I just came in from checking on the chickens and I noticed a chill in the air. It was that first little nip of cold that means fall is really here and winter is coming soon. Fall is critical time in your garden, so don’t pack up your garden gear quite yet. By investing a little time to prepare your garden for winter, you will have peace of mind that your soil is protected. Plus, you will enjoy a head start on spring’s garden chores.
Evaluate Your Garden Layout and Design
Take a little time to think about your current garden design and layout. What worked well for you in the garden this year? Is there something you would like to change? Maybe you had a vegetable that didn’t grow well this year and you want to place it in a different area of the garden next year. Now is the time to write down those observations and ideas. That way you can refer to it when you plant next spring. Fall is a good time to think about crop rotation too. If you want to rotate your crops, make sure you have drawn a garden map that you can refer to so you remember your previous year’s layout.
Clean Out the Garden
As the growing seasons starts to end, clean out the annual plants. Pull up the vegetable plants that are finished producing or damaged from the frost. Remove any weeds that have grown into your garden beds over the summer. Give yourself a fresh start in spring by removing weeds now. You’ll be glad you took this tip when it’s time to start planting next year.
Plant Cover Crops
Leaving your soil bare for any length of time is never a good idea. Uncovered, empty soil will quickly fill up with weeds and it can lose vital nutrients. You can avoid this by planting a cover crop for winter. There are a variety of cover crops you can use, ranging from wheat to rye to clover. You can also use cold hearty greens as a cover crop and have a harvestable vegetable in your garden even through the winter, depending on how cold it gets in your area.
Here in Zone 7B, we have successfully used collard greens, romaine lettuce, carrots, and cabbages as cover crops. They stop growing in the coldest part of winter, but when the temperatures warm and the days get longer, they will reawaken and start growing again. Keep in mind that this may not work in your climate so always check your growing zone or the farmer’s almanac for specific tips!
Mulch Your Garden
If you don’t want to plant cover crops, you can place a thick layer of mulch on your garden. I mulch all of my garden beds heavily before winter, including the beds where I have cover crops. You can mulch with any organic material - straw, wood chips, or my favorite free option - leaves! Put those piles of leaves to good use after you rake. Just dump the leaves on top of your garden. They will break down and enrich your soil!
Clean Your Pots, Trays, and Garden Tools
In just a few months, it will be time to start seeds for next year’s garden. Get a head start by cleaning all of your pots, trays, and tools now. Garden tools can actually carry diseases and spread pathogens from one plant to the next. Wash your pruners, your hand shovel, spade, hoe, and other tools in hot, soapy water. Dry them well to prevent rusting and then store them in a dry, covered place.
Make a List of Supplies to Restock
What supplies will you need when spring rolls around? Take time to make a list of what supplies you will need to purchase. Maybe you need more pots or trays for seed starting. Will you need new zip ties or string for tying up plants? Do you need more trellises or stakes or cages? Is there a garden tool you really want for next year? Make a list now and then you can purchase these items incrementally through the winter. These small purchases will help you avoid a major garden expense in the spring, plus you’ll have everything on hand and ready when it’s time to start spring gardening.
Take these small steps this now to prepare your garden for winter. The chill of fall will soon give way to freezing nights, so don’t miss your window of time to finish the garden season well and get everything in order for next year. Happy Gardening!