Have You Finished Your Fall Gardening Chores?

Gardener’s Notebook by Joshua Burman Thayer

The fall season is nearly done and everything seems to be at a pause, but are those new plants sprouting under those piles of autumn’s fallen leaves? Why not choose what will grow there instead? By sowing cover crops into your growing spaces and fruit tree basins now, your garden will benefit through years to come.


This mixed ground cover at Full Belly Farm includes vetch and clovers (rose and burr medic), plus peas, oats, rye grass, radish, fava beans, and an assortment of weeds including plantain, groundsel, and shepherd’s purse. (photo by Cheryl Angelina Koehler)



Do you have rocky or hard pack soil? With ongoing effort, you can gradually change the condition of your soil to increase the organic matter. Winter cover crops like alfalfa, buckwheat, fava, red clover, and vetch will thrive in cool soil temperatures of our East Bay winter as they feed micronutrients into your topsoil where tree roots can utilize them. Also good at building soil in shady areas are yarrow, chicory, dock, daikon, horseradish, and mahonia (Oregon grape).


When a wide variety of plants are grown together, they support each other while building soil, but they also foster life for beneficial insects that help pollinate our crops. Ideally, each garden design can provide a planned, year-round source of pollen and nectar for the beneficial insects. These plants are known to support the many beneficial insect families, and as you see in the following chart, they bloom in different seasons, so the insects can eat year-round:

willow (salix spp.), ceanothus (thyrsiflorus), yarrow (achillea millifolium), elderberry (Sasbucus), milkweed (asclepsias fascicularis), buckwheat (eriogonum fasticulatum), channel island cherry (prunus ilicifolia), coffee berry (frangula californica), deer grass (muhlenbergia rigens), fescue (festuca idahodensis), coyote bush (baccharis piluris)

Integrated Pest Management or IPM is an organic gardening strategy of having intense aromatic plants designed into the food system to deter pests. These plants replace harmful pesticides as a natural method to dissuade the pests.


Get expert help with your garden from Joshua Burman Thayer at 510.332.2809. Learn more about food forests and permaculture landscape design at nativesungardens.com and from Joshua Burman Thayer’s new book, Food Forests for First Timers.

Joshua Burman Thayer’s Gardener’s Notebook is filled with gardening advice for every season. Visit the whole collection of articles here.