Winter is rapping on the door, which means it's time to prepare your vegetable garden for prolonged frosts. While it's tempting to shut your garden down and let nature take its course, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the amount of work you'll need to put into your summer garden next spring. Consider implementing some of these tips and suggestions before wishing your fall garden a grand winter farewell.
Remove rotting and harvested plants
Besides looking unkempt, old plants are sanctuaries for disease, pests, and funguses. Removing tired plants or burying them in garden trenches prevents pests from ruining your spring vegetables. Burying old plants deep in your garden also adds organic matter to your soil, improving soil health in the long run.
Pull and discard weeds
Now is the time to get rid of these mutineers. Dig them up root and all and put them directly in the trash or burn them along with the rest of your burn pile. Most weeds remain potent in a compost heap or weed pile, so don't try shifting them to another part of your garden. Complete removal is the only way to prevent them from sprouting all over again and becoming a disruption.
Prepare soil for spring
Early winter's cooler weather is a great time to add soil amendments like manure and compost. In many climates, adding nutrients this time of year means you won't have to wait for your garden to dry out in the spring. Turning, amending, or digging soil now means you'll have already done some of the work when busy season comes. Similarly, tilling helps improve drainage before extreme weather arrives. Once you've added any amendments, covering the bed with a sheet of plastic helps prevent winter rains from washing them below the active roots. When spring arrives, remove the sheet and till lightly with a hoe.
Plant cover crops
Cover crops such as rye, vetch, or clover help prevent soil erosion, break up compacted areas and increase levels of organic matter in your garden. They also add nutrients. Planting clover or field peas, for example, can increase the levels of available nitrogen for garden vegetables. While a general rule is to plant cover crops around one month before your first heavy frost, some cover crops are more vigorous than others. Consult your local nursery or seed provider to figure out the best fall cover crop for your region.
Early winter is a good time to trim perennial garden plants––just be sure to choose the right ones. Focus your pruning efforts on herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, and vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb.
Using this rich material on the top of your garden bed will nourish your soil and jumpstart growth come springtime. Also, cleaning out finished compost means making way for another batch, which can insulate your garden against winter's cold weather. Build your compost pile with plenty of autumn leaves, straw, or sawdust layered with kitchen scraps and other active green matter.
Mulching in winter has many benefits, including reducing water loss, protecting against soil erosion, and inhibiting weeds. As the soil transitions to colder weather, the freezing and thawing of the earth may adversely affect garden plants. Adding a dense layer of mulch to the soil's surface helps regulate soil temperatures and moisture. A thick layer of mulch around root vegetables left in the garden for a winter harvest can also protect against hard frosts and prolong your crop. As the mulch breaks down it delivers organic material into your soil.
Review this year's harvest and prepare for the next growing season
Now's the time to reconsider under-performing plants and find out if something better exists. If your plants are performing well, consider extending your harvest by adding varieties that ripen earlier or later in the season. When considering vegetable performance, take good notes about what worked and what didn't. Making a list of lessons learned now will give you insight on what to do differently next year.
A well cared for garden will perform much better year round. Taking a few extra steps in preparation for winter is a great way to keep your spring and summer garden healthy and vibrant. Putting in the work now could mean even more helpings of blueberry cobbler and savory summer skillets when the sun is smiling down in a few months.