Preparing your garden for winter

Well, it's almost over. Garden season, that is. It always goes by so fast, doesn't it? Next thing you know that vegetables are no longer producing and the flowers are dying. It's time to clean up the garden plot and put it to bed for winter. I have a bunch of garden chores I do every fall. It's takes some time, but it's worth it when your garden is ready come spring.

Dry garden in fall

There are a few of these tasks I look forward to in fall and one is the record keeping, actually. This is when I look back and decide what worked, what didn't and what changes I need to make for next year. I know lots of people do this during the cold days of winter but I prefer to do it now when it's all fresh in my mind and right in front of me.

Once I remove the plants and finish the other garden chores, well...I tend to start romanticizing the garden and looking through rose colored glasses for next year! lol Do you do this too?  

Now on to the fall garden chores! Most of what needs to be completed is a matter of cleaning up and covering up. This is how I like to prepare my garden for winter:

How to prepare the garden for winter

These aren't in any particular order, you'll do them as the time arises for your garden.

1) The very first thing you'll do is remove all the plants that are done producing. If any of these were diseased or had a bug issue, chuck those in the trash or fire pit. Do not compost them! Many diseases and bug eggs can survive winter and spread in spring via the compost pile starting your problem all over again! 

Dispose of these to prevent future problems. Everything healthy goes in the compost pile.

2) Remove or reroute fences making sure to pull out any unused stakes and plant markers. You wouldn't want these to get tangled in the tiller.

3) Remove ground covers from area where the plants have been removed. If you can safely remove them from places where plants are still actively growing, then go ahead. If not, just wait till all the plants are done for the year.

4) Rake up mulch if there was insect activity and burn or dispose of that. Do not compost it to prevent future infestations.

Chickens in garden helping clean up for winter

5) If you have them, let the chickens in to help clean up the mess left behind. They are excellent at cleaning up seeds and bugs.

6) Pull weeds even though the garden is done, as they are getting ready to drop seed. You don't want to have those seeds in the ground come spring!

7) You can cut down flower stalks or deadhead perennials at this point also, otherwise they spend all winter dropping their seeds and you'll end up with twice as many volunteer plants next year! Or you could choose to leave them up for the winter birds. If you use some type of ground cover then I would leave the dried flower heads up. 

I ended up with a sea of echinacea growing because I didn't deadhead them one year and didn't have ground cover there! lol On the flip side, that is a lot of roots I can harvest and still have plants next year.

8) Dig up, clean and pot tender perennials to bring inside. Related reading: How to clean and de-bug plants to bring inside

9) Add compost to replenish the nutrients that this years garden depleted from the soil. Even if your compost isn't quite ready, you can add it to the garden now since you won't be planting for several months. Now is also the perfect time to add manure to the garden.

10) Plant a ground cover to help deter weeds and protect the soil over winter. I always want to plant red clover for a ground cover and never get around to it, but I am doing it this year. I ordered my seed so I will let you know how it goes! 

I'm super excited about this because Red Clover has many medicinal uses and this should provide a lot of flowers to harvest!

11) Clean and put away tools. Clean the soil from all your gardening tools, oil any wooden handles and moving parts, sharpen any blades, and then store them in a dry place for the winter. Remove rust using this easy method before putting them away, since rust tends to get worse in storage.

12) Plant garlic, winter kale, carrots or other cold weather crops.

13) Take notes! Spend some time looking back on the season and write down your thoughts for next year. Mine include "stop growing enough tomatoes for half the state! Stick to 4 plants!" lol

Fall harvest unripe tomatoes in basket

14) Before your first frost, harvest warm-season crops such as tomatoes even though they are still green. Lie out on windowsills or layer in boxes with newspapers between the layers of tomatoes. They will slowly ripen or you can use green tomatoes for fried green tomatoes or various green tomato recipes.

15) After the ground freezes, mulch perennials and shrub beds with pine needles, compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves. This protects the soil and plant roots and moderates the effects of extreme temperature changes during winter periods of freezes and thaws.

16) If you till, now is the time to turn over the garden soil to help prepare the beds for spring. This breaks up roots and exposes bug larva to the cold which will help kill off the population for next year. It will also help cut down on the amount of weeds that pop up next year by breaking up established roots. 

17) Use any grass clippings you accumulate the rest of fall for mulch or compost. They make terrific compost/mulch dug straight into the garden. Don't do this earlier in the year unless you dry them out first though! Now is the perfect time to start a leaf mold pile with all those fallen leaves.

18) Don't forget to turn your compost pile even in cool weather. I don't turn it much at all once we get into the snow season, but I do turn it regularly before and after that. I always give it a good mix before tossing all the new garden debris in it. 

19) Plant your cold frames if you'll be growing winter crops in them. 

20) Mounding around the base of a perennial plant is intended to give the root systems of a shrub/plant a little extra insulation during hard winters. You want to make sure that you compress the dirt of the mound with a firm push of the hands. This gets some of the air out of the mound thus making it harder to freeze. 

21) Empty and store pots so they don't get damaged over winter. A pot full of dirt will freeze and thaw all winter which can cause ceramic pots to break.

Whew! We're done! Your garden should be ready for winter and now all there is to do is plan your garden for next year. Unless you garden in winter that is! 


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