Closing Your Garden – How To Prepare For Winter
Late fall can be a depressing time for veggie gardens. After a summer of bounty, most plants have been harvested, died from frost or stopped producing if they are barely hanging on. Though you can extend the season with poly tunnels, row covers and cold frames, this extra care isn’t for everyone and only serves well for root veggies and leafy greens. That means for most people, it’s time to clean up the garden and put it out of sight and out of mind until spring. But the steps you take now will decide just how good your garden produces next year. And like everything gardening, there are many different opinions as to what’s best. What should you do in your specific space? Read on to learn, try it yourself, and then your garden will be ready to recharge through the cold months.
Removing Dead Plant Material
There is something to be said for leaving plants in your garden all winter. Dead stems and leaves can help native and beneficial insects survive the cold. But what is good for garden friends is also good for foes – both insects and diseases. To not take any chances on what’s incubating and potentially coming up next spring, you can cut plants at the base of the stem and remove any dead material that’s above the soil. Leave any roots in the ground to break down and release stored nutrients – such as beans which fix nitrogen.
There are times when it makes sense to also remove roots in fall. If planning to overseed the area for early spring greens or bulbs there won’t be another chance to amend or prep the soil before things germinate. As well, if plants were affected by disease be sure not to leave those roots in the soil. TIP: never compost any diseased plant material so as to not reintroduce pathogens into the garden.
To Turn or Not To Turn Your Soil?
The debate rages between “Till” and “No-till” camps. The best choice should not be about following one way or the other, but rather how you grow, what you grow and what’s coming next. Generally, any in-ground garden that must be walked on to access should be turned to loosen soil and mix up layers. When growing in raised garden beds turning the soil isn’t necessary since it is not compacted. But there are exceptions.
If cleaning an area of the garden that produced well and consciously leaving roots in the soil to break down, turning it in fall would defeat the purpose. But it is always a good idea to turn the soil in either raised or in-ground gardens that had issues with pests or disease. In this case tilling will expose insect eggs and bacteria spores to cold conditions which will kill them and prevent spreading.
Fall is a great time to amend your garden with compost and manure to enrich it after a long summer of heavy plant feeding. Add a top layer of approximately 1 inch and let the elements break it down and help penetrate to root level ahead of next spring. You can also add slow release amendments such as crushed egg shells for calcium and coffee grinds for nitrogen to compost directly in.
Covering your garden with a layer of natural mulch is a step to fall garden clean up that many gardeners skip. Mulch will help with soil, moisture and nutrient retention through the constant exposure to rain, wind and snow. It will also provide food for beneficial insects such as earthworms. Try topping garden beds with a 2 inch layer of shredded leaves, straw, small wood chips or shredded newspaper.
Give your garden a head start by seeding cool weather crops in fall. Leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, kale and chard do best before summer veggies are even planted. By seeding in fall you’ll be able to enjoy harvests sooner than nurseries have seedlings available. Additionally, fall is the best time to plant garlic and onions. For detailed steps on that process, check out this garlic growing guide.
Clean Your Tools
Lastly, take care of any garden tools you use. It is a great idea to clean them now so as to not spread disease and ensure they don’t rust. Wipe with a simple solution of soapy water and a splash of bleach or you can use diluted white vinegar, then simply rinse, let them dry and store them away.
Just as the summer garden fades to memory, winter will too. Come spring you’ll be glad you followed these fall steps and you’ll be harvesting the rewards. Have a comment or question? Leave it below and be sure to follow The Young Nonno on Facebook and Instagram for more tips and inspiration.