How to prepare your garden for winter.
As the rain starts to fall, we slip into those cozy socks and curl up with a good book. We leave the garden to the elements and watch as it dies. We dream of plans for next year and write down notes from this year’s endeavors. But gardening doesn’t end with the first cold wind. There are a lot of things to button up before you head inside for the season.
REMOVE DISEASED LEAVES AND PLANTS
By this time of year, most vegetable gardens are starting to die back. There are two trains of thought here: leave the plants to compost down for next season’s soil or remove the plants and start fresh in the spring. Either way you go, it is important to make sure that you remove diseased plants. In the Pacific Northwest, it is common to have mold, rust, and mildew problems with plants and making sure to dispose of those leaves and plants will help you to avoid spores overwintering in the soil.
AMEND YOUR SOIL
Now is a fantastic time to add compost or manure to your garden beds. It’s much easier to spread compost over the garden when you don’t have to work around plants. In addition, the rain will help nutrients seep into the soil. While the soil is still warm, worms are also able to begin mixing and breaking down new compost.
TEST YOUR SOIL
While a good dose of compost is helpful for any soil, getting your soil tested will help guide you in what additional amendments you should add to get the best out of your spring garden. You can purchase basic soil test kits to check nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and pH. If you would like a more complete view of your soil, you can check with your state extension office to see how and where to send a sample. Once you know what your soil needs, you can amend now, giving everything time to settle.
MOVE OR DIVIDE PERENNIALS
Whether it is for aesthetics or plant health, this is the time of year to move spring and summer flowering plants to new places in your garden. It’s also the time of year when most large perennials will tolerate division, increasing your garden without decreasing your wallet. Make sure to move or divide plants gently and without disturbing the roots. Plants will have the last bit of warm soil in the fall to reestablish themselves before they head into dormancy for the winter.
Planting in the fall is fun. Some of the planting – like mums or pansies – will liven up your autumn beds. Some of the planting – like spring bulbs – gives you something to look forward to in the spring. And some of the planting – like spring and summer blooming perennials – are just waiting in the nursery for a new home. Additionally, in some of the milder Pacific Northwest areas, it is possible to have a successful winter vegetable garden. Semi-hardy vegetables tolerate light frosts. These veggies include spinach, chard, lettuces, arugula, beets, carrots, and cabbage. The only additional consideration for winter vegetables is to watch for severe frosts and use row cover accordingly.
Putting down 2” of mulch through your garden does a few things. First, it creates a barrier that young weeds will struggle to grow through in the spring. Second, it insulates the roots of perennials, helping them to avoid frost damage. And third, it just looks nice. Whether you choose hazelnut shells, bark mulch, or chopped leaves, spending the time to mulch is worth the work.
Finally, make sure to turn off all drip lines, drain all hoses, and cover all outdoor spigots. The last thing you want to discover in the spring is a broken pipe. If you need water after you’ve done this, consider a watering can. And as you head inside for the last time, bring in your tools. Clean, oil, and store your implements so you will be ready for the next year.
So, as you pull out your sweaters and rain boots, take some time to winterize your garden. Enjoy those fleeting sunny days. Appreciate the beauty that your garden has given you. And give it the attention it deserves. And when you are finished, find those cozy socks and that good book, and enjoy the view from inside for a while.