Now that we have officially entered into the world of winter - and the colder weather, frost, and snow that comes with it - I thought it would be useful to discuss how to prepare your garden for winter.
One of the nightmares many novice gardeners have is losing all of their crops to the cold. After all, no one wants to put out all of the effort to maintain these fresh organic veggies to not be able to pick them at their ripest.
Fortunately, preparing your garden for winter is actually very easy to do. The main thing to learn is when to start preparing for growth of plants that thrive in the cold, and letting go of those that do not.
8 Tips for Preparing Your Garden for Winter
1). Clean Up Your Garden Beds.
This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyways: the first step for winterizing your garden is actually cleaning it out thoroughly. In some of my videos, I have discussed the value of having garden chores throughout the seasons, and cleaning up is just a part of this process for me. Many plants will begin dying off by late summer and fall, and by the first day of winter your garden may be overgrown with dead and rotted plant-life no longer of use. While some of this may naturally devolve into compost, it is better to set aside a specific area for composting, as not all plant waste will be suitable as some can carry pests and disease, such as Late Blight, which can survive through winter and cause future garden challenges.
2). Add a Layer of Compost.
A major reason for adding compost to your garden beds is because it allows us to naturally reintroduce good nutrients into our dirt and soil. There are going to be forms of compost you can purchase, and you can also create your own throughout the year by breaking down waste yourself.
3). Test your soil.
Testing your soil is a valuable way to analyze the chemistry of your soil. While not strictly "necessary," it can be a useful tool to help you prepare your soil for winter - and shed some light if you happened to have any challenges while growing plants during the summer and fall months. Given that winter is often the "slow season" for many gardeners, it makes sense to try and resolve this problem while it is cold and slower out before you dive into the following year's spring and summer months where you would like to see large harvests.
4). Start planting veggies for next years harvest.
Just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to stop your vegetable production - it just generally changes what you can plant. Winter is prime time for planting garlic, shallots, rhubarb, and spinach (among other things). You will be able to harvest by late winter and/or early spring.
5). Plant a "cover crop."
If you don't want to plant more vegetables over winter - maybe because it is your "break" from gardening for the year - consider planting a cover crop. These cover crops will be plants that break down quickly on their own such as buckwheat and rye. By planting these sorts of crops, it helps the topsoil to retain its nutritional content, and can enrich the soil as well making it more hospitable for your next round of veggies come spring.
6). Till the soil to expose overwintering insects.
Some sneaky insects know to go into the ground during the winter months where they can retain more heat. By tilling the soil during the winter, you can help expose these insects to the elements so they can not do damage to your plant life.
7). Add organic fertilizer to help your soil's nutrition.
I find the addition of organic fertilizers to be somewhat experimental in nature - sometimes I add weekly or monthly to help my veggies grow to their best, and to help the soil itself retain more nutritional value. A simple organic fertilizer you can make at home is alfalfa tea fertilizer.
8). Cover your garden bed(s) with black plastic or a tarp.
This isn't really a necessary step in winterizing your garden, but for those who struggle to get their weeds under control, covering with a tarp or black plastic (or a bed sheet as some people have used in the past...) can help to reduce weed growth and kill sprouting seeds.
It is easy to prepare your garden for the winter months. You will likely follow many of the steps highlighted above, but keep in mind that every garden is different - and can have different needs.
The Old Farmer's Almanac put together a great piece I would recommend checking out on this subject that goes into more detail about winterizing for specific plant families and species such as roses, geraniums, trees, perennials, berries, herbs, etc. The key is knowing your own needs instead of just widely assuming that what another gardener does will directly apply to your own backyard.
Want to Keep Some Easy Veggies Growing During Winter?
If you are put off by gardening in the cold and snowy winter months, you are not alone. Maybe you are picky about the types of fruits and veggies you are left to be able to grow during these months as well - and just want some fresh tomatoes. Fortunately, there are some great indoor gardening options to consider that will enable you to grow your favorites in the comfort of your own home. The key things are being able to control the temperature, lighting, and that the plants are watered as necessary - all of which can be done with a little effort and the right equipment.
A few indoor gardening kits to check out:
1). Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Harvest with Gourmet Herb Seed Pod Kit. This is hydroponic gardening at it's most convenient. Instead of growing in soil, the veggies, flowers, and herbs that can be grown in this are fed strictly by artificial LED lighting and water. No doubt this helps to reduce some of the headache that could potentially come from having dirt and soil indoors, especially with children or pets around that know how to make a mess of things. The LED lighting is specially designed to operate on a spectrum of light that promotes plant growth - making this a simple alternative to natural sunlight you would get from your garden outside. The kit includes a packet of seeds for herbs including basil, parsley, thyme, dill, mint, and others!
2). Grow 5 Herbs from Seed with Nature’s Blossom Plant Kit. If your looking for a more cost effective indoor gardening kit, and are familiar already with container gardening, you may enjoy this $25 dollar kit which includes 5 biodegradable pots, 5 organic herb seed packets (for basil, thyme, parsley, sage, and cilantro), compressed soil discs, and more. In the end, it is a indoor suitable kit that can help you continue to grow some plants even during the winter months. I'd recommend keeping them close to a window where they can get some sunlight for best results - or otherwise consider purchasing a small LED kit for plant growth.
3). Harvest Touch by Aerogarden Red Stainless Steel Indoor Garden with Cherry Tomato Kit. This is the most expensive of these three options, however well worth the cost if you are looking to do some more serious gardening indoors. The growing space is larger than other AeroGrow products, and includes additional features such as the cool electronic panel on the front that tells you when to add food/water, can be set to automatically turn lights on and off, and other things as well. It is really perfect for your own home grown cherry tomatoes (it includes seeds for these in the kit), and you can grow other herbs and veggies to your liking as well.
While not quite the same as having multiple raised garden beds or an expansive garden spanning across a larger property like my own - they can help you get your gardening fix without requiring a whole lot of effort. Families with children can also get a kick out of these kits and pass on some garden enjoyment on a small scale!
Just because it's winter, doesn't mean your gardening hobby has to go to sleep early like the sun!