If you’re like most gardeners, the approaching cold weather is bittersweet. The cooler weather is a relief from the heat, but it also means you have to put your garden to bed. But instead of lamenting the fact that there are no more tomatoes to can or peas to shell, why not concentrate on learning to prepare your garden for winter?
And if you’re into organic gardening, you’ll also find some tips that will help ensure that you nourish your garden even more for the spring planting.
Why Should You Prepare Your Garden for Winter?
Summer gardening is a beast, isn’t it? Making sure your plants get enough water to produce those delicious fruits and vegetables is almost a full-time job in some climates. And the pests and diseases that thrive in the hot summer months are no laughing matter.
That’s why some people close up their garden after the summer harvest and don’t think about it again until spring.
But that’s a mistake.
When you don’t properly prepare your garden for winter, you will have a few unwanted surprises in the spring. For instance, leaving withered and dead plants in your garden over the winter can spread disease because the cold doesn’t kill all fungus. Also, unless you take some precautions, you will have to fight even more weeds come spring. Finally, pests can hide underneath the garden debris and will surprise attack you in the spring. But by removing all the debris, you won’t give them a place to hide.
How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter
By now, you understand the importance of learning how to prepare your garden for winter, especially when organic gardening. After all, the last thing you want to do is fight diseases, pests, and weeds!
If you’re ready to put your garden to bed until spring, here are the 10 things you should do right now.
1. Take the last harvest
Your first step is to harvest anything left in your garden. Many people leave tomato plants until the last minute to give tomatoes time to ripen on the vine. They will also ripen on your countertop!
If you live in the South, your eggplants will also probably continue to produce until fall, so you can wait to pull those out until you are ready to prepare your garden for winter.
2. Clean things up
After you’ve gathered all of the vegetables left on the plants, it’s time to pull the plants out of the ground. Most of the plants will be withered and dying because cool weather is setting in. Don’t be tempted to leave plants in your garden because if a late blight sets in, it can carry over until spring.
An exception to that rule is plants with deep roots that are difficult to pull like cabbage or broccoli. Some gardeners prefer to leave the roots in the ground until spring because they are typically easier to pull then.
3. Take a trip to the compost pile
Once you’ve gathered the garden debris and pulled up the old plants, it’s time to put them in the compost pile. Your compost will cook over the winter and provide you with a nutrient-rich soil for your spring garden.
If the old plants have a disease or look sickly, throw them in the trash instead of the compost pile so you don’t risk adding fungus or other diseases to your spring garden. Some diseases can overwinter. And you should never put old tomato plants in the compost pile — it’s too risky!
4. Leave them behind
Some plants love the cold weather and you can leave them in the ground to continue to produce. For instance, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, spinach, and broccoli may survive the winter months provided that you top-dress them with mulch. And garlic is meant to grow through the cold winter months and you will harvest it in the summer.
5. See where you’re at
The soil is the lifeblood of your garden, and if it doesn’t contain the right mixture of nutrients, your plants aren’t likely to thrive. When you prepare your garden for winter, it’s the ideal time to test your soil to determine what you should add to it.
Start by digging down about 6 inches in your garden soil in 5 to 6 different areas. Mix the soil and eliminate all the rocks and other debris from it.
Next, you can either have your soil tested by your local cooperative extension service or test it yourself. If you want to send it off, use this list to find the office for your state. If you want to test the soil yourself, you can use products like the Rapidtest electronic soil tester.
6. Make things right
Once you’ve tested your soil, it’s time to amend it to ensure your spring garden will be a success. Depending on what your test results show you, you will add amendments to your soil to bring it into balance.
For instance, if your soil is low in nitrogen, you can add fish emulsion or blood meal. There are many methods you can use to amend your soil to prepare it for the spring.
7. Cover things up
Now that you’ve amended your soil, it’s time to add a layer of compost to your garden bed. To do so, make sure you’ve pulled all the weeds and then push aside the mulch that covers the soil. Then, add a 1 to 2-inch layer of compost over the entire bed.
After adding the compost, you need to cover the soil for the winter. The goal is to cover your soil so enough that you can’t see it. If you can see it, you’re not protecting it. You can cover your soil in two ways.
Your first option is to put a layer of mulch on the top of your soil. You can use old hay, grass clippings, or store-bought mulch. If you’re organic gardening, make sure the much you use is free of pesticides.
Don’t forget that the cold winter months kill off a lot of pests and diseases. That’s why you shouldn’t mulch the garden bed too deeply. If you do, it could prevent the soil from freezing and killing off anything you want to survive.
Your other option is to plant a cover crop in your garden. This option is ideal for a variety of reasons. First, planting a cover crop will protect your soil the same way mulch does. But by planting a cover crop, you can also add important nutrients to your garden to ensure it’s in top form for the spring.
For instance, if you plant legumes, the crop will add nitrogen to your garden soil. On the other hand, if you have too much nitrogen in your soil, plant a nutrient scavenging plant such as wheat, rye, barley, and triticale to help lessen it.
Make sure that the cover crop you use is cold-hardy and will grow throughout the winter. Here’s a great guide to cover crops. If you want to continue to grow something in your garden in addition to learning how to prepare your garden for winter, here’s a list of the best plants that grow during the winter.
8. Prepare your tools
No gardener is worth their salt without the proper tools. Instead of buying new garden tools every year, it makes much more sense to take care of the ones you already have. When you have time to prepare your garden for winter, it’s a great time to get your garden tools for the next season.
Start by wiping away any dirt and debris from your tools. If any of your tools have rust on them, use some sandpaper to clean it off. Then, musing a mill file, sharpen your tools so they will be ready to work for you once you begin planting the spring garden.
You can also lightly coat your garden tools with machine oil to help preserve them for another season. This will seal the metal, not allowing oxygen in, which keeps them working longer. Finally, replace any garden tools that are worn out or broken.
9. Think about next year
Now that you have taken the steps to prepare your garden for winter, it’s time to sit back and think about the last growing season. What did you do right, and what can you improve on? For instance, if you didn’t practice crop rotation, especially when organic gardening, you might put it into practice some spring.
Here are some other things you can think about to help your spring garden grow even better than your summer or fall garden.
Did they grow?
Hopefully, you kept a journal of all the varieties you planted and how they did. It’s important to know which plants thrive in your environment and which ones don’t. Go through your plant journal now and make a note of every species that did not do well. You probably shouldn’t plant that variety again next year.
On the other hand, be sure to make a note of the plants that did thrive so you can plant them again next year. You can also plant different types of these plants to extend your growing season. For instance, if a cherry tomato plant gave you a great harvest, think about planting cherry tomatoes with an earlier and later harvest date next year so you enjoy ripe tomatoes for a longer period.
Did they go?
Make careful notes of your organic gardening pest control methods as well. You may think you will remember them next year, but what if you don’t? Did your mixture of soap and water get rid of the aphid infestation, or did you have to purchase an insecticidal soap? Or maybe you released a jar of ladybugs to rid your plants of the pests.
Write down all of the methods that worked in your garden so you will have a go-to-guide next year.
Get Ready to Prepare Your Garden for Winter with Video
Even though you’ve read this article, sometimes watching a video on the topic can give you additional insight. Watch this quick video that shows you step-by-step how to prepare your garden for winter when using the no-till gardening method.
Are You Ready to Prepare Your Garden for Winter?
Closing down a garden for the season can be sad, but think of it this way: spring — and all those spring vegetables — is just around the corner. When you prepare your garden for winter the right way, your spring garden will be healthier and able to produce even more produce for you and your family.
Do you have a special way to prepare your garden for winter that we haven’t mentioned? If so, please tell us about it in the comment below. Doing so may help other readers have a better spring garden!