to plant trees and shrubs. So, if you fancy a crop of currants or apples in future years, get planting this fall. Get trees and shrubs in the ground well before the winter, so the roots have time to settle before the ground starts to harden.
Take a look at our blog about what you can plant in October to find out more. As well as vegetables, you can grow wildflowers from seed, and get your bulbs in the ground, ready for the spring. You see, it’s definitely worth all that extra tilling.
When Should I Clean My Vegetable Garden in The Fall?
We recommend tilling your vegetable garden in the early fall, when the soil is warm. Jobs like tilling the soil and weeding can be far easier in the fall than in the spring, when the earth is still pliant to work with. It also makes it a far more pleasant task for the gardener!
Even if you’re not planning on growing veg during the fall and winter, this is the time for a good clear out. Till the soil, weed the beds, dig up the old crops, and fork in some fertilizer, so the soil has time to benefit from all those nutrients over the winter.
Conclusion: What Else Should I Do With My Vegetable Garden in The Fall?
As every true gardener knows, looking after the yard is a year-round job, with these tasks changing from season to season. The fall is about harvesting the summer crops and preparing for the colder weather ahead. Here are a few of those key fall jobs for the vegetable grower:
- Harvest any vegetables, herbs, and fruit that won’t survive a frost. This may involve picking a few more things than you can eat, so you may need to get pickling and freezing
- Tidy around your vegetable beds. Weed, will, and fertilize, as we’ve already discussed
- Prepare fleeces for any shrubs or fruit trees that need a bit of help if it freezes
- Make sure that your greenhouse is in good repair for the winter. Are there any plants that need moving indoors soon?
- You don’t have to stop growing when the summer ends. There are all sorts of vegetables that thrive in the cooler soil, and will make sure you have a fresh harvest throughout winter and spring
- Have a good general check around your vegetable garden. Is your compost store secure? Is your shed in good repair? Do your tools need cleaning or sharpening. Now is the time for a good “fall clean” to make sure everything is in good condition before you winterize it
- Rake up those fallen leaves and add them to your compost, or dig them in for mulch
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >