Preparing the garden for winter is an important task, whether you’re growing a winter garden or putting the garden to rest until spring. Here’s what to do to keep winter harvests coming and prepare for a successful spring, too.
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3 essential things to do to prepare the garden for winter:
- Weed the gardens and prune back dead plant matter
- Mulch garden beds
- Protect winter crops
Best Time to Weed is Now
Many perennial weeds will firmly establish their roots over the winter and come back stronger in the spring. Take some time to weed out unwanted plants. If it’s one of the 5 weeds you want, compost it in place.
Bring out your Dead
Cut back dead plant matter and send it to the compost bin. Anything diseased should go to the garbage or be burned.
Dead flower stalks will feed small birds like finches and chickadees, so leave them intact in the garden. The birds come to our yard in the winter to eat the Echinacea and Black-eyed Susan flowerheads, so I don’t cut them until spring.
Making Leaf Mulch
Leaf mulch protects garden soil. It keeps nutrients from washing away in rain and melting snow, and it insulates beneficial soil microbes from the cold temps. Straw also makes good mulch if you don’t have enough leaves. Any mulch will decompose over time and feed the soil.
Start by raking your leaves. I shored up our leaves into the compost bins. Once I’ve shredded all of the leaves, the bins can go back to being used for compost! For now, they’re holding leaves.
I mulched the leaves with an electric mulching leaf blower. This was a Christmas gift from my parents several years ago, and though we would have never bought it for ourselves, we love it. Because the mulching leaf blower is electric, it is more efficient and less noisy than other leaf blowers, and certainly more energy efficient than the lawn mower. The mulching was done in a pinch.
If you don’t have a mulching leaf blower, mulch the leaves by running the lawn mower over them several times.
Leaf mulch is amazing even if you don’t use it all for mulch. Leaves that have composted for a full year are a great soil conditioner.
Why shred the leaves before using them as mulch?
Non-shredded leaves can form a mat that smothers plant matter below and prevents rain absorption.
These pictures show the difference between shredded and non-shredded oak leaves:
All over-wintering vegetables and empty garden beds were covered with a thick layer of mulch.
Protect Winter Crops with Floating Row Cover
Floating row cover is a nice investment because it lasts for years, and can be cut to size. It protects against frost down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and allows light and water through. There are varying thicknesses based on their ability to hold in heat and allow light through.
The insulating properties of row cover are increased when used in conjunction with leaf mulch.
My cold-tolerant annual vegetables have always been safe into single digit temperatures with this method.
Mulch your vegetables first, then provide additional protection with the row cover.
There is a right way and a wrong way to cover plants for frost protection. What protects them is the warmth from the ground, so don’t tie the row cover around the base of the plant like a lollypop, because the plant won’t gain warmth from the ground.
Instead, drape the row cover over the plant or row of plants, with extra cloth hanging loosely that can be secured on the ground with bricks or rocks. Picture making a blanket fort for your plants! Use twice as many bricks and rocks as you think you need – the wind will really give your blanket forts a run for their money.
Follow these steps for putting your garden to bed. Even if you don’t have any winter veggies growing, you can still protect your garden soil by applying leaf mulch. By the time spring rolls around, it will begin composting into a nice soil amendment for your no-till garden beds, and save you clean-up time in the busy spring.
Will you use blanket forts in your garden this year?