10 tips on preparing your garden for winter

(Flickr / kiribean)

If you want to, that is.

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1. Clean up the garden beds

This can be an overwhelming project, but it is necessary. It’s easier if you break it up over time and work through the garden a bed at a time.

Remove all the dead vegetation and add a 1-2 inch layer of finished compost, then lightly mulch. Once the ground freezes, add another layer of mulch to perennials.

2. Get a soil test

Soil test results will tell you the pH levels, the level of important elements such as potassium and calcium, the level of organic content and more. This test will recommend how much lime and fertilizer (organic or chemical) to add to improve your soil. Lime helps adjust the soil pH, and adding it in the winter is beneficial because it has all winter to dissolve into the soil.

3. Plant garlic

Garlic has a unique growing season. Planting it in the fall lets the roots to begin growing. When winter comes, the plants go dormant, then start growing again in the spring, right where they left off.

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Pick a garlic bed that did not grow alliums this year and plant next year’s garlic crop. Add in a generous amount of compost and some organic fertilizer.

4. Expand your garden

Many garden centers have sales on garden soil and compost in the fall, as well as stone or treated lumber that can be used to frame a new garden bed. It’s a great time to get creative with raised beds or square foot gardens. Fill your new bed with fresh soil, add a layer of mulch, and you’ll be ready for next spring.

5. Gather leaves

Leaves falling from the trees aren’t just pretty – they’re enormously useful for gardeners. They can be used for mulch, compost and for creating a rich humus layer.

A layer of shredded leaf mulch over the soil will help suppress weeds and retain moisture. Maintaining a carbon and nitrogen balance in your compost pile is important, and dead leaves bring plenty of carbon. As the leaves break down over time, they break down and can be incorporated into soil to improve the moisture holding ability.

6. Take notes

As you prepare your gardens for winter, take some time to think about what you grew and how it did.

Take notes on how many plants you grew, what did well, and how much you were able to harvest. Did you have pests? Was there a bed that didn’t perform well?

Writing down these details can help you frame your plans for gardening for next year and inform how you’ll treat your beds now.

7. Plant cover crops

Planting cover crops such as hairy vetch or cereal rye will keep the soil microbes alive and active during the winter months, giving your garden a boost at planting time.

While these crops are tilled into the ground — or even rolled down to form a mat — in the spring before they go to seed to add organic material to the soil, they also do a great service in the fall, winter, and early spring months, including suppressing weeds and reducing erosion that carries away valuable topsoil.

8. Keep certain plants in place

Vegetables in the brassica family, including cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and radishes left in the ground now and until pre-planting time in early spring can act as pest lures.

As spring hits, the plants release cyanide compounds that can kill off nuisance wireworms.

Leave some stalks standing in your flower gardens, too, especially local native plants and those with seeds and berries. They’ll attract birds, adding life and color to your winter landscape.

9. Support your trees

Trees are among the things you grow on your property, and they need help too. The wind can be a lot stronger in the fall, so create some tree supports to make sure young saplings have a strong enough base to make it through the fall and winter.

10. Enjoy the fall

Take time to enjoy the crisp cool weather. Low humidity makes outdoor work more comfortable, and the warmth of fall sunlight and colorful foliage makes fall the ideal time to be outside.

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