It’s important to prepare your garden for winter if you want a successful season. It can be a lot of work with all the clean up, planting, and weeding. But preparing for the cold weather will make your spring time chores so much easier.
A little work now goes a long way when it starts to warm up and your garden gets busy. Here are all the details about each of the tips on this list.
1. Review Garden Plants
Now is good time to look back at the last season and take note of which plants did well and which didn’t. If you feel a plant didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, you may want to change out another variety, Do some research on which varieties are better suited for your area.
You may want to consider things like plant placement, soil quality, watering schedule, and the weather. The same plants that didn’t so well this year, may do better in another area or with different care. You may also decide you want to get rid of some plants to make room for others. Now is the time to figure all this out, before you get too far into the winterizing process.
2. Clean Up Plants
Remove the plants that have died and plants you no longer wish to grow next year. Old plants can cause damage to your garden if left unchecked. They can grow fungus, attract pests, and spread disease. If you can do this step before any disease takes over the dead or rotting plants, you could bury them in the garden trenches.
Burying your dead or removed plants will give your soil some great natural organic matter. Do this to improve your soil health and give next years plants an advantage. We like to crush the old plants up into the soil as we till the area. Do not bury diseased plants or put them in your compost, it’s best to burn or throw away any diseased plants.
3. Remove Weeds
Yes the constant battle of weeding the garden continues, and this is a great time to do it. Remove invasive weeds completely wherever you can. I suggest burning the weeds or throwing them away. Don’t put them in your compost or in another area of the garden.
The weeds may appear dead after you’ve pulled them, but most weeds will remain viable and will grow in your compost. When you use that compost in your garden, you are essentially planting weeds to grow come spring time.
If you have a large area that has been overrun by weeds. Consider simply placing a sheet of black plastic, some cardboard, or a sheet of plywood over the area. This will kill the weeds over the winter months and you’ll be able to pull up your cover and work the soil when winter’s over.
4. Prepare Soil
Most gardeners will save this activity for spring, but actually preparing the soil before winter comes with many benefits. Preparing the soil before winter will give any added nutrients the time they need break down and enrich the soil. Consider if you need soil enhancements like these before winter:
- Bone Meal
- Rock Phosphate
Digging and turning the soil now will save you some steps come spring time. If you till your soil before winter it will help with drainage throughout the cold months. Keep in mind to place a sheet of plastic or other covering on the soil after you’ve prepared it. The covering will help keep the winter snows and rains from washing away any nutrients. Now in spring, you can just lightly till the soil before planting.
Here’s a helpful video explaining how to prepare and improve your soil.
5. Plant Winter Crops
Many people will plant what they call cover crops for the winter months, but you can also plant vegetables that grow well through cold weather. Planting peas or clover can help keep your soil from eroding and at the same time add nutrients like nitrogen. Your garden will thank you when spring finally rolls around.
If you’re interested in planting vegetables like garlic or potatoes, planting before winter is a great idea. You will get an early harvest in the spring and make use of your garden all year round. Check out my 20 Plants For Winter Gardening article to get a better idea of what types of plants do well in cold weather.
6. Deep Water Plants
If you plan on growing cover crops or plants through winter, you’re going to want to water them correctly. The water will help prevent the soil from freezing and insulate the plant roots from the cold soil. Many gardeners will do a deep watering before winter hits to give their winter plants a boost.
Deep watering is when you water your soil heavily once a week in the month before winter hits. Try to get your soil wet down to the 6 inch deep mark. If you can get a few deep waterings in before the first frost, you should be fine. This article goes into a lot more detail about how to Keep Outdoor Plants Alive Through Winter.
7. Trim Perennials
Before winter hits you’ll want to trim some of your perennials. Not all perennials will benefit from a trimming in the fall, so research a bit before you take action. Sometimes this is referred to as cutting back or pruning by many in the gardening community. Here some perennials that will benefits from a pruning before the winter months:
8. Divide Bulbs
Now is the time to divide up any plants that seemed to be too crowded during the growing season. Yes, the flowering bulbs should have flowered and died by this point, but now is the perfect time to split them up a bit. Removing and replanting will take some careful planning as to which ones need to be dug up.
Carefully dig about 6 inches away from the stalk of the plant and loosen the soil around it. You should be able to lift the bulbs out gently and preparing them for replanting right away. I like to have the new area they will go already prepared for when I pull the bulbs up.
9. Rework Compost
Now is a good time to use up that composted material you’ve been collecting all summer. Using that up will also give you some more space for the fall leaves to compost. Of course add kitchen scraps or other green matter to the leaves to compost.
Most people will let the compost sit over winter and not think much of it. But applying compost before winter will give your plants a boost when spring hits. Top off your garden beds, apply to soil that needs nutrients, and fertilize your landscaping. Make sure you cover any plants or areas you’ve added compost to help prevent the winter snows from draining away the nutrients.
10. Replenish Mulch
We mulch in the summer to prevent water loss and protect from soil erosion. This stands true for mulching in the winter months with some additional benefits. The mulch can help insulate the soil for your plants. When the temperatures swing from cold to warm throughout the winter, the roots of your plants have a greater chance to die. Mulching before winter hits can help ease the wild temperature swings on your plants roots.
To mulch a garden for the winter, apply a thick layer a few inches deep on top of the soil. You can go a bit thicker than that even on your root vegetables. This will help keep the temperature up and give your root vegetables a bit more growing time. The mulch will break down through winter and give nutrients to your soil as well.
11. Empty Outdoor Containers
If you have any outdoor containers, now is a good time to empty them and store them for the winter. We have containers around our garden area we use to store water and other containers to grow seedlings in. If you’re not going to wrap and preserve the plants in containers for winter. It’s best to empty them all out and store them so they don’t crack.
We do this as part of the odd jobs around the garden like covering the compost pile for the winter, draining the hoses, and other miscellaneous tasks to prepare for winter.
12. Prepare Trees And Shrubs
It’s a good idea to tend to your trees and shrubs to make sure they will survive the winter. Give them a good deep watering once a week before the ground freezes. After the ground freezes, spread some mulch or compost on the soil to keep the moisture in and the prevent the roots from freezing.
We like to go around and trim any dead or broken branches before a heavy snow hits. If you don’t do this yourself, the heavy snow and ice could make the problem worse. For smaller trees and shrubs you may want to wrap them in burlap or setup a cloth shelter to help them survive the winter.
13. Prepare Berries
Our berries don’t need much maintenance, they mostly look after themselves. But we do like to take care of them in the fall a bit. Simple things like covering the strawberry beds with straw or mulching around the base of blueberries can go a long way. Also consider planting blackberries in the fall.
You will want to prune most of your berries before winter hits to ensure they will start off on the right foot in the spring. Also, water the berries well before the ground freezes.
14. Expand Garden
If you have been planning on expanding your garden in some areas, now is the perfect time to do it. We like to plan and execute any expansions in the fall so that any nutrients we add to the soil will have had time to break down over winter. Consider doing this now while you’re not so busy with planting and tending the garden.
Make your own garden bed with some lumber, or buy a quality raised bed to install this fall. Here is my favorite garden bed, the Vita Gardens 4×4 Garden Bed from Amazon. I like how multiple beds can be attached together, and the grid layout allowing me to separate my plants.
15. Test The Soil
Many people will test their soil throughout a growing season to see what nutrients if any could be added to help their plants. But testing the soil is a good idea before winter because if you need to add lime, the winter will give the lime time to break down and dissolve.
Sure you may want to make some minor nutrient adjustments in spring, but you should have a decent pH if you took care of this before winter. A soil test can tell you the following:
- Soil pH Level
- Organic Matter Levels
- Lead Content
- Phosphorus Levels
- Calcium Levels
- Potassium Levels
- Sulfur Levels
- Magnesium Levels
16. Prepare Roses
If you have roses you will want to get them ready for winter. I’ve seen people skip on this before and regret it after winter hit. Some rose variations will do better than others in cold weather, but we take these steps with every rose either way.
- Give Deep Watering Before Ground Freeze
- Do Not Cut Back
- Do Not Fertilize
- Add Extra Soil Around Base
- Add Mulch Or Straw Around Base
For the rose bushes we cover with some gardening fabric and stake it into the ground. Don’t worry too much if the wind pulls it up, just get back out there and secure it when you get a chance.
17. Cover Winter Plants
For any plants you want to keep growing through winter like lambs lettuce and such. You will want to cover them when a cold snap is going to hit. Watch the local weather and keep an eye on it. Or, keep them covered all winter and only remove covers on sunny days with a bit of temperature increase. It may harm your plants to keep them covered for months on end, so be mindful.
We only grow in one section of our garden through the winter. Also, we plant garlic, potatoes, and a couple other plants before winter. Here are the Row Covers we use. Or alternatively, you can use Cloches for small plants or make your own custom coverings.
18. Maintain Tools
We like to clean our tools throughout the year as we use them, but I’ll admit, we’re not always on top of this chore. Before putting the tools away for the winter, it’s a good idea to clean them up, sharpen them, and oil them up first.
If anything has started to rust, I’ll use a little sandpaper on them to get rid of it. Use a little machine oil and a rag to lightly coat your tools before storage. The oil will help prevent oxygen and water from rusting them any further.
19. Drain Hoses
This is a simple one that will come back to bite you if you overlook it. I’ve already had to replace underground sprinkler hose sections before because they burst when the ground froze. Now every year, we drain our hoses and garden sprinkler system before the first frost of winter.
It will depend how your setup is, but you will most likely want to turn off and unhook any hose you have attached to a faucet on your house. Also, turn off and blow out any sprinkler lines you have. If you have self draining sprinkler lines you won’t have to do this step, just shut the water to them off.
20. Remove Pests
As you’re tilling your soil and removing old plants, look for insects and nests that will be trying to use your garden to spend the winter. Removing these now will save you some time in the spring. We even like to do this step on areas we haven’t covered after the ground freezes. It makes getting any bugs out easier since they will be frozen hopefully.
We avoid using any insect killing chemicals, and suggest you find some natural solutions if you plan on spraying. The chemicals may say safe for plants, but we’ve noticed that they still affect how well the plants grow.
What To Do During Winter
There shouldn’t be much for you to do in your garden during winter unless you have decided to grow some winter plants. We typically grow some lettuce, spinach, and peas throughout winter but they don’t require a ton of work. Just dealing with coverings and watering when the sun comes out.
If you planted garlic or potatoes before winter, they won’t need to be looked after because they will remain dormant through winter as well as your perennials. Giving them some water on some of the warmer days of the winter won’t hurt though, and can help give them a boost when winter has ended.
Use the leaves you raked up in the fall combined with any scraps from your kitchen to keep your compost pile going through the winter. You may not see as much composting as you would during the winter months, but this is a good time stock up on organic matter.