Preparing garden for winter

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How to prepare a garden for winter: Fall gardening tasks

Know your gardening zone

The first key to successfully preparing your garden for winter is to know when “winter” actually starts to rear its ugly head. Start by researching your local garden zone. Not only will this information help you come fall time as you prepare your garden for winter, but it is also invaluable every spring when you are itching to get digging in the dirt again. You can find all of the planting zones for the U.S. and Canada at the Almanac. Once you know your zone, it will be easier to find the the average dates for the first frost in fall, and the last anticipated freeze in the spring.

The first few steps all pertain to preparing your vegetable garden for winter. I tend to start here every fall just to make sure I don’t get caught by an unexpected frost, thus leaving my last harvest out in the cold.

1) Harvest any remaining vegetables

The vegetable garden is usually a mess by the end of the season when you start to prepare your garden for winter. This is part of the reason I love starting with this task; it’s easier to get the tougher task out of the way first. Take a final walk through your vegetable garden and harvest any remaining veggies that can’t take a frost:

  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • cucumbers
  • corn
  • eggplant
  • beans
  • okra
  • watermelon (all melons)
  • zucchini and squash

Starting here provides you with a nice bounty before you actually tackle the real work.

Go ahead and leave cold hardy veggies alone at this point. Believe it or not, the taste of some vegetables will actually improve with the colder weather.

Plants that will tolerate a light frost include:

  • carrots
  • beets
  • lettuce
  • cauliflower
  • peas
  • celery
  • chard

Plants that will tolerate a hard frost include:

  • radishes
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • kale
  • onions
  • spinach
  • turnips

2) Winterize your vegetable garden beds

Remove dead and dying plants

Now it’s time to start tackling the real work. It may seem easy to just let the vegetable plants die back and clean up the remains in the springtime, however you are asking for more trouble in the long run. Dead and dying plants can harbor disease, pests, and fungi. Leaving your plants for springtime allows these unwanted pests a head start come spring, leading to headaches all summer long. So, pull out those plants! Plus they will make great green material for your compost pile.

Don’t forget to pull any weeds you come across. However, don’t add those to your compost as the seeds will just wind up right back in your garden.

Tend to your soil

If you mulch any of your beds, push that aside and start by adding 1-2 inches of finished compost. Don’t worry if you don’t have any finished compost- you can also add this come spring a few weeks before you start planting. Fall is also a great time to add soil amendments like bone meal, kelp, and rock phosphate. In some climates with very acidic soils (like New England), you can even mix in lime to help neutralize your pH when you winterize your vegetable garden. Now is also the time to till the top 4-8 inches of your garden bed. BUT, there’s always a but- Keep your soil clumps larger when tilling. All you are looking to do is break up the crusty surface of the soil after the growing season. Tilling will help work in the compost, leave gaps for water penetration (vital come spring), and allow air to circulate and penetrate the soil, which benefits the bacteria and micro-organisms. You want to keep these little guys happy- in the end they are often the reason your garden looks so good mid-summer.

3) Plant cover crops and fall vegetables

In many climates, early fall is a great time to plant cover crops like rye or vetch. These crops can help break up compacted areas, prevent weed growth, and increase the level of natural organic matter in beds. A general guideline is to plant cover crops roughly 1 month before your first killing frost. Then come spring, just turn the cover crop into the soil. To be honest, this is not something I have ever done. Because our growing season is so short, I am often harvesting the last of our veggies just days or at most a week before the first killing frost. I don’t have the luxury of an extra month to grow a cover crop.

Fall is also the time to plant your garlic. Pick any garden bed that didn’t grow alliums this year. Work in your compost along with your garlic. Plant your bulbs roughly 6 inches apart and 4 inches deep, and cover with a light layer of mulch. Once the ground freezes and the plants are dormant, go ahead and add a thicker layer of mulch.

4) Expand your beds before you prepare your garden for winter

If you spent all summer thinking about how you want more garden space, now is the time to do it. Build a few more raised beds in the fall to save yourself from having an extra task in the spring. The bonus- most garden centers have bagged soil and compost on sale in the fall.

Okay you have prepared your vegetable garden for winter, now it’s time to tackle the rest of your gardens- that being perennial and annual beds.

1) Chop, clip, and cut

Tidy up the garden by removing any spent stalks and other plant debris that could potentially harbor pests and diseases. Just like your vegetable garden, you want to minimize the amount of dead plant material as you winterize your garden. Removing your dead foliage gives your garden a more manicured look throughout the winter and frees you from extra spring cleaning. Lets be honest, would you rather be cleaning last years dead plants or adding new plants to your garden come spring time?

2) Weed, weed, and weed some more

Fall is the best time to remove any invasive or unwanted plants. Once again skip the compost and bag these for the garbage. Take special care with any invasive species, and try not to disturb their seed heads.

3) Divide perennials

This one is a little tricky and a bit out of place in the timeline. You actually want to tackle your perennials about 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. This will give any transplants time to establish themselves. As you prepare your garden for winter, share your divided perennials with other gardeners. They will often do the same with you, and this is a great way to get new plants without having to spend money at the nursery. We went ahead and transplanted two of our rhubarb plants. We kept one for ourselves, and donated one to a friend.

How do you know when to divide perennials?

The best candidates are those that don’t flower as vigorously as they once did, those that have bare spots in the middle, and those that are pushing up against other plants. Take an active approach when dividing your perennials and do it when the plant is healthy and looks good.

4) Dig out your bulbs

Dig up and store any tender bulbs that won’t withstand the harsh winter. Dry them out in the sun, then on newspaper for several weeks before storing. Store in a cool, dry, and dark location. It is a good idea to research your specific planting/gardening zone to understand which bulbs need to be removed, and which bulbs are capable of surviving the winter.

5) Prepare any overwintering perennials, especially evergreens

Deep soaks are most important come fall time. This is especially important if it has been a dry autumn. Evergreens are susceptible to winter burn because they release moisture through their leaves year-round. Come spring time they need as much moisture as possible. As you prepare your garden for winter, think about turning the root system of your perennials (especially evergreens) into one giant underground popsicle. Not only will this ice ball protect the root system all winter, it is also a great source of moisture as the ground thaws in the spring.

6) Winterize your garden water features

The number one rule is don’t let the pump freeze! No matter where you are, I suggest removing your pond pump in the winter. The sole exception would be if you require it to continually move water under the ice because your pond includes fish or specific plants. It is best to talk to a local expert about the best practice for your water feature.

7) Clean up and sharpen your tools

No one wants to start the next growing season with dirty and dull tools. Just like you prepare your garden for winter, your tools have worked hard all summer and deserve some love too. Begin by cleaning off any hard dirt and debris. Grab a wire brush or steel wool and get rid of any rust that may have developed. Use a basic file to sharpen spades, shovels, and hoes. And don’t forget about cleaning up and sharpening your hori hori knife before it’s stored for the season. A whetstone works well for this, as well as all of your pruners. Last but not least, rub the surfaces of your tools in a light layer of machine oil. This will help seal the metal from oxygen, extending the life of your garden tools.

How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

By Linda Hagen

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Photo by: tazzymoto / .

In mid-to-late fall, gardeners in colder climates start thinking about winter; not necessarily because they’re looking forward to it, but because they know that without proper precautions, cold temperatures, drying winds and snow cover can all cause problems in their landscape. Plants can get windburn, tree branches can be broken from snow load, and sprinkler systems can be destroyed from a prolonged freeze. Winterization doesn’t have to be difficult though — most of the tasks fit into a regular course of maintenance and contribute to a healthy landscape year-round.

Gardeners in warmer climates aren’t completely off the hook. Although snow load may not be a concern, random freezes and cold winds can still take a toll on plants and trees. Local garden centers might not be well stocked with the proper supplies (like shrub covers), so planning ahead and having a few things on hand can come in handy.

GENERAL PREPARATION:

Photo by: Encierro / .com.

  • Weed the garden: One final weeding done late in the season can help eliminate hundreds of overwintering seeds that will just be waiting sprout in spring. Learn more about how to get rid of common garden weeds.
  • Remove debris: Clear fallen leaves and other debris from lawns and beds to decrease the potential for overwintering pests and diseases. Clean, dry leaves (not those from diseased trees or shrubs) can be shredded and used as mulch. Gather leaves and put them through a leaf shredder or simply run over them with a lawnmower with a bag attached. Shredding the leaves prevents them from packing together in layers, and allows for better air circulation and water to flow through.
  • Guard against deer: When there is little left to eat, deer will eat just about anything. Increase your efforts to protect your plants from deer. Here are some ways to make your garden more deer-resistant.

SHRUBS, PERENNIALS AND TREES:

Landscaping with native and other well-adapted plants can help minimize the care needed to keep your landscape healthy. However, plants don’t develop their full cold hardiness until they’re mature, and newer plants may need a couple years to reach their full cold-hardy potential. In the meantime, provide these younger plants with some extra protection.

  • Prune lightly: Cut back any perennials that aren’t desired over winter: plants that will blacken and turn mushy, like Veronicas or geraniums; ones that tend to harbor disease or insects over winter, like peonies, bearded iris and members of the mint family; and those that just don’t provide attractive winter interest. Cut back weak or spindly branches that might be damaged with snow load, and crossing branches that can be damaged from rubbing in high wind. Trim long canes on roses to keep them from snapping. This should be done once perennials have gone dormant, which is usually after a few killing frosts. Depending on the pruning requirements for each variety, any major pruning should be left for another time, usually spring or summer.
  • Photo by: Photowind / .com.

  • Wrap delicate and newly planted shrubs: Evergreen shrubs are mainly damaged from dry winter winds that cause dehydration and are much more prone to winter damage than deciduous varieties. Shrubs with weak, brittle or floppy branches, or those with leaves that are easily damaged should be wrapped with breathable fabric. Inexpensive burlap can be used or there is a variety of products, like these shrub covers, designed specifically for protecting bushes and small trees.
  • Protect hedges: To shield a row of shrubs, you can either wrap the entire row or create a windbreak on the prevailing wind side with stakes and a length of protective fabric or dense shade cloth.
  • Water: Root systems of newly planted bushes and trees aren’t established enough to readily replace water lost from dehydrating winter winds. Continue to water them regularly until the ground freezes and use mulch to help retain moisture. Give all your plants one last deep watering. They’ll need this extra moisture to get through the winter when they have difficulty getting water from frozen ground.
  • Lighten the load: Plants located under eave lines may get more than their fair share of snow due to roof-shed. Build teepee structures over these plants to deflect this extra load and keep branches from breaking.
  • Use an anti-transpirant: Protect evergreens from drying winter winds with sprays like Wilt Pruf. Applied to the leaves, it reduces moisture loss and defends against dehydration and wind burn.
  • Apply mulch: An insulating layer of mulch can help dormant perennials survive the winter with little or no damage when applied after the ground has already frozen. “Dormant perennials cope better with consistent cold, rather than rapid temperature fluctuations and the resulting cycle of freeze, thaw, and re-freeze,” writes Traci DiSabato-Aust, author of The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.

CONTAINER PLANTS:

  • Select hardier plants: Plants and trees grown in containers are at a disadvantage to those grown in-ground. The above-ground portion of the plant may have reached its full hardiness, but the roots are more vulnerable to freezing without the full benefit of in-ground insulation. Even if a plant is hardy for your zone, choosing one that is hardy one to two zones lower can help it survive when grown in a container. Larger containers also offer better insulation with a greater volume of soil.
  • Bring them in: Tender perennials and tropical plants can be moved indoors where they will get bright light. Relocate half-hardy perennials to a basement or garage where they will go dormant. Plants that need a chilling period in order to bloom or set fruit should be left outside and protected. Get more tips on plants that are suitable for over-wintering indoors.
  • Bury your containers: If you have space, containers can be left intact and planted in the ground. This provides the same insulation as in-ground planting.
  • Protect your plants: Huddle plants together, placing the most cold-sensitive ones in the center. Locate the grouping in a sheltered area against a building or structure. Provide protection from wind with a windbreak or screen.
  • Protect your containers: Wrap terra cotta pots with layers of bubble wrap and burlap. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent further absorption of moisture. Turn empty pots over to keep water from collecting and freezing, and cover those that are too large to flip or relocate.

LAWNS:

  • Apply a fall fertilizer: Get your lawn ready for winter with an organic fertilizer that is high in potassium, like Espoma Fall Winterizer.
  • Cut the grass short: The last mow of the season should be 2 to 3 inches tall; this will keep it from sheltering fungal diseases when covered with snow.
  • Add lime: Horticultural lime makes soil more alkaline, which is preferable for lawns. The freeze thaw cycle of winter helps break-down the pellets and work it into the soil.

SPRINKLER SYSTEMS:

  • Unplug the timer: Timers can sustain damage from power surges during winter storms, so it’s better to unplug them rather than just turn them off.
  • Blow out the system: Irrigation systems in cold climates should be installed with periodic outlets that allow you to blow any remaining water out of the pipes with an air compressor to prevent damage from freezing.
  • Photo by: Dongseun Yang / .com.

  • Clear water from hose bibs: Shut off the water at the source, then run the faucet to drain all water from the pipe.

OUTDOOR LIVING FEATURES:

  • Shut off gas lines: If you live in an area where you need to winterize, then you’re probably not going to be using your outdoor kitchen or gas-fueled fire pit until spring. Outdoor gas lines will usually have a shut-off lever at the house, and it’s a good idea to shut off the gas to prevent leaks due to winter damage.
  • Drain faucets: Similar to a hose bib, turn off the water at the source and open the faucet to drain any remaining water.
  • Clear drains: To prevent damage from trapped water freezing in the drain of an outdoor sink, pour a little plumbing antifreeze down the drain to keep it from freezing.
  • Protect furniture: Bring patio furniture indoors, or use fitted covers to protect it outdoors over the winter.

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Perhaps you are just glad that the weeding, watering and nurturing is behind you for another season and you can finally settle onto the couch for some good hockey. Where the garden is concerned: not so fast. My list below may provide the perfect excuse to get outside and enjoy the fresh late autumn air. In any case, you will ignore my suggestions at your own expense as I am just trying to help save your investment in a great looking garden next year.

1. Hill up your roses.

This is one of the last jobs around the garden before you batten down the hatches. Mound PRO-MIX Garden Soil to a height of 50cm around the base of each hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora and miniature rose bush. A plastic rose collar will help you do an even better job.

2. Rake the last of the fallen leaves off your lawn and into your garden.

Run over the leaves with your lawnmower before raking them onto the surface of the gardens. Worms will pull the leaves down into the soil come spring.

3. Clean your bird feeders.

Then fill them. We are never as inclined to clean our bird feeders in the winter. It is a nuisance. So do it now, using a stiff brush and soapy water. Then fill them with quality bird seed and note that the cheap stuff mostly ends up kicked out of the feeder onto the ground.

4. Feed your lawn.

The most important application of the year occurs in the fall, but only when you apply it. If you haven’t done it, it is not too late. Apply C-I-L Golfgreen Fall Lawn fertilizer now. Come spring your lawn will thank you by greening up quickly with much greater resistance to snow mould and brown-out. C-I-L Golfgreen is all that I use as it has the most sophisticated slow release formula on the market. And it is made in Canada by a Canadian company.

5. Wrap fruit trees with a plastic spiral.

Last winter we experienced record mice and rabbit damage, especially on young apple trees. A plastic spiral would have saved a lot of trees from permanent damage. For $3 or so they are one of the best investments that you can make in winter garden protection.

6. Turn your compost pile or the contents of your compost bin one more time before hard frost.

This introduces oxygen and speeds decomposition. You want that.

7.Store your seeds in a dry, cool place.

Your dahlia tubers and gladiola bulbs, too.

8. Dig and divide perennials.

Hosta plants that have been established for 5 years or more lend themselves to being divided up and replanted around the yard. This is true of monarda, day lilies, Shasta daisies and any plant with a fleshy root. If plants are getting too aggressive in your yard, now is a good time to remove the root to bring them under control. Think in terms of vinca minor (periwinkle), ajuga, snow-on-the-mountain (Aegopodium) which should really be called, “Don’t plant this or it will take over your world”.

9. Prune evergreens and plan on using some of the limbs for Christmas decoration.

This is true also for fruiting plants like trumpet vine, hardy holly, many roses that produce colourful hips, small fruiting crab apples etc.

10. Wrap burlap around cedars and evergreens that are exposed to wind.

Again, a reminder that last winter was the winter of all winters where plant damage was concerned. Two layers of inexpensive burlap around all evergreens will help to prevent snow damage (from the weight of snow), salt spray (from the melted snow on a nearby road, especially on the east side of the road) and sun scald in late winter (when the sun reflects off a clean, white layer of snow onto evergreen foliage). Me? I am planning my next garden vacation and making sure that my spring supply of seed catalogues are on order. I plan on watching lots of hockey in the mean time.

Taking the effort to clean up the vegetable garden beds in fall makes it very easy to begin growing the following spring.

I have mixed emotions each autumn as the gardening season comes to a close. Since our growing season is short, there is usually a preserving marathon in September and most of my time is spent in the kitchen attempting to keep up with all the harvest bounty that comes in all at once.

The vegetable garden gets very little attention during this time except for the daily walkthroughs to harvest what is ripe. There is no time for weeding, trimming, or making careful assessments as to the health of the plants. They are on their own, and either succeeds or fails.

By the time frost arrives in October, most of the garden is a mess of dead or dying plants, weeds, and rotting tomatoes. There will be no more tomatoes to process except for those still ripening on the kitchen counter. No more zucchini to preserve, cucumbers to turn into pickles, or string beans to can.

As the gardening season comes to a close, I am bursting with feelings of gratification and fulfillment as I preserve the harvest and fill our basement shelves with storage crops and jars of food. THIS is the reward for the hard work that has gone into growing and tending to the plants all season long. THIS is the compensation for all the time spent washing, chopping, and the late nights spent canning so the house can cool down overnight.

I am both relieved and a little sad when the majority of the garden harvest ends each season. I know I will feel better once I am outside and begin cleaning up and preparing the garden for winter. Here are some tips for fall garden cleanup and ways to prepare your vegetable garden for next year:

7 Tips to Prepare Your Vegetable Garden for Winter

Clean Up the Vegetable Garden Beds:

The vegetable garden is such a mess by the end of the season that it seems overwhelming at first. Break up tasks over time and work through the garden one bed or area at a time until they are all cleaned up and tucked in for winter.

  • Remove All Dead Vegetation: Some diseases, including Late Blight and pests can overwinter on foliage and fruit left in the garden. Remove all dead plant material and any rotten fruit or vegetables. Healthy vegetation can be added to your compost pile. Most compost piles do not get hot enough to destroy disease or fungus. If your plants were unhealthy with mildew, mold or blight, dispose the foliage with the household trash or burn it to avoid spreading it to your compost pile.
  • Add a Layer of Finished Compost and Mulch: Push aside mulch, pull any weeds, and add a 1-2-inch layer of finished compost. Lightly cover the beds with the old mulch to help suppress weeds and protect the soil without insulating the beds. Many diseases and pests are killed when the soil freezes in winter. Mulching the beds too thickly could prevent the soil from freezing completely. Once the ground freezes, add another layer of mulch to perennial herbs and flowers. Learn more about How Mulch Helps Your Garden.

Get a Soil Test:

Now is a good time to have a soil test done to determine if your soil will benefit from amendments to add nutrients and adjust pH. Soil tests results will tell you:

  • Soil pH
  • Levels of potassium (K), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S)
  • Level of organic matter
  • Lead content

A soil test will recommend how much lime and fertilizer (organic or chemical) to add to improve your soil. Lime is commonly used to adjust the soil pH. Adding lime in the fall is beneficial because it has all winter to dissolve into the soil. Other nutritional amendments can be added in the spring at planting time. Check your state’s local extension office to see if they offer this service or can recommend someone.

Plant Garlic:

Select a garden bed that did not grow alliums this year and plant next year’s garlic crop. Work in a generous amount of compost into the soil and some organic fertilizer.

Plant bulbs 6-inches apart and 4-inches deep, add a light layer of mulch at planting time, and follow with a substantial mulch layer after the ground freezes and the plants are dormant. See How to Plant Garlic in the Fall Garden.

Expand Your Vegetable Garden:

Fall is a great time to expand the vegetable garden. Consider building a few raised beds or square foot gardens right on top of the grass. Many garden centers have bagged organic garden soil and compost on sale in fall.

Fill your new beds with fresh soil, add a layer of mulch, and you will be ready to plant when next spring arrives. See How to Build a Square Foot Garden.

Gather Leaves:

Fall leaves are truly gardeners’ gold. I try to gather as many leaves as I can in the fall and fill up my compost bins or store in garbage bags. Fall leaves can be used for mulching in the garden, as a brown component of compost, and leaf mold.

  • Mulch: A generous layer of shredded leaf mulch over the soil surface will help suppress weeds, retain moisture, and provide soil enrichment as it decomposes, and encourages beneficial soil organisms.
  • Compost: Leaves are the perfect brown (carbon) element for your compost pile. I like to keep an extra bin of leaves available, so I can toss layer into the compost bin as needed to offset the green material (nitrogen) such as kitchen waste.
  • Leaf Mold: Over time, leaves gathered in a pile or compost bin will break down to a rich humus that can be incorporated into your soil to improve the structure and moisture holding ability. Leaf mold also provides food for beneficial soil organisms.

One of the easiest ways to gather and shred leaves is to use your lawn mower either with a bagger or without. If you use a bagger, the mower will shred up a nice combination of grass and leaves that can be emptied into your compost bins. Even if you don’t have a bagger on your mower, with some strategic mowing, you can direct the side discharge to gather the shredded leaves and grass into a pile. Then rake up the pile and fill your compost bin or store in garbage bags. See 5 Ways Organic Mulch Helps Your Garden.

Take Notes:

As you are cleaning up your vegetable garden, think about what you grew and how it did. Take notes on how many plants you grew, which varieties did well, and how much you harvested. What pests did you have to deal with this year? Was there one garden bed that didn’t perform very well? Jotting down these details now while they are fresh in your mind will help you plan your vegetable garden for next year. It will also give you time to research solutions to problems you may have encountered. Consider The Gardening Notebook by Angi Schneider to keep organized notes on your garden.

Enjoy Fall:

Take time to enjoy the crisp, cool days of fall as you work in the garden. No humidity certainly makes outdoor work more comfortable. Observe the beauty around you and the warmth of the sunlight. Take a deep breath and enjoy the fresh aroma of the soil. Soon all will be covered with snow and frozen until spring.

Taking the extra effort to clean up the vegetable garden beds in the fall makes it very easy to begin growing the following spring. The beds will be waiting and ready for planting. Simply rake the mulch aside, pull any weeds, amend with organic fertilizer based on your soil test results, and sow seeds or transplant seedlings into the garden. There will be plenty of time over winter to dream and plan next year’s vegetable garden.

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5 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

As autumn progresses and the weather cools, it’s time to get your garden ready for the winter. It may seem like not much is happening in your yard as you watch deciduous trees and shrubs drop their colorful foliage and other plants slow their growth as they prepare to go dormant. However, there’s a lot going on under the soil until it freezes. This is especially true for newly transplanted trees and shrubs, divisions of perennials, and hardy spring bulbs, which all need to grow new roots to anchor themselves. Earthworms and various microbes in the soil are also still processing organic material into nutrients plants need to fortify themselves for the winter. While nature has its own ways of coping with the cold, dark months, we rounded up the top five things you can do to help prepare your plants for winter.

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1. Mulch Your Perennials

Perennials return year after year, as long as they are hardy in your area. Each species handles cold differently so it is helpful to know which hardiness Zones a particular plant is rated for and which Zone you live in. In general, perennials that are hardy in your area won’t require much effort from you to prepare them for winter. In regions that experience a lot of freezing and thawing, frost heaving can cause plants to get pushed out of the ground. To prevent this, add a 6-inch-thick layer of chopped leaves, straw, or other mulch around your perennials once the ground has frozen. This will help even out the soil temperature, especially if your area doesn’t always have snow covering the ground throughout winter.

Sometimes the plant’s own dead leaves help protect its crown and roots from the cold, so go ahead and leave them in place until next spring. Many perennials (such as sedums, purple coneflowers, and ornamental grasses) have forms that are interesting through winter, and their seeds help feed birds and other wildlife too. But if you prefer a tidier garden, it’s fine to cut your perennials to the ground after frost has withered their leaves. Just make sure to add a layer of mulch to help protect them.

Related: Prepping Perennials for Winter

Image zoom Peter Krumhardt

2. Extend Your Annual Display

Unlike perennials that return each year, annuals live only one season in the garden and can’t survive freezing temperatures. Some are known as cool-season annuals, meaning they prefer to grow and bloom when temperatures are cooler. These include ornamental kale, blue lobelia, and snapdragons. Warm-season annuals, on the other hand, like it hot. Zinnias, French marigolds, and impatiens fall into this category. But you can extend the life of both types of annuals by keeping polyspun garden fabric handy to cover them during light frosts. Continue to water annuals until frost kills them. If your annuals are in containers, move them into a garage or other protected space when temperatures are forecast to dip into the 40s overnight. You can do this until daytime temperatures no longer rise above that threshold.

Image zoom David McDonald

3. Dig Up Tender Bulbs

Fall is the time to plant hardy spring-blooming bulbs, but there are other types of plants known as tender bulbs that you may want to dig up if you live where the ground freezes. These include popular summer-bloomers like gladiolus, cannas, and dahlias. If you want to save these plants for another year, after frost has turned their leaves brown, gently dig them up and cut away the leaves. Brush off any excess soil, but don’t wash them with water because excessive dampness can cause them to rot during storage. Let them dry in cool spot for a week, then pack them in a breathable container such as a cardboard box. Cover them in sawdust or old newspapers so bulbs don’t touch, and place in a garage, basement, or other location that will not freeze but will stay below 45°F.

Related: Storing Tender Flower Garden Bulbs

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4. Pamper Trees and Shrubs

Your trees and shrubs will have an easier time getting through winter if you make sure they are in good shape. For both evergreen and deciduous species, one of the most important things is to give them plenty of water before the ground freezes, especially if autumn has been dry. After the ground freezes, spread organic material such as chopped leaves up to 6 inches thick. This helps keep moisture in the soil (plants need water even during winter) and protect roots from freezing and thawing. Trim away any broken, damaged, or diseased limbs to prevent snow and wind from making these problems worse. For young evergreens or broad-leaved types in exposed locations, shield them from drying winter wind with burlap screens or shade cloth shelters.

Related: Tree & Shrub Care Guide

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5. Bundle Up Your Roses

Roses are so beautiful that it’s difficult to begrudge them the attention they require over the growing season. As cool weather brings on their dormant period, one final job remains for you: getting them ready for winter. Some types of roses are hardier than others, so it’s important to know which kinds you have. As a group, hybrid tea roses are the most vulnerable to winter cold and need the most preparation; the easiest roses to grow and care for are shrub roses. Make sure to give all your roses plenty of water before the ground freezes, but do not fertilize or cut them back. To protect the root balls from frost heaving, pile up extra soil around their base. In Zone 6 and colder, add a 6- to 12-inch layer of straw, leaves, or other mulch on top of the soil mound then secure with a circle of chicken wire.

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6 Ways To Prepare Garden Beds For Winter Vegetables

Harvest the last of the summer crops and get ready to plant cool-weather edibles Words: Cheryl Maddocks

Early autumn is the changeover time when it comes to growing vegetables, so it’s time to pick the last of the summer produce and plant the new autumn and winter crops.

A bit of work done in the garden now will ensure you have a good harvest during the cooler months. Here’s how to sow and grow vegies, greens and herbs for fresh ingredients to add to soups, stews and more.

1. Harvest crops

The first job is to pick all of the remaining crops, and either enjoy them now or preserve them for future use. You can make sauce from excess tomatoes, or oven-dry them.

Freeze surplus basil by tearing the leaves, putting them in ice-cube trays and covering with water.

The frozen leaves can be used in winter soups and stews simply by adding the ice-cube to the pot with the other ingredients.

Trim herbs such as oregano and marjoram, then hang the clippings in a warm, dry spot indoors. Store the dried leaves in an airtight container.

2. Prepare the patch

Remove all the finished plants from the vegetable garden and put them on the compost heap. Pull up any weeds, making sure you get the roots as well.

Weeds compete with plants for soil nutrition and leave them open to attack by insects and diseases.

Dig the whole patch with a fork or spade, incorporating any remaining mulch into the soil.

Break up the clods until you have a nice crumbly soil.

3. Test the pH

The majority of vegetables like a soil with a pH of about 6.5. And as soil has a tendency to slowly become acidic through fertilising, it is always a good idea to test it every couple of years.

Checking soil pH is easy with a testing kit. If it is too acidic you can rectify it with dolomite, garden lime or a liquid lime.

Make sure you follow the directions on the packet.

4. Condition the soil

Before planting, the soil will need conditioning with mushroom compost, or cow or chicken manure.

Dig the compost or manure lightly into the soil, then rake it, making sure it is crumbly, level and smooth. It will eventually break down, supplying the soil with beneficial organic matter.

Conditioners also encourage earthworms, which break down root mats and open up tunnels for oxygen and water to penetrate the soil.

The plant roots take nutrition from the nitrate-rich mucus that coats these tunnels.

Compost is free and makes a great conditioner, as it helps to regenerate the soil and increases the water-holding capacity by at least 30 as well.

And by recycling organic waste, you’re keeping it out of landfill. Seaweed products are also soil conditioners.

Often mistaken for a fertiliser, liquid seaweed promotes beneficial micro-organisms in the soil, which in turn boosts the health of the plant.

Homemade compost is an ideal soil conditioner and it’s free

5. Water the bed

Give the bed a good watering at least a day before you plant. This will help the manure and compost to break down and settle prior to you planting seeds or seedlings.

6. Spread with mulch

Adding a mulch, such as sugar cane, lucerne hay or pea straw, conserves moisture by reducing evaporation, prevents weed growth by restricting light and modifies the temperature of the soil by cooling or warming it.

As the mulch breaks down, it adds structure to the soil by supplying it with beneficial organic matter.

What to plant

  • Beetroot
  • Broad beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Peas
  • Silverbeet
  • Spinach
  • Turnip

Growing in climate zones

Depending on whether you live in a hot or cold region, you need to choose the vegetables that will thrive in local conditions during winter.

Cool and temperate areas

  • Radishes
  • Kohlrabi
  • Shallots
  • Spring onions
  • Brussels sprouts

Subtropical and tropical areas

  • Cucumbers
  • Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Egplants
  • Capsicums

Herbs to plant

The following herbs are perfect for winter staples such as soups, stews and casseroles.

  • Rosemary
  • Bay
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Coriander
  • Rocket
  • Mizuna
  • Chervil
  • Parsley

Sow the seeds

There is a greater variety of vegies to choose from if you grow them from seed. It’s also less expensive, as a packet of 50-100 seeds costs the same as a punnet of 6-12 seedlings.

If you seal and store the packet, you’ll have about three years’ supply.

Certain vegetables grow better from seed, planted directly where they are to grow, rather than from transplanted seedlings.

Direct-sow broad beans, radish, silverbeet, peas, Asian greens, spinach, parsnip, beetroot and carrot.

You can buy propagating sets to get your seeds off to a good start, but an even cheaper alternative is to re-use seedling punnets as a DIY propagator or mini greenhouse.

Place plastic wrap or a clear plastic freezer bag over the seed container, then seal it. Remove the plastic when the seeds have germinated.

Cardboard egg cartons make great punnets for large seeds. Fill them with seed-raising mix and plant a seed in each section. When they’ve germinated, cut out the individual sections and plant them in the ground.

The cardboard will soon break down in the soil and your seedlings won’t suffer transplant shock.

Seed tapes, which are strips of soft paper containing evenly spaced seeds, are easy to use and effective. You simply lay the tape in the ground, cover it with soil, then water it.

TIP Water transplanted seedlings with a seaweed concentrate to help prevent transplant shock.

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Putting Your Flower Garden to Bed

By Rashelle Matthiesen-Anderson
Plant Disease Clinic
Iowa State University

It might sound crazy, but autumn is my favorite time of year for gardening. What could be better? There are no mosquitoes, the temperature isn’t scorching and the weeds are at bay. So, preparing my flowerbed for winter can be quite enjoyable; however, it is also a necessity. There are several steps to successfully preparing your flowerbed for the winter season, therefore ensuring a healthy bed in the spring.

The removal of annual and herbaceous plant debris from the flowerbed is very important. Proper sanitation decreases the chance of disease and insect problems in the spring. Diseases and insects like to use debris as over wintering “hiding places” and they can then cause serious damage to plants in the following growing season.

Diseased debris should be discarded and not placed in a compost pile because temperatures in most compost piles do not get hot enough to kill all pathogens.

Another good idea is to remove annual flowers after a killing frost. In addition, perennials that show signs of disease should be cut back in the fall. Healthy perennials can be cut back in the fall or spring. Perennials that provide winter interest, such as ornamental grasses, should be cut back in early spring.

Cutting back in the spring has some advantages, which include providing winter protection and preventing premature plant growth. Most perennials can be cut at ground level. Cutting perennials back to ground level does not harm the plant because, in the fall, perennials transfer their nutrients to the roots.

After removing the plant debris, the soil in annual flowerbeds can be improved by applying and incorporating organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure. Using a rotary tiller when adding compost can improve annual flowerbed health because it reduces compaction, increases drainage and increases organic matter. Although tilling can be time consuming and strenuous work, it does provide a wonderful way of incorporating organic matter into the flowerbed.

Tilling perennial beds or a mixed annual and perennial bed is not recommended as tilling could damage perennial root systems, which could slow or prevent plant growth in the spring.

If using a rotary tiller is not feasible or the flowerbed contains perennials, applying 2-3 inches of mulch to the flowerbed also is beneficial. Newly planted perennial beds should be mulched in late fall. Pine needles and straw can be used as winter mulch for newly planted perennials to prevent damage from freezing and thawing conditions, which may heave poorly established plants out of the ground. Plants heaved out of the ground may be severely damaged or destroyed. However, most well established perennials do not require protective winter mulch. If desired, wood chips or shredded bark can be applied as permanent mulch to well-established perennial flowerbeds.

Before applying mulch, remember to remove all diseased plant debris and weeds from the flowerbed. Adding mulch to the flowerbed ensures roots systems are covered and better protected for the winter. In the spring, remove most of the mulch from annual flowerbeds and incorporate approximately 1 inch of mulch into the soil. Mulch adds organic matter to the soil, which creates a healthy environment for plants. Winter mulch should be removed from perennial flowerbeds in late March or early April.

Finally, water perennials when the weather in late summer and fall is dry. Even though the temperatures are dropping, plants are not dormant yet. In the fall, humidity usually drops and the air becomes dry. These conditions combined with a stiff wind can quickly dry out soil. So, remember to water before the ground freezes if conditions are dry.

Although fall might seem like the time to just sit back, relax, and enjoy football games or walks in the park, don’t forget that your flowerbed needs you. By taking the time now, you are ensuring the good health of your flowerbed in the spring and years to come.

Contacts :
Rashelle Mattheisen-Anderson, ISU Plant Disease Clinic, [email protected]
Jean McGuire, Extension Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-7033, [email protected]

Preparing your yard for fall:

QUICK Fall prep tips to do in August:

1

Harvest any fruit or vegetables that are now ripe.

2

Bird Baths will quickly evaporate or become full of algae growth quick in this summer heat, remember to clean them out regularly and keep them topped up to help our birds during the worst heat spells.

3

Bees also need water. It’s easy to set out water for bees. Fill as shallow tray with grape size gravel and fill. Bees will be able to navigate the tops of the gravel safely while still being able to access the water you have left out for them.

4

Keep your container plants well watered. Continue to fertilize into fall every couple of weeks or so, to keep them looking their best.

5

Deadhead your lilies. This will help them produce a better display next year.

6

Cut back your herbs now. There is still time for new growth and fresh leaves to harvest before frost.

7

Cut back faded perennials to tidy the borders in your beds.

8

Deadhead bedding plants and perennial plants to stop them self-seeding and to encourage further flowering into the autumn.

9

Trim Lavender plants after they’ve finished flowering and this will keep them compact.

10

Divide and replant Bearded Iris now. Doing it now will give them time to form roots and flowers buds for next year before the cold weather arrives.

11

Look out for symptoms of Clematis Wilt such as wilting leaves and black discolouration on the leaves and stems of your Clematis. Cut out any infected plant material and dispose of it in your household waste.

12

Keep feeding and watering tomatoes. Remove leaves lower down on the plant to help with air circulation and prevent disease.

13

Water vegetable gardens and fruit plants daily or as necessary in the warm weather.

14

Once runner beans reach the top of their support pinch out the tips. This encourages side-shooting and more beans at a manageable height for picking.

15

Plant out any rooted runners of strawberries for a good crop next year.

16

Hedges can be given a final trim now before they stop growing.

17

Turn the compost in your compost bin to keep it well aerated and to speed up decomposition.

18

Keep an eye out for white powdery mildew on plants. If possible, remove the affected parts and spray with a fungicide to prevent further spread.

19

Take lots of photos of your garden now if you want to rearrange it – it’s much easier to do this if you have a reference point.

20

Think about which bulbs you would like for next spring – soon now they will be arriving at greengate Garden Centres for autumn planting.

– Fall bed preparation –

Digging in soil conditioners such as steer or sheep manure, gypsum, composts or peat moss into your soil in the fall will save you time in the spring. Think of all the energy saved for next spring’s planting. Turn over the soil with a spade; being careful not to tear or disturb any existing roots. Then dig in the soil conditioners using a garden fork. Large lumps should be left in the soil at this point. Frost helps to break soil into a less dense soil structure, ideal for plant growth and moisture retention. Turn again in the spring, shortly before planting and break down large lumps with a garden fork. You can also add a slow release fertilizer for an added boost. Be careful not to walk on the area that has been freshly turned.

– Fall lawn preparation –

A little preparation in the fall encourages early spring growth in your lawn. As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop your lawn will stop growing. Now is the time to mow your lawn for one last time. Set your mower to cut 1-2 cm. higher than normal, mow the entire lawn, apply a slow release nitrogen fall/winter formulation fertilizer, and then water the entire lawn thoroughly. This will ensure an ample supply of nutrients and moisture for early spring growth. If fall turns into an Indian Summer and the lawn dries out, continue watering your lawn until freeze up. Remember to drain outside taps or any items that are stored outside; for example, sprinklers, nozzles, or hoses. These items can be damaged by freezing water. Leaves should be raked off the lawn before any permanent snow falls. If leaves are left on the lawn they will become wet and form tight layers, which can provide ideal conditions for mould diseases. Fall can also be a good time to treat weeds in your lawn as most weeds grow fairly actively in the cooler temperatures. The fewer weeds you end this season with the fewer you will begin with next spring.

– Fertilizing –

Fall fertilizer applications are important. The slow release, low nitrogen fertilizer you apply in the fall develops strong roots, which enables grass and plants to over winter well. Fall fertilizers are stored in the root system over the winter and provide nutrients for early spring growth.

By putting some time in now your lawn and garden should be primed and ready to go come spring! Can’t wait.

Overwintering herbs

Now that fall is upon us it is time to prepare your herbs for winter, and maybe even bring your herb garden inside. Even hardy perennial herbs will probably benefit from extra protection, while more tender perennials, and biennial plants, can be moved inside, nurtured and planted again in the spring.

Hardy perennial herbs, such as chives, sage, tarragon, and thyme, can certainly overwinter if they are planted in the ground, but mulching can help to prevent the freezing and thawing associated with Calgary’s winters. A more consistent temperature through out the winter helps to reduce the stress on the plants and will help ensure a healthy plant come spring.
Any herb you can grow in your garden can be brought in to grow and enjoy all winter long. Herbs in pots can be brought at any time before freeze and placed in a sunny location, in some cases artificial light may be needed.

If you did not plant your herbs in pots you can still move them inside by either transplanting full plants into large pots, or taking cutting and starting new plants. Full plants should be potted in a deep container, with good soil and transplant fertilizer, allow the plant time to adjust, and bring plant in before first frost. If you would prefer smaller plants you can take cuttings about 4-6 inches long, dip in rooting compound, and place in small pot covered in clear plastic or covered planting tray and put in a sunny location. Again additional lights may be required.
Care for, and maintain, your herbs through the winter and you will have fresh herbs all winter long and healthy plants to put outside in the spring.

Protect your tender perennials

Sudden increases in temperature during one of Calgary’s Chinooks can cause a plant to break its dormancy and leaf buds developed in the fall can begin to grow. Then when the next cold snap occurs, it can’t go back to being dormant again, causing serious stress or killing leaf buds. The plant would be fine during continuously cold weather but now it’s stressed. The goal of protecting your perennials is to minimize the impact of Calgary’s fluctuating weather.
Many of our perennials, shrubs and trees are cultivars of our native plants, so they are hardy here. The native ones can also suffer the same fate but are usually adaptable enough to come back. There is little we can do to prevent this type of damage on trees and shrubs, but mulching over the root area of perennials can keep the roots cold a little longer and lessen the chances of untimely leaf bud growth. Dry leaves and other fall plant debris make good mulch; compost and vermiculite can also be used.

Plant hardiness is expressed in zone numbers – the lower the number, the hardier the plant is. Calgary is generally considered to be zone 3-4. If you like challenges, some zone 5 plants can survive if covered with mulch and then a cloth cover such as burlap, held down with rocks to stop the mulch from blowing away during our Chinook winds. Snow is a good insulator and helps to keep plant temperatures more consistent. .

Most evergreens we grow are native here and can cope. Spruce, pine and juniper tolerate our dry climate and strange weather patterns amazingly well. Cedars, however, are native to climates where winter is consistently wet and cool. We can’t give them that, and many don’t survive our winters. Cedars have more chance of survival in climates that stay cold throughout the winter more. They are one evergreen that should be watered periodically until the ground freezes, but don’t overdo it! They have a better chance in a shady spot than in direct sun and winter wind.

Hybrid tea roses may require some protection to survive our unpredictable winters. In the fall when they have had some frost, prune long stems back to about 12-18 inches. Give them water occasionally during a warm fall, as they are still not dormant and often still have green leaves. Do not cover too soon, as that will prevent the plants from exposure to cold, which is what signals them to become dormant. Before an expected hard frost, cover the plant with a Styrofoam rose cone with the top removed. Fill the cone with dry, well-packed leaves, vermiculite or straw and cover the opening with cloth, held down with rocks, or bricks, which allows air circulation during Chinooks. Uncover in spring when poplar trees are leafing out. Uncovering them too soon to see if they are alive may expose them to the next hard frost. Snow is an excellent insulator and may be piled on covered tender roses for added protection.

Any extra protection that you can give to your tender plants can help them to make it through the winter. With a little bit of thought, care, and of course, work in the garden you can help your plants, not just make it through the winter, but thrive in the spring.

Dividing perennials

Perennials are not maintenance free. In addition to staking, watering, and fertilizing in preparation for winter, some perennials will also require dividing when they outgrow their spots and for some perennials fall is a great time to do this.http://greengate.ca/perennial-care.html

If the flower quality and quantity drops in your mature perennials this may be a sign of overcrowding, and they may need dividing. Some may simply have outgrown the place they are in or other plants, as they grow, may be creating too much shade for sun loving perennials. Many perennials form clumps of stems. These stems are actually individual plants with their own root systems. Perennials cannot be divided if they grow from one central stalk. Early blooming perennials should be divided in early fall. When all the leaves have fallen, gently dig up the plant and separate the roots of the individual clumps to be removed. Replant the removed plants in an appropriate place in the garden. Later flowering perennials should be divided in the same way in the spring, as soon as they are showing growth.
Delicate tubers, such as Dahlias, can be dug up from the garden for use next year. These tubers may grow into clusters that can be separated, increasing the amount of tubers you have for planting in spring. Remember it may take a couple of seasons before your tubers are ready to be separated. When separating its important to ensure that each tuber has a portion of stem on it. Plant again in spring normally, according to your local seeding schedule. Tulip bulbs cluster and can be treated in the same way.
Dividing perennials, when necessary, will improve the overall health of the plants, by giving them the room they require to grow into healthy plants. It will also give you the added benefit of increasing the amount healthy, desirable, plants in your garden, which is never a bad thing!

Any perennial that is showing signs of dying out in the middle of the clump is a good candidate. This will keep your plants healthy and vigorous year after year and of course you will have more plants to share or move around in your garden.
Clean your ponds of leaves and debris. Fall seems to be the busiest time with blowing and falling debris. Keep it clean and keep it going! A little bit every week will help you keep ahead of fall.
Clean out cold frames and greenhouses get ready for fall cold weather crops.
Continue to feed and deadhead hanging baskets and container plants many of these plants either annual or perennial will keeps going strong, sometimes even past the first frost.
Keep deadheading annuals and perennials to extend their performance.
Deadhead your dahlias and roses to keep flowers coming. Be ready to dig out bulbs like Dahlias and begonias. You can keep them overwinter in a cool dark place.
Keep harvesting crops. Anything that is now ready to be harvested should be. Frost can come at any time in September, or not at all. Be ready.
Pull or cut off the foliage of main crop potatoes three weeks before harvesting them. This can prevent blight spores and help to firm the skins of the potatoes.
Spread newly dug potatoes out to dry for a few hours before storing them in a cool, dark place. You can store them in paper bags, as this will allow the crop to breathe while it’s in storage. Store only undamaged, disease-free potatoes.
Help pumpkins ripen in time for Halloween by removing any leaves shadowing the fruits.
Raise pumpkins and squashes off the ground it will help in the prevention of rotting. Use slate or wood.
Keep feeding and watering beans to make the most of them. Harvesting often in smaller amounts to prevent them from going to seed.
Start the autumn cleanup. Remove any old crops that have finished and clear away weeds to leave your plot ready for the winter.

In the fruit garden:

Tidy up your strawberry plants and clear away any used straw.
Pick ripe apples. When they are ready to harvest they – they should come away easily.
Pick off rotting fruits from pear, apple and plum trees – they will spread disease if left on the tree.
Mow long grass under fruit trees to see fallen fruit easier.
Cut back the fruited canes of your summer raspberries and leave the new green canes for next season. If it’s possible support next year’s raspberry canes to wire, fencing or trellises.

In the greenhouse:

Water greenhouse plants early in the a.m. so the greenhouse is dry by the evening. Damp, cool nights can encourage disease.
In the evening close greenhouse vents and doors late in the afternoon to trap in heat overnight.
Empty your finished pots. Dead plant material can hide unwanted pests through winter.
Clean out your greenhouse by clearing out fertilizers and other items that can’t be frozen. Clearing out old and unused debris can reduce the risk of pests and diseases next year.
Remove shading from your greenhouse towards the end of the month. The days will be getting much shorter.

Lawn care:

Fill bare spots or create new lawns from turf or seed – autumn weather is favourable for good lawn establishment.
Raise the height of your mower blades as grass growth slows down.
Apply a fall fertilizer this will give your lawn a head start next spring.

Other jobs about the garden:

Improve clay soil with compost before it becomes too wet or frozen.
Create compost bins. Fall leaves and rotting plant materials make for great compost. Be ahead of the weather.
Raise pots off the ground for the winter and store pots that are not suitable to be outside in winter.

Veggie Garden Winter Preparation: How To Prepare Vegetable Garden Beds For Winter

The annual flowers have faded, the last of the peas harvested and the previously green grass is browning up. It’s time to get organized and decide how to prepare vegetable garden beds for winter. With a little veggie garden winter preparation, you’ll be setting the groundwork for a bountiful harvest during the next growing season.

How to Prepare Vegetable Garden Beds for Winter

The first order of business when getting the garden ready for winter is sanitation. Remove any spent crop detritus and compost. Break everything down into smaller pieces and mix in shredded leaves to create a balance of nitrogen to speed up decomposition. Do not incorporate any plants that show signs of disease or insect problems, as they will infiltrate the compost pile and cause future problems. Dispose of these in the trash or burn them if allowed to do so in your region.

Also, thoroughly weed the garden but don’t compost the perennial weeds. They will likely reseed themselves and become the bane of your existence if you use the compost in the garden the successive season.

Other items on the list of winter prep for vegetable gardens are to remove any unused stakes, ties, and trellises and allow to air

dry before storing. This is also a great time to clean and oil gardening tools.

More on Preparing a Vegetable Garden for Winter

At this time in your veggie garden winter preparation, it’s time to think of your soil. You may wish to have the soil tested to see if and what type of amendment would be most beneficial. Depending upon the test results, soil improvement may be needed with the addition of lime, organic matter or fertilizer.

Lime is added to the soil to make it more neutral and is added every other year or third year for heavy soils. For every 100 feet, mix in 4 pounds of lime for sandy soil, 6 pounds for loamy soil or 8 pounds for clay soils and blend into the top 8-10 inches.

Organic matter, such as compost, can be added any time of the year; however, in the fall straw is often added to prevent weeds and retain moisture. Additionally, this is a good time to till in some fresh manure.

Fertilizing in the fall is often an exercise in futility since it will likely wash down through the soil and into the groundwater. A better thing to do is to plant a cover crop that will protect the soil and aid in nutrient retention. There are many cover crops or green manure, such as crimson clover, fava beans, field peas, vetch and legumes. Legumes are great since they add nitrogen to the soil and enrich it when the soil is turned in the spring.

Some planting may also occur at this time when getting the garden ready for winter. Garlic, for instance, is always best when planted in the fall. There are other cool crop plants suitable for this season.

And lastly, before putting the garden to bed for the winter, take some notes. It’s a good idea to keep a record of what crops did well, or not. Photos or a sketch of the garden will also keep it fresh in your mind and remind you of successes or defeats. Also write down the soil amendments you have made. Proper sanitation, soil amendment, and the addition of organic matter with the use of green manures will ensure a bumper crop in the following year.

Preparing Your Vegetable Garden for Winter

Every gardener probably has a different version of the “best” way to prepare a backyard garden forthe winter. Because our Ohio garden is large, and each year is different in climate and crops, I findthat our garden goes into each winter with a little different variation of preparedness. Winter preparations occur over several weeks, but perhaps the following suggestions will give you ideas that you can try now and in the years ahead.

One thing that most gardeners will agree upon is that it’s worth the effort to clean out all the old annual plants. Some of the vines and climbing plants will die on their own and can be hauled to the compost by now. Others like tomatoes will wait for a hard frost to die. I’m in no rush to clean out crops if I can still get some green tomatoes or a sweet pepper or two. However, when the season is over, cleaning out the dead plants prevents the build-up of disease and harmful insects. The heat of composting will kill them.

The dead plants and weeds that you clean out from your garden in the autumn become valuable additions to your compost. Don’t worry about knocking all the soil off the roots. Soil contains microbes that will boost the decomposition of your compost. The compost recipe is “two-parts brown and one-part green. Dried leaves, pine needles can be added to the dead plants to provide the “brown.” Kitchen waste, grass and still-green plants will help provide the “green” component of your compost recipe.

If you don’t have room for a compost pile outside your garden area, consider digging trenches in your garden where you can bury this debris along with the other compost ingredients. After one trench is filled and one area of your garden cleaned out, dig another trench for the next area. This will compost and enrich your soil for the next year.

There are lots more options for your garden before you say good-bye to it until next spring. For one thing, if you plan ahead, your garden can continue to provide food through much of the winter. Kale and collards can be planted in the heat of August and then ignored until cold-sensitive plants have died. Carrots can be planted about late August or September and then covered with straw and not harvested until frost has sweetened them.

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The garden is also a good place to create a “root cellar” of sorts. Plants don’t have to be deep in the soil to be protected from the cold. If you have cabbage in the garden that you would like to save for the winter months, dig it up now with the roots attached. Next, dig a hole to put it in, head-first, with the root sticking out to mark the spot. (You might also want to mark the spot with a stake in case you have high snow). When you dig it up this winter, you can remove only the outside leaves and have a perfect cabbage. Potatoes and carrots can also be dug now and preserved with a mound of straw and dirt above them.

Depending on where you live, you might still have time to put in some plants for next year. Spinach is planted four to six weeks before frost and then covered with straw for a late winter or early springtime treat. It’s time right here to plant garlic, rhubarb and shallots for next year’s harvest.

Some people say that soil should not lay bare through the winter because top soil will be lost to erosion. The best solution for this is to plant a cover crop (see the photo for an example of a buckwheat cover crop as well as compost rows). Cover crops can do more than hold your soil in place. Some plants can also serve as “green manure” when tilled back into the soil next spring. You want crops that will break-down readily, and buckwheat and rye serve this purpose well. A good source of cover crop seeds is Johnny’s Seeds.

Another purpose of cover crops can be to enrich the soil while they hold it in place. Legumes do this best because their roots have nitrogen-fixing nodules. Red clover is my favorite for this purpose because its stems don’t contain silicone and therefore breakdown readily in the soil in the springtime. Other clovers are difficult to get rid of when you’re ready to plant your crops.

The granddaddy of all cover crops is a mixture of buckwheat, red clover and turnips. The buckwheat feeds the bees, holds the soil in place, suppresses weed growth and breaks down readily after a frost. The red clover enriches the soil, suppresses weeds and also helps to hold the soil. And the turnips? After the buckwheat dies, you can protect them with a bit of straw and have turnips to eat throughout the winter!

I have one more way that I am getting our garden ready this fall, but it is next springtime that I have in mind. Last spring was so wet right up into June that it was difficult to get into the garden to plant seedlings. The only parts of the garden that I was able to plant were the rows that I had already laid out with compost and straw-paths the previous autumn. I am therefore getting my daily work-out now by hauling compost, cart-load by cart-load, from the compost pile in the meadow to the garden. Who knows what next spring will bring, but with every part of the garden in a different stage of preparation, some part might be “just right.”

Preparing a Vegetable Garden for Winter

To prepare a vegetable garden for winter, you’ll want to do a great cleanup job in the fall. This garden care will make it easier to start the new growing season in the spring.


After a big harvest of winter
squash, prepare the vegetable
garden for winter. See more
pictures of vegetable gardens.

You may be tempted to skip some of these last-minute chores, but they’re worth doing because they can make a big difference to the success of next year’s garden. While these tasks can be put off until the start of the growing season, you can expect to be busy with the vegetable garden in the spring. You’ll find it useful to have some of the work out of the way ahead of time.
As you finish harvesting crops and rows of garden space become available, it’s a good idea to plant a cover crop, or green manure, as part of your preparation for the following year. This is a crop that you don’t intend to harvest. It’s simply to provide protection for the soil underneath. When you prepare for your spring planting, you dig the whole crop into the soil. A cover crop will keep your precious topsoil from blowing or washing away, and tilling it into the soil in the spring will provide valuable organic matter to enrich the soil.
The cover crop will also shade the soil, preventing many cool-season weeds from germinating. It’s not necessary to plant the whole cover crop at one time to cover the entire garden; you can plant in each area of the garden as space becomes available.
Cover crops are not exclusively used over the winter. If you have a space in the garden that will be vacant for several weeks between plantings, a summer cover of buckwheat makes an ideal green manure. The buckwheat germinates quickly and covers the soil, preventing summer weeds from germinating. It’s hollow-stemmed and easy to turn into the soil when you plant your next vegetable.
Vegetable Garden Cover Crop Types

Variety Season to Grow Amount of Seed/ 1000 Sq. Ft.
Rye Winter 1 to 2 lbs.
Crimson Clover Winter 1 lb.
Soybeans Summer 3 to 5 lbs.
Hairy Vetch Winter 3/4 to 11/2 lbs.
Winter Wheat Winter 1 to 2 lbs.
Buckwheat Summer 2 to 3 lbs.
Rape Winter 2 to 5 oz.
Cowpeas Summer 3 to 4 lbs.

As an alternative to planting a cover crop, you can prepare the vegetable soil ahead of time. Tilling your soil in the fall can save you a great deal of time and help you get an earlier start in the spring because the soil is often too wet in early spring to use a spade or a rototiller. If you do till your soil in the fall, make sure to cover it with mulch to keep it from blowing away and to prevent massive winter weed germination. Consider soil preparation for the area of your garden where you plan to grow next season’s cool-season vegetables.
If you’re growing perennial vegetables, fall is the time to prepare them for winter survival. Remove old stems and foliage that have been killed back by frost to prevent the spread of disease organisms and insects that winter on old debris.
In cold climates, perennial vegetables should be protected with a blanket of mulch to prevent root damage from extreme cold temperatures. In mild climates, a coating of mulch will protect plants from the alternating freeze-and-thaw and prevent plants from heaving from the soil.
Want more information about vegetable gardens? Try:

  • Caring for a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to stake, weed, mulch, water, and control pests in a vegetable garden.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year’s garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.
  • Garden Care: Explore how to care for all types of gardens.

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