In many regions, tis the season for dusting off winter coats, drinking hot tea and gazing out of the window at frosty mornings. The cooler weather means it’s also the season for winter garden preparation.
Even though your garden has slowed for the year, there are some tasks you can take care of now to make next year even better. Here are three tips to help you prepare your garden for the winter months ahead.
1. Take advantage of fall’s greatest gift: leaves!
Nature has this amazing system of shedding trees’ leaves in fall, creating a blanket of protection on the ground that works as mulch and feeds the soil. These days many people bag up those leaves and set them on the curb as yard “waste,” but those leaves can be a gardener’s best friend. Plus, they’re free! If you don’t have enough that fall on your property, ask a neighbor for theirs or snag a few bags from a nearby curb.
Simply spread leaves on your garden beds, taking care to mulch with them heavily around fall-planted crops such as garlic. You can shred leaves a bit first by running your lawn mower over them, as shredded leaves are less likely to blow away in gusty conditions. A thick blanket of leaves will keep the soil temperature steady during freeze-thaw cycles and will break down over time, adding valuable organic matter to your soil. For more ideas on using leaves, check out Got Leaves? Put ’Em to Work.
2. Plant winter-hardy cover crops
Cover crops are crops you grow not for food, but for the multiple other benefits they provide. They prevent soil erosion, improve soil texture, add organic matter to the soil when you work them in next spring and more. If you have empty garden beds, plant cover crops in them now. Rye and turnips are particularly cold-hardy options. For more information, see Grow Cover Crops for the Best Garden Soil and Cover Crops: Options, Tips and Advantages for the Home Garden.
3. Clean up and store tools and supplies
Do you have bamboo or wooden trellises set up in your garden? A hoe or shovel leaning against your house or shed? Now’s the time to clean these things up and store them in a location where they won’t be exposed to the elements all winter. Those trellis poles will last much longer if they’re not wet and cold all winter, and getting your tools put away will help ensure they won’t rust.
Best of luck with your winter garden prep!
Photo by Fotolia/Gennadiy Poznyakov