6 Tips to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

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I have mixed emotions about fall coming.  Though I must say it is my favorite season for home decorating.   It’s time to clean up and prepare your garden for winter.

We have a really long growing season beginning in mid-May and not ending until late August to mid-September.  The garden gets really neglected with the summer months since I am so busy with canning and harvesting the bounty.

Prepare Garden For Winter .

By the time October rolls around and things have slowed down a bit, the garden is a just a mess.  Dead plants, rotting vegetables, over grown weeds and garden spiders.  Nothing wrong with having the spider though, I enjoy having them. 

I am excited to look in my canning room and see all the bounty I have been able to put into food storage to have for the winter months.  It excites me that I’ve canned lots of whole tomatoes, carrots, pizza sauce, kraut and so many more good foods.

Winter Storage of Canned Goods
Home canned goods.

Just thinking about preparing the garden for next season can be feel a bit overwhelming.  But its not hard to get it under control rather easily.

You can start with one section at a time and work your way to the others.  Since I have all raised beds, I focus on one bed at a time.  I finish it and then move on to the next one. This seems to make the task seem smaller, more enjoyable and easier to get under control.

I know that once I get outside and start cleaning and prepping for winter, I will be more excited.  So to help you get excited as well, here are 6 tip to help you prepare your garden for winter.

6 Tips to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

1.  Cleanup and Remove Dead Plants

Dead plants need to be removed completely from the vegetable garden.  They can all be put into the compost bin if they have no disease or mildews on them.  If a plant is diseased or mildewed, put it into the trash or destroy it.

Prepare Garden for Winter. Dead plants piled up while cleaning garden.
Removing dead plants while preparing garden for winter.

I don’t pull root balls out of the soil when preparing raised beds for winter.  Depending on the size of the stem or stalk, I use either Pruners, Garden Scissors, or Loppers  and cut it off just below ground level and leave the roots in the soil.

Pulling up stalks removes soil from the bed, and also leaves a gaping hole for garden pests to overwinter.  Not to mention that it also disrupts the healthy microbes and worms that are hard at work underground.

If your garden is a regular in-ground garden, just turn the root balls and stalks under. This will add organic amendments to the soil.   To learn more about other organic amendments you can add to your soil, take a look  at how you can Make Your Own Compost Tea and how you can easily Give Your Garden a Calcium Boost.  

2.  Add Organic Compost 

Another great way to prepare your garden for winter is to add an additional 1-2 inches of finished compost.

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.

Want to learn how you can sift your own compost?  Kim over at Homestead-Acres has a great article how you can build your own Easy DIY Compost Sifter, take a look.

3.  Add New Garden Soil if Needed

My raised beds, lose on average 5-7 inches of soil each year. This is a good thing!  It tells me my vegetable plants are using it.

Winterize Vegetable Garden. Raised bed lost 6 inches soil in a season

Keeping the beds around 12 inches deep or more will allow vegetables room to grow deep roots.

Since having so many raised bed, I have to buy soil. I haul it by the truck load.  If I were to get so much at a garden center in small bags it would be terribly expensive.  I get mine from a local supplier that specializes in large quantities.

It has been sifted and therefore, I am not dealing with large clumps that have to be broken up.  Another advantage to buying soil is that is has had sand, aged compost, lime and a soil conditioner added to it.  It’s mixed well and I simply need to shovel it from my truck straight into the beds and then add amendments I want it to have.

4.  Get a Soil Test

Fall is the perfect time to do a soil test.  A basic test will cost you on average of $7-$30 but it is money well spent.  A test will give you specific nutrient counts and give recommendation how to improve your garden soil.  It will also tell you if anything nutrients is missing.

Playing the guessing game can cost a lot more such as buying unnecessary fertilizers or even worse your vegetable garden not producing.  To get a soil sample kit, you can check with your local extension office and they can also help you through the process.  In our area, the test takes an average of 2 weeks. 

Prepare Garden for Winter
Pin for Later!

Once you have your results, you will know how a fertilizer (organic or synthetic) needs to be added, whether or not the soil needs lime or sulfur to get the pH levels correct.

5.  Gather and Add Dry Fall Leaves

Each fall, gather as many leaves as you can!! They are a great way of winterizing raised beds, or any garden for winter.  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 its not necessary to help. They are excited to just have somewhere to put them.

This is how I get my leaves.  Our yard doesn’t have a lot of trees in it 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.

We get together to mow and rake all his leaves over to our yard.  We pile them up and I let them decay over the year.  As I’m working in the beds and need organic amendments I go to the leaf pile.  It works great!

Winter Garden Preparation for Spring. Shredding dry leaves for mulch to put on raised garden beds
Shredding leaves to use for amending soil in the fall.

Other Benefits of Dry Leaves

Not only do I get free leaves, I also get browns for composting, mulch and Leaf Mold:

Browns are used a carbon in the compost pile. During canning season, I have large amounts of raw vegetable and fruit scraps.  All the scraps go into the compost.  For compost to break down properly it needs both green and brown.  So I add dry leaves over the canning scraps like a lasagna layer.

Fall garden preparation
Adding Browns to Beds

Mulch:  A good layer of mowed or shredded leaves can be added to soil to.  They help with controlling weeds, holding in moisture, as well as adding organic matter to the soil as they decay.

Leaf Mold:  This is the greatest stuff!  As the leaves rot or break down, the bottom turns into this dark rich layer of pure organic soil.   I call it black gold.  It is fantastic for amending garden soil in the fall.

6.  Grow a Cover Crop

I have tried all of the above and have had good success, but have never grown a cover crop.

The beds have benefited tremendously but this year I have decided to grow a cover crop.  Recently after attending a class, about the benefits of cover crops, I thought why not.

I had read several articles about them and done some research.  But didn’t think they could be done in raised beds. But I learned they can.

What are Cover Crops?

Cover crops, also known as green manure, are probably the hardest-working plant that you can give your garden. They help to suppress weeds, build soil, provide nitrogen and control pests.  Best of all, they need 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, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your farm.  How much better can it get?

Winterizing Raised Garden Beds
Winter Barley on Raised Beds as Cover Crop for Winter

Since our beds are organic with no chemicals used, I decided to grow Organic Winter Barley I purchased from Seven Springs Farm in Check, VA.  I learned about this company from another organic CSA Farmer whose class I had the privilege of attending recently.

I also like that they sell in small quantities.  For more on cover crops and how to do them in raised beds, take a look here.  

It does take a little be bit of effort when preparing a garden for next season.  Winterizing a vegetable garden is not as difficult as many think though.  By doing a little work now will help you get started off a lot smoother next spring.

After all this is done, step back, admire your clean, well prepped and winterized vegetable garden.  Just think how the fruits of your labor now will get your ahead come next season.  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?

Prepare Garden for Winter. Dry fall stems covered with frost.

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