Are you growing a winter garden or putting the garden to rest until spring? Here’s how to reap winter harvests as well as prepare for a successful spring.
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Having a winter garden can be a satisfying endeavor, but not everyone will grow a winter garden. The following are four essential things that everyone should do to prepare the garden for winter, whether you intend to grow crops or put the garden to rest.
1: Weed before Preparing the Winter Garden
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!
2: Bring out your Dead in the Winter Garden
Cut back dead plant matter. I like to dispose of it in two ways. First, I like to chop and drop it right where it is, because it will feed the soil in the winter garden. I also send some of the plant matter to the compost bin to make rich compost for the spring. *Burn or send to the trash, any diseased or pest-infested plants.
Dead flower stalks are an exception because they will feed small birds like finches and chickadees. Personally, I don’t cut dead flower stalks until spring.
3: Add Soil Amendments
If you’re growing a winter garden, then hopefully your gardens are full of overwintering crops. And HOPEFULLY, you added some soil amendments before planting. If you’re putting your garden to rest for the winter, now is a good time to mix in soil amendments.
Check out these 9 Organic Amendments that Improve Soil Structure.
More ideas for the organic, no-till garden:
4: Make Leaf Mulch in the Winter Garden
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, but make sure it is chemical free. Most straw is now laced with herbicides that will harm your garden. Any organic matter used as a 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 the leaves and spread them as mulch, the bins can go back to being used for compost! For now, they’re holding leaves.
I mulch our leaves with an electric mulching leaf blower. This was a Christmas gift from my parents several years ago. 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.
Get more ideas in my article: Mulching in the Permaculture Garden
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:
Whether your garden beds will be over-wintering vegetables or going to sleep for the season, cover them with a thick layer of mulch.
5: Protect Winter Crops
Be prepared to protect your winter garden before the temperatures go down. 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. Here is the row cover that works for us.
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 are other ways to protect winter crops. You’ll find more ideas in my article: Protect Cold Weather Crops with a Cold Frame.
Blanket Forts in the Winter Garden
There is a right way and a wrong way to cover plants with row cover for frost protection. The warmth from the ground protects the plants, 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 yourself 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.
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- Harvesting, Curing, and Storing Sweet Potatoes
- How to Grow, Harvest, and Eat Root Vegetables
You’ll find loads of year-round gardening information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Are you growing a winter garden this year?
>>> Get my free 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments for more ideas: