Preparing Garden For Winter? Here Are The Most Important Steps

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H: Hey guys this is H, Phil’s sister from smilinggardener.com and today we are talking about preparing your garden for winter. How do we know it’s time to winterize our garden?

Phil: I do it right before it’s going to snow.

H: What’s the most important thing for preparing the garden?

Phil: For me it is like one really big step and that is doing something to protect your soil over winter. There are some few different ways you can go about doing that.

H: What’s the easiest thing to do?

Phil: Yeah. Like if I guess if we were talking about like a vegetable garden or a perennial garden, certainly one thing you could do is just leave your plants there, your tomatoes, your peppers, your everything, just leave them right there and they will just die back, the nutrients from the plant will go back into the root system of the plants and the top will just die back and become a mulch for the soil and all those nutrients and all those organic matter will makes its way back into the soil and it’s not the most esthetically pleasing, but if your garden is kind of back somewhere where it doesn’t matter and now it will be easiest way to do it and that’s how nature would do it too, right.

H: But what if your garden is in a really high profile area and you don’t want it to look that messy?

Phil:That’s what I have this garden here, its right up by the house and it’s like I try to keep it as a nice garden. So then what I do is take all of that stuff and put it into the compose bin because I really want to get the nutrients out of that and get the carbon, the organic matter out of that. So I take all that and put it into a compose bin and then I like to plan a carver crop.

H: What about leaves?

Phil: If you are not going to plan to carver crop, you want something to protect our soil and so that’s where mulch comes in and by far the best mulch and the most natural mulch is leaves and this is the time of year that we actually get them for free, especially if we have been clever enough to planting and make wild leaves.

H: I think that’s it. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about preparing the garden?

Phil: I did put a few more tips on the blog, so people are watching on YouTube, they can go over to this blog and there is some extra brownie points, there is some extra things you can do to really improve this process of soil building in the fall.

H: Sounds good.

Phil: Hey you know what I should say because you don’t know how to say it yet is for people who haven’t picked up the 15 vital lessons for becoming a better organic gardener, you can do that right on the Home page of smilinggardener.com and that’s where I teach a whole bunch of really cool tips.

H:You are gardening for the winter.

It's November, which means:

  1. Christmas music is beginning to waft through stores across North America, and
  2. I'm preparing my garden for winter.

The most important task for preparing a garden for winter is getting that soil good and covered.

There are a few ways you can tackle that:



1. Leave The Plants There

Preparing Vegetable Garden For Winter By Doing Nothing

When preparing the vegetable garden for winter, and the flower garden, if aesthetics aren't important, you can simply allow your plants to die back naturally and cover the soil, just as it happens in nature.

Their nutrients will be returned to their roots systems and to the soil for use next spring. After these beans are picked, I can just leave the plant right where it is.

2. Compost And Cover Crop

Preparing Garden For Winter By Cover Cropping

If you want it tidier, which I do because my organic vegetable garden is right up by my house, you can compost all that organic matter and use some other plants to cover the soil, i.e. a cover crop.

Grasses and legumes are commonly used for this, and more recently various brassicas, but lots of plants will do the trick.


3. Mulch Like Crazy

Preparing Garden For Winter By Mulching

If you don’t put in a cover crop, be sure to mulch like crazy in order to protect the soil, roots, insects and other organisms over winter.

Yes, that means some "pests" will be protected too, but that's okay - we're protecting their predators and many other important organisms at the same time.



Basically...

Leave the stubble OR cover crop the beds OR mulch the beds.

OR, do any combination of the above. When I'm preparing garden for winter, I put the stubble into my compost bin in early fall, plant a cover crop, and then mulch on top of that cover crop towards the end of fall.

Preparing Vegetable Garden For Winter By Doing Nothing

Luckily, the best mulch on the planet is free this time of year: LEAVES (provided you've been forward-thinking and using plants that make lots of it, or clever enough to live downwind of someone with a big tree).

Rake those leaves right into the beds. If you have too many, or if your beds are already covered in groundcovers, mow the leaves right on the lawn or put them into a compost or leaf pile. Definitely don’t put them at the curb - they are valuable!

Of course, if you live in a climate with rainy, wet winters, and you’re growing plants that aren’t suited to that, you may not want to cover those plants with moisture-retaining mulch (yet another reason to choose native plants). In that case, compost them or make leaf mold.

Bonus Steps - Preparing Garden For Winter

So covering your soil is the most important winter prep tip. There are a few extra steps you can take if you're a browner like me.

  • Especially if your soil food web is lacking, a light dusting of compost on your mulch will help break those leaves down. But personally, I usually put down my compost before I put in my cover crop or mulch.
  • A light dusting of 5 pounds of calcitic lime per 1000 square feet stops certain diseases from taking root, and since the vast majority of soils need calcium, this is one of the few minerals I don't mind recommending without a soil test.
  • A liquid concoction that includes a microbial inoculant and some biostimulants also helps break down residues. I don't use much fish fertilizer anymore, but it is great this time of year to bring some nitrogen into your mulch to get that decomposition going.

Of course, after all this we can get into extending the growing season into winter with hoop houses and other structures, which is what I've recently been working on for my online gardening course.

But when it comes to the basics of preparing a garden for winter, covering that soil is rule number one. Any questions?

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