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Community gardens grow in all parts of the world in very different climates. In the Northern Hemisphere, where ACGA is located, by November many gardens are going to bed for the winter (but not all! In Hawaii and Puerto Rico, gardening just keeps going on, and lots of folks even up North experiment with row covers and season extenders.) In any event, here are a few autumn tips that apply across the board: 1. Cultivate your organization; 2. Plan for inclusion; 3. Plant for pollinators; 4. Clean up (mindfully); 5. Plant garlic; 6. Spading and compost; 7. Have a (cool) party. 


  1. Cultivate your organization: Though the plants and soil may be resting, there’s still plenty to do for community gardeners. The “quiet” season is an ideal time to take a second look at bylaws and guidelines, and to ask what worked and what didn’t during the past year.

  2. Plan for inclusion: Are there more people we can include? This is a good time to plan for kids areas, and accessible garden spaces for people with all physical abilities (and find funding, and build stuff.) 

  3. Plant for pollinators: Same goes for planning expanded natural areas and pollinator beds. Colder periods can be ideal for establishing woody plants and perennials during their dormancy. Remember to make a place for plants that have evolved in your area, and the wildlife they support.

  4. Clean up (mindfully): There are those who can hide garden messes under snow, but in most places, it is wise to take time to clean up the garden for winter. Put things away that will be hurt (hoses?) by the cold, turn off the water if it freezes where you live, and don’t leave piles of trash and junk around as hiding places for pests that will come back and make mischief in the spring. A nice looking garden is one with happier neighbors, never forget. However, leave some natural areas undisturbed, if at all possible, to provide twigs, tangles, and seeds as shelter and food for birds, beneficials, and other friendly critters.

  5. Plant garlic: There is at least one garden staple, garlic, that can be set out in colder weather. Check with local farmers and Extension for optimum dates. Fall planting also applies to colorful spring flower bulbs such as tulips and (deer proof!) daffodils. Just don’t wait too long! (Onions, a garlic relative, requires very different handling, however. Check for practices in your specific area, including matching variety to day length. Here (Southeast) we plant onion starts in early spring.)

  6. Spading and compost: Spading is an old practice of turning soil by hand (with a spade) to expose it to the cold, which kills weed seeds and pests, and helps loosen clods. Don’t overdo it, just a shovel-blade deep (no rototiller, please)! Let the soil stay “cloddy,” not chopped fine. Then follow up with compost and traditional bed forming in the early spring. An alternative is to add a layer of quality compost now, with or without spading. An inch a year is better than four inches all at once.

  7. Have a (cool) party: Host a winter party in your garden. The idea of a winter potluck appeals to me with food straight from the garden (collards here in the Southeast taste really sweet after a frost or two!) Another idea is a solstice gathering on the shortest day of the year, a chance to reflect, share lessons and hopes, and maybe sing a song or two. Then head for the nearest pub to continue…

    (Compiled by Terri Carter and Don Boekelheide)

Community garden

tips for fall

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