Why autumn is the best time to start a garden bed in Western New York

autumn leaves in Amherst NY by Stofko
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

It’s a lot easier to start a garden bed in autumn than in spring.

Why? Because time is on your side.

In spring, you would have to rush to get a new garden bed ready. When could you start? In April, when the ground is soggy or still frozen? Maybe in May, if the weather is nice on a day when you have off from work.

If you prepare your garden bed now, there’s no rush–and much less work!

Start garden bed in autumn, plant in spring

If you want to start a garden on a spot that is currently lawn, you have to somehow get rid of the grass.

If you start a new garden bed in spring–and want to plant directly into the garden bed in spring–you have to dig out the grass with a shovel, sod kicker, sod cutter or mattock. (I have used a sod kicker to remove grass. It’s easier than using a shovel, but not as easy as the autumn method.)

In autumn, all you have to do to kill the grass is lay down newspapers, cardboard and/or landscape fabric, then wait. The grass will be dead by spring.

When I do a project like this, I prefer newspapers and cardboard rather than landscape fabric because you can get them for free and they are biodegradable.

A single layer of newspaper isn’t enough; having several layers of newspaper and adding other materials is much better.

Ditch lilies or common daylilies

Currently, I am trying to create new garden beds in areas that were filled with common daylilies or ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva). They’re not very pretty, and they were taking up sunny spaces that I could use for better plants.

Now don’t be confused; although ditch lilies grow wild, they’re not native plants. In fact, they are a Tier 3 Invasive Species, so I really don’t feel bad pulling them up. Or trying to, anyway.

Ditch lilies are difficult to eradicate. In the large area, my husband used a string trimmer to cut down the plants’ leaves. Then he dug. Then I dug. I covered them with a thick layer of newspaper. They poked through. My husband used the string trimmer again. I dug again.

We started these projects in two areas at the beginning of the summer. The smaller area was finished and topped with about three inches of wood mulch.

We are still working on the larger area. Part of the problem was that I didn’t have enough newspaper and cardboard. I get my newspapers online, so I asked folks who get the paper newspaper to save them for me.

I had a couple large boxes and saved my cereal boxes, but that wasn’t enough, either.

Then my husband went to the grocery store and noticed a clerk stocking shelves. Phil asked the clerk if he could have the large, empty boxes in the clerk’s cart. Not only did the clerk give Phil the boxes, but he pushed the cart out to Phil’s car, too.

Tip: Don’t be shy. Next time you’re at a store, ask for boxes.

Now we have the large area covered with a good layer of heavy cardboard. There are gaps here and there, so I will keep adding cardboard to fill in as necessary. Rocks hold down the cardboard to keep it from blowing in the wind.

I will probably spread chopped leaves on top of the cardboard this fall. The leaves are just starting to fall, so you have plenty of time to gather that ingredient for your new garden. If my neighbors set straw bales out to the curb, I can use the straw, too. See what other ingredients will help your new garden bed.

I’ve got some finished compost that I could layer on, but I haven’t decided whether I will try to plant directly into this new garden bed or whether I will set containers of tomatoes there in the spring.

I have plenty of time to think it through.

4 Comments on “Why autumn is the best time to start a garden bed in Western New York

  1. Hi Marie, the liquor store is a great place to get sturdy boxes, but I liked the larger cartons from the grocery store for this project. Yes, I get a local paper online, but I took two paper copies the day before the newest issue was set to arrive. I made sure there were still a couple copies left for anyone who needed them. Thanks for those tips!

  2. The liquor store is another great source for cardboard. When I was moving, all those car, job, home free brochures at the door of your grocery store are a great source of news print paper.

  3. Hi Margaret, it depends. You want your perennial to have enough time to establish a deep root system before winter. Temperatures and gardening zones vary throughout Western New York, so it depends on where you live. Some say you should get your perennials into the ground by mid-September while others say you can plant them well into October. I wish I could give you something more definite. I hope that helps.

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