While this has been a gorgeously lingering fall, cooling nights and glimpses of bare branches through the brilliant foliage all herald the close of the garden season here in northern New England. While many gardeners have cold frames and row covers to extend the season, for the rest of us it’s time to wrap it all up, the last call in the garden. Of course, there are always one or two last-minute projects we’d like to finish before the first snow falls, and this year, since we haven’t yet had a hard freeze, there actually may be time to get it all done.

My personal goal is to find just one more post-rainfall, warm — or warmish — afternoon to finish weeding the asparagus bed. It’s impossible to do while the asparagus is coming up because of the danger of digging into the crowns, and once we stop harvesting there seem to be other chores that take precedence, leaving us, by the season’s end, with a rampant bed of asparagus fronds arising from lush weeds. Since it’s now easy to see where the crowns originate, as the fronds mark the spot, weeding now will mean fewer weeds in the spring. This is pretty much true of any garden cleanup you can squeeze in now: when spring comes you’ll be glad you did it.

The second chore is planting garlic. Our seed garlic is hanging in the cellar stairwell, waiting for a perfect planting day sometime before the end of October. If you’ve never grown garlic, it’s one of the easiest to plant, and also one of the most carefree vegetables you can raise. We’ve been setting aside heads with the biggest and best cloves for years to use as seed, so our annual supply of garlic is virtually cost-free, save for our labor, and we even have enough to share with friends. It may be difficult to find seed garlic at this late date, but the UMaine Cooperative Extension posts a list of sources online and you may yet be able to find some.

In Maine, hardneck garlic is the best variety for home planting. The garlic sold in supermarkets is almost always softneck garlic, usually from California or China, and is not recommended for growing in Maine. While you could plant garlic in early spring and get a bit of a crop, for large heads, fall is the preferred planting time. Planting in mid- to late October in our zone allows the cloves to establish a root system without your having to worry that the tops will emerge above the soil line, where they could be prone to winter injury.

Separate your garlic bulbs into individual cloves shortly before planting. The cloves should be planted with their pointed ends up so the clove point is several inches from the soil surface and spaced about 4 or 5 inches apart within rows. Rows should be from 6 to 12 inches apart. Closer spacing tends to produce smaller garlic bulbs, while wider spacing will allow enough room to grow larger bulbs. After planting, smooth over the soil surface and then spread about three inches of mulch on top of the bed. Mulch will help to moderate the thaw/freeze cycles of the soil and potential heaving of the cloves. It will also reduce weeds and help conserve moisture. Straw mulch is excellent for weed control and is usually relatively free of weeds, unlike some hay, but hay will work as well. In spring, once the rains have come and the soil begins to warm, you’ll see your garlic pushing its green tips up through the mulch.

If you don’t have a garden, but think you might like to give it a go next spring, you can get a jump on it right now by laying out a no-dig bed. Layer cardboard, builder’s paper or newspapers over your lawn, smothering your chosen material with compost, unrotted manure or animal bedding — or whatever organic matter you have lying around — and topping it with a healthy dose of mulch. Edging the beds with boards or cedar logs or some other material is optional. Do your layering now, and by spring you can start planting straight into what will have become soft, friable soil. If that sounds too easy and you’re embarrassed to tell your friends how simple it was, just stand around on a warm day in May, spade in hand, and wipe your brow a lot. That should ensure your gardening credentials.