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Prepare Your Garden for Winter – 9 Easy Tips

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Fall is the perfect time to prepare your garden for winter! Though I have mixed emotions about winter coming, fall is a favorite time of year for not only decorating the front porch but also cleaning up around the house and garden.

It’s the end of the season, and we tend to relax. But don’t; just push through and do it. Putting the garden to rest for the winter will have its benefits next season.

raised vegetable garden bed with mulched leaves on it for winter garden prep as mulch
Winterizing raised garden beds for winter with mulched leaves

Here in Tennessee, we have a really long growing season beginning in early March and not ending until late September to early October.  Cool-season crops that can be planted in late fall, like cabbage and broccoli, can still be harvested into November.

This said the garden gets really neglected with the summer heat and being so busy with preserving foods such as tomatoes, pickles, beets, and all sorts of other vegetables and, of course, harvesting.

By the time October rolls around, and things have slowed down a bit, the garden is just a mess.  Dead plants, rotting vegetables, overgrown weeds. So preparing the vegetable garden for winter is vital and necessary.

Of course, keep in mind protecting and feeding late pollinators and garden spiders. So keep this in mind when working around the late-blooming flowers and herbs.

Why Prep Your Garden For Winter?

Putting the garden to bed for winter is not only for appearances. There is scientific research that shows preparing a garden for winter decreases garden pests and diseases the following year.

  • Pests such as hornworms and squash vine borers overwinter under dried leaves and bury themselves in the soil, so preparing the garden for winter will help to rid the garden of these pests.
  • Removing diseased plants and leaves also aids in reducing the problems in the spring. Late blight, among other diseases, can linger on old leaves and foliage. Removing these reduces issues in the spring.
  • A third reason to prepare the garden for winter is it helps to remove weeds. Pull up and over-powering weeds, and they are much fewer of them the following spring. Dig up the roots, which weakens it, making it less likely to return next season.

Subscribe below to receive a free 8-page printable Winter Garden Checklist.

spiral bound book image with text overlay title Prepare Garden For Winter Checklist

Just thinking about getting the garden ready for next spring can feel a bit overwhelming.  But some winter garden prep now makes for much easier work in the spring.

Start with one section at a time and work your way to the others.  I have all raised beds, so I focus on one bed, complete it, and then move to the next.  

If you don’t have raised beds, and do in-ground gardening, just focus on one row at a time. Complete it, and move to the next. This makes the list of fall garden chores more enjoyable and easier to manage.

It also keeps a big project in perspective. If time is limited, you can schedule each section and set deadlines.

So what do you do with the garden at the end of the season? I’ve made a list of simple garden chores that will go a long way come next spring. Here they are:

How to Prepare A Garden For Winter

1. Harvest and Store Vegetables

Gather any and all vegetables that don’t tolerate frosts, such as late tomatoes and green beans.

More hardy vegetables like potatoes, beets, and carrots can tolerate frost but should be dug up before the ground freezes.

Be sure to store potatoes and other root crops properly.

2. Harvest Herbs

Many garden herbs are not cold-hardy. Herbs such as basil, rosemary, and oregano should be harvested. Herbs like basil can be dried or frozen, and rosemary can be dried for long-term food storage.

3. Clean up and Remove Dead Plants and Debris

Dead plants should be removed completely to prevent areas for pests from overwintering. If they are disease and mildew-free, they can go into the compost pile. But, if they are diseased or mildewed, put them into the trash or destroy them. Diseased plants should never be put into compost.

Dead plants piled up while preparing the garden for winter.
Dead plants while preparing the garden for winter.

TIP: If you garden in raised beds, don’t pull root balls out of the soil. Depending on the size of the stem or stalk, use either a good pair of garden pruners or scissors or a good pair of loppers. I love these and cut the stems off just at or about an inch below ground level. Leave the roots in the soil.

If your garden is a regular in-ground garden, root balls and stalks can be turned under. These will add organic amendments to the soil.   Some other great organic amendments you can make are compost tea or reusing eggshells to add calcium to the soil.

To explain, pulling up stalks not only removes soil from the bed but also leaves a gaping hole for garden pests to overwinter.  It also affects healthy microbes and worms that are hard at work underground. I always leave mine and have not had any problems.

4. Add Organic Compost

Another great way to prepare your garden for winter is to add 1-2 inches of finished compost to the soil each fall. This allows time for nutrients to soak into the soil, increasing fertility the next season.

If you have been composting all summer, chances are your compost is ready.  These amendments will continue to break down and help to replenish deficient soils over winter.  Come spring, your garden will be well-fertilized and ready for planting.

If you don’t compost, this isn’t a problem either. You can actually buy compost in bags at the big box garden centers or look for a landscape company in your area. You can buy loads of compost and have it delivered or haul it yourself.

Purchased compost comes already sifted and ready to use. But if you make your own, you already know it can be pretty chunky to work with. So here is how you can learn to sift your own. Kim over at Homestead-Acres has this great article on how to build your own compost sifter.

NOTE: If you apply animal manure, wait until the soil is 50° or below. Apply and work into the top 2-3 inches immediately. If left on the surface, nitrogen will evaporate.

5. Add Additional Garden Soil to raised beds To Prepare for winter

I don’t know about yours, but my raised beds lose about 5-7 inches of garden soil each year. But this is a good thing!  It tells me my vegetables are using it.

Raised garden beds needing additional soil to prepare them for winter.

Keeping raised beds at least 12 inches deep or more will allow deep-rooted vegetables and other plants plenty of room to grow deep roots.

Since I have so many raised beds, I have to purchase garden soil. I buy it “by the yard” at a local landscape company and then use my truck to haul it. I can normally get about 2 yards in a truckload at a time.

To give you an idea of the cost, in my area, a cubic yard of a garden mix with sand, compost, lime, soil conditioners, perlite, peat moss, and other amendments added to it costs $35 a yard.

I pick up 2 yards, filling all my beds back to a good level. And it saves a lot of money over buying it in bags at the big box stores.

If you don’t own a truck, most landscape companies will deliver for a small fee. It still saves on the budget to have it delivered.

6. Get a soil Test

Fall is the perfect time to do a soil test.  A basic test will cost you an average of $7-$30, but it is money well spent.  A test will give you specific nutrient counts and recommendations on how to improve your garden soil.  It will also tell you what nutrients are missing so you can get ahead for next spring.

Playing the guessing game with garden soil can cost a lot more if you don’t know exactly what you need. Buying unnecessary fertilizers can be costly, or even a lack of too much or too little nutrients, and your vegetable garden does not produce.

To get a soil sample kit, you can get one from your local extension office, and they can also help you through the process.  In our area, the test takes an average of 2 weeks and costs $15. 

Once you have your results, you will know exactly what soil amendments and/or fertilizers should be added.

7. Gather And Add Fall Leaves

Each fall, gather as many leaves as you can!! These things are GOLD in the garden! They are a great way of winterizing raised beds or any garden for winter, and they make wonderful organic amendments.  

Chop them up with a mower and then add 2-3 inches over the bare soil. These will break down over the winter, feed soil organisms and microbes, and your spring garden benefits tremendously.

Go to the neighbor and offer to help rake their yard if you can take the leaves.  You may even get lucky, and they say it’s not necessary to help. They are excited to have somewhere to put them.

This is how we get our leaves.  We don’t have a lot of trees, but our neighbor has some really nice large oak and hickory trees.   They are always loaded with awesome leaves, and when they fall, they make a really thick layer on his lawn.

The neighbor and I get together to mow and rake all his leaves over to my yard. I add some to the raised bed, and the remainder we pile up and let rot and compost over winter.  As I’m working in the beds and need organic amendments, I go to the leaf pile.  It works great!

8.  Grow a Cover Crop to Protect Your Soil Over Winter

Experiment and grow cover crops. I didn’t think it could be grown in raised beds, but after doing some reading and a lot of research, I’ve discovered cover cropping can be done in raised beds.

If you don’t have raised beds, just sow the seeds over the soil, according to the instructions, and right before early spring, chop them down and allow them to break down and add organic amendments.

TIP: Use an annual such as annual ryegrass or buckwheat. Don’t allow it to go to seed before chopping it to die. The roots will die and not come back.

What are Cover Crops?

Also known as green manure, it is probably the hardest-working plant you can plant in the garden. They help to suppress weeds, build soil, provide nitrogen and even control pests.  Best of all, it needs very little to thrive.

The SARE website defines a cover crop as a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your garden.  How much better can it get?

green cover crop growing in a raised beds to have it prepared for winter
Winter Barley on Raised Beds as Cover Crop for Winter

Our raised beds are organic, so we use no chemicals. So after searching, I decided on organic winter barley, which I purchased from Seven Springs Farm.  I like that they sell in small quantities for homesteaders and small farms.  

Preparing the garden for winter does take a bit of effort when doing fall garden cleanup, but doing a little work now will help you get started off a lot smoother next spring.

9. Cover Soil With a Mulch

If you don’t want to grow a cover crop, just make sure to cover the soil with rich organic mulch. 2-3 inches of old straw, grass clippings, wood chips, and even cardboard are good choices.

Just don’t leave the soil bare. Heavy snow, rains, and the weather, in general, will compact it making it a lot harder to work the next season. Not to mention the microbes and soil organisms will have less to feed on over winter.

Other Great Tips

If you don’t have a greenhouse, now is a great time to build a grow light system to grow micro-greens all winter long and then start seeds indoors for the next spring gardening season.  With some planning, you can get ahead of the spring garden season.

After all, this is done, step back and admire your clean, well-prepped, and winterized vegetable garden or flower gardens.  Winter will soon be here, and it will be cold out.  Take advantage of the cooler temperatures and enjoy your homestead.

I would love to hear what you do to prepare your garden for winter.  What steps do you take?

Oh, and it’s time to start ordering those free seed catalogs too. They start shipping right after the holidays, so get yours ordered!  

2 vegetable images with frost on them with text overlay that says 6 Tips for Preparing Your Garden For Winter

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6 thoughts on “Prepare Your Garden for Winter – 9 Easy Tips”

  1. Wow! that’s a lot of hard work and the fruits are visible indeed. I am not good at taking care of small plants let alone such a beautiful garden. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Helo Dianne,
    I am new her with my emthy garden. I got. One garden to plant last monday .I am very happy with it. Now to start with prepare it for plant on it is a lot of work .
    So i hope to find some tips here.
    Wish me luck😊
    God bless you
    Juanitha from Holland.

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