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When the cold weather starts to arrive and you’ve harvested all of the produce from your garden in the fall, it comes time to think about taking steps to prepare your garden for winter and to do what you can to get ready for another gardening season in the spring.
Depending on how much time you have and what the weather is like, you can do several different things to prepare your garden for the winter season, or you can do only the most essential tasks and leave everything else for the spring.
I’ve gone both ways with my garden. On years when I’ve had more time and the autumn weather has been beautiful, I’ve spent more effort on cleaning up my garden and getting it ready for winter. And on other years when I’ve been busy or when the weather has been really cold, there have been times when I’ve come close to just leaving it as it is at the end of the season and hardly doing any work at all.
So this list of tasks to get your garden ready for winter is more of a best practice list if you have the time and energy, and they are all optional if you aren’t able to do them. Many of these things are tasks that will give you a better chance of having a better garden in the spring if you do them, but if you aren’t able to do them then you can still have a perfectly fine garden the next year if you can’t get to everything (or even anything) on the list this year.
8 Steps to Prepare Your Garden for the Winter
Step 1) Pull Up Any Diseased Plants
If you notice any plants in your garden that had any diseases or blight or insect infestations, it’s a good idea to pull those up rather than letting them sit in your garden all winter long because the diseases or insects could possibly end up causing problems for your garden for the next season in the spring.
Ideally it would be even better to pull up those diseases or infested plants when you notice them earlier in the season to prevent the spread of disease or insects, but if you ran out of time or didn’t notice them before, it’s still a good idea to pull them out of the garden at the end of the season.
Step 2) Save and Label any Seeds You Want to Use Next Year
Before the winter sets in, it’s also a good idea to take a quick scan of your garden and make sure you didn’t forget to harvest any seeds that you wanted to save to plant in next year’s garden. (If you’ve never tried saving seed from your garden before, you can learn more about how to save seeds and what seeds you can save in this post.)
And it’s also very important to make sure you label and date your seeds too! Even if you think you’ll remember which ones are which, it can be very easy to get them confused or to forget if the seeds you saved were from the previous year or if they are older seeds from several years ago. (This happens easily if you’ve been saving seeds for several years and have a collection of them!)
Step 3) Bring in Plant Markers, Beans Poles, etc. That Might Get Damaged
It’s also wise to bring in any plant markers or beans poles or other similar garden accessories that might be damaged by staying outdoors all winter long. And even if those accessories wouldn’t necessarily be damaged by one winter season, bringing them inside until you need them again can help them to last longer and allow you to reuse them more times before having to replace them.
Step 4) Bring in any Cold-Sensitive Perennials that Won’t Survive the Winter
If you have any really cold-sensitive perennial herbs or flowers that won’t survive the winter, don’t forget to put them in pots and bring them indoors for the winter season. If you have a small garden, these are fairly easy to remember to bring inside, but if you have a large garden with many perennials, it might be a good idea to make a list of the ones that you need to bring inside.
Step 5) Mulch Around Cold-Sensitive Perennials that Stay Outdoors
If you have perennials that are sensitive to the cold but that can still survive the winter with some covering, it’s important to remember to cover them with some mulch to help to protect them from heavy frosts or snow. And if you plant any parsnips in your garden, you can also cover them with a layer of mulch or leaves and leave them in the ground to dig up and eat in the spring when the ground thaws. (They taste amazing in the spring with a milder and sweeter flavor and you can even add some maple syrup to make maple-glazed parsnips.)
Step 6) Make Notes About What Worked and What Didn’t
This is one of the more optional steps for seasons when you have more time. (I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever actually made written notes about my garden at the end of the season. I’ve made mental notes, but I’m sure it would be a lot easier to remember things if I actually wrote them down!)
So, if you have the extra time, it can be helpful to jot down a few notes about what worked in your garden and what didn’t and any ideas you have for what you might want to do differently next year. It can often be hard to remember those those things by the time that spring comes around, so having written notes could be helpful.
Step 7) Plant a Cover Crop
This is definitely an optional step for years when you have some extra time and motivation. I’ve never actually done in this my garden because the fall always ends up being so busy with other things like raking leaves in the yard, and doing other fall tasks. If you have the time, though, planting a cover crop can be a great way to help to enrich your soil and prepare it for the next garden season. (Here are some tips for how to use cover crops in your garden.)
Step 8) Rake Leaves or Let them Compost
This last step is one that gardeners tend to have different opinions about. Some say that it’s best to rake the leaves and others say that it’s best to leave them in the garden. I tend to leave them in the garden because I like to leave a layer of mulch on some of my plants anyways, and also because I tend to run out of time and lose motivation for raking when it gets cold out and when there are leaves to rake in other parts of the yard. I’ve also heard some opinions that it can be good for the soil to let the leaves stay and good for beneficial insects, so I usually let my leaves stay in my garden until spring. (The fact that I have a fence around my garden helps to keep them contained and not blowing all over the yard.)
If you have extra time and the weather is warm and nice, then raking up some of the leaves and cutting down weeds and vines can be a good way to get a bit of a head start on some of the work that you would need to do in the spring. Or, if you’re busy and the weather is cold and unpleasant, you can leave them until the spring when it’s nicer and you’re more motivated to be working in the garden. That’s my opinion on the to-rake-or-not-to-rake dilemma anyways, and my opinion for just about everything else on this list of possible fall gardening tasks too!
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.