Preparing the Garden for Winter
Fall and winter are important times to maintain your garden’s health and assure that you will have a good crop for next year. It takes less than one day to prepare your garden for the upcoming fall-winter season.
When the nighttime temperatures drop to less than forty-five degrees Fahrenheit for more than four days in a row, or frost is forecasted for your area (usually around late October or November), you know its time to begin preparing your garden.
Here are practical steps for preparing your garden for the cold weather.
There are different opinions concerning whether to cut down or leave plants standing through the winter.
Trapping the snow cover is important for protection of plants and retaining moisture. Snow cover acts the same as good mulch by insulating the soil.
Many perennial stems and seed heads provide food for the birds. 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. It also moderates the effects of extreme temperature changes during winter periods of freezes and thaws.
Cleaning Up the Garden
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.
Pull out any remaining crops or spent annuals; clean up debris and weeds to decrease the possibility of disease problems in the spring.
Get rid of dead foliage, leaves, roots, stakes and row markers. The debris you clean from your garden can be added to your compost heap which will be a big help come spring. You want to be sure, though, not to add any diseased debris or pest-infected dead leaves or stalks in your compost pile. You don’t want to accidentally spread a disease from this year’s garden to next year’s.
If this debris is left behind it presents an opportunity for bacteria to find its way into any cuts in the plant or onto the plants roots. Bacteria growth, and possible disease, on the plant is the biggest danger to a winter garden.
Evaluating your Garden Design
Check which plants grew well in the past season, and which plants did not do well. Make note of any areas that you would like to change in the spring.
Fall is a good time to decide which plants will remain in you garden next year, and which ones should go.
Plan Next Year’s Vegetable Garden
Plan where you want to put next year’s vegetables. Take a pad with you out to the garden and make a sketch of where you want to put all your vegetable plants in the spring. Doing this helps you make the most use of your garden area. It is also a good time to decide which new plants you want to grow.
To make your garden more colorful and healthy, be sure only to plant the more hardy plants during the fall so that they can withstand the winter. Some plants that will do fine being planted in fall are: endive, escarole, and Brussels sprouts.
Caring for Trees and Lawns
Protect the tender bark of young trees from rabbits and gnawing critters by wrapping stems or trunks with chicken wire or commercial tree-guard products. To prevent rodents from nesting near buildings and trees, trim tall grass, and remove weeds. Water trees and shrubs so that they go into winter well hydrated. Don’t prune shrubs and trees as it may stimulate new growth just before the harsh weather.
Cut lawns and fertilize with a low nitrogen winter blend. Use grass clippings for mulch or compost. Don’t send them to the landfill, as they are excellent fertilizer left on the lawn (if they are not too long) and/or make terrific compost/mulch dug straight into the garden or used for pathways. Once rotted on garden pathways, dig into the garden and replace with new grass clippings.
Trimming off the unwanted branches from your trees isn’t necessary to your gardens health, but may help later on by not dropping branches on your plants and not blocking too much of the sun.
If you have younger trees you should consider wrapping them and supporting them with stakes to help them survive the winter wind and cold.
Compost dead plant debris including leaves. Leaves are a valuable natural resource. They are the best soil amendment as well as terrific mulches. Leaves take very little effort to recycle into a wonderful soil conditioner — leaf mould — for the yard and garden. You can make leaf mould by the same process nature does. Pile up moist leaves and wait for them to decompose or shred the leaves into smaller pieces before piling them up. You can enclose the pile with chicken wire, snow fencing, or something similar.
In the spring, rake up dry leaves and dig them straight into the vegetable garden.
Cleaning Your Tools
Take proper care to winterize your garden equipment and tools.
Drain the gas from your lawnmowers tank, weed eater and other garden equipment. You may also want to put the battery from the lawnmower and any other garden equipment into storage where it will remain at a steady, above-freezing temperature. This will help lengthen the life of the battery.
Clean the soil from all your gardening tools. Oil any wooden handles and moving parts. Sharpen the blades. Then store the tools in a dry and safe place where they won’t rust and you know where they’ll be for next year.
Make sure they’re stored where mice can’t nibble on the handles, since they like all kinds of wood. Throw away any tools that are worn out and replace them.
Bring in pumps. Drain, clean, refill (if necessary) and store tender water plants prior to freezing.
Bring in Your Indoor Plants
Before bringing in any houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors, examine them for insects. Wash them, and spray with soapy water or insecticidal soap. Use sterilized potting soil purchased from garden center stores. Don’t use garden soil as it may harbor insects, weed seeds, disease, and fungi.
Pull out weeds that may have cropped up. Weeds and rotten leaves can carry insects and diseases that might be harmful to your garden.
Weeds also present a messy problem through the winter. Not only will they decay and offer disease potential, they will also continue to grow their roots until the ground freezes hard. This will only make them more invasive in the spring. If you weed to a clean ground you will have a nice clean contrast to the dormant plants in the garden.
Spread a light layer of mulch, just a few inches of it, around your trees and shrubs. This protect plants from sudden temperature changes and heavy snow. It helps keep the underground temperature more stable throughout the winter. It also offers much-needed protection to roots underneath the surface.
Too much mulch though, will become a home for rodents, which is the last thing you want. Mice just love to chew on bark, so don’t give them a place to hide while they eat away.
About five inches of shredded bark, pine needles, or a variety of other materials work as mulch.
Be careful not to mulch too early, because some insects may still be alive and able to take shelter in it for the winter.
Rake Fallen Leaves
Rake fallen leaves. Why is it so important to remove leaves from your lawn? Because the grass underneath the leaves still needs all light it can get. Raking leaves from your lawn also lets adequate air and moisture get to living plants in your yard.
Planting Bulbs Before Winter
Fall is the time to plant bulbs. Garden centers carry many varieties that are suitable for the colder weather. Remember to purchase good quality. Cheaper is not better. The larger the bulb, the larger the bloom. Look for plumpness, firmness, clean skin, and surface. Directions for planting are included with the package.
Prepare the Soil for Early Spring Seeding
Turn over the garden soil late in the season while adding organic matter such as leaves, compost, or well-rotted manure. In the spring, a light raking is all that is needed.
Follow these practical steps for preparing your garden for the cold weather and you will be ready for the spring plantings.
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