The weather is cooling off and the first frost of the season lurks just around the corner. Whether you are working with a fall garden or not, there are several things you should be doing this time of year to prepare your garden for winter!
Why should you prepare your garden for winter?
Taking some time in the fall to prepare your garden for winter is a great way to clean up, organize and save yourself time in the spring. This short amount of prep work will pay big dividends later.
It will allow you to preserve infrastructure from breaking or becoming brittle in the cold, snow and ice of winter.
It will help you have things put in place and easy to find when you need it for planting in the spring.
And, it allows you to have the materials/tools you need ahead of the spring planting spree. There is nothing worse than getting a warm day in April and not having the tools you need to get your plants out in the garden.
- Remove weeds and diseased plant material
- Pull up removable garden equipment
- Add compost
- Add mulch
- Sharpen garden tools
- Organize/clean out garden equipment
- Make a list of things needed before spring
Remove Weeds and Diseased Plant Material
While quite possibly a no-brainer, I think it is important to note that removing weeds and, especially, diseased plant material from the garden is crucial to do before winter sets in.
Really, it is a good idea to remove any diseased plant material as soon as you notice it throughout the growing season. But, definitely make sure to remove it at the end of the season.
This way diseases don’t have a chance to overwinter in your soil only to reinfect new plants the following year.
Pull up Removable Garden Equipment and Put Away
Part of preparing your garden for winter entails making sure that things are neat and tidy. You don’t want to be pulling out trellises or soaker hoses at the beginning of spring because they got damaged by an ice storm or aren’t where you need them to be to accommodate plant rotation.
I like to store my trellises either inside the garden shed, or alongside it outside. Depending on the type of trellis or stake they are, some I’ll stack while others I just lean up against the wall of the shed. This keeps them out of the way, but also somewhat protected from the elements throughout winter.
In terms of hoses and sprinklers as well as other types of garden equipment, I prefer to keep these inside the garden shed for maximum protection from the winter elements.
You don’t want to leave hoses spread out in the garden, especially if they haven’t been drained. Otherwise, you will most certainly burst a hose or weaken in substantially to the point it will likely break in the next garden season.
Another piece of garden infrastructure you will want to remove and store for winter is plastic coverings for hoop houses, etc. Leaving this out through winter will make a tattered mess for you come spring.
Compost is one of those additions to a fall garden that can really help boost soil fertility in your garden come spring! When we harvest produce and have plants growing in our gardens, we are depleting the mineral and other nutrients within our soil.
As a result, we need to be adding those things back to our soil each year to help keep our soil fertile and able to produce for us for years to come!
Compost, at its core, is a combination of minerals and microorganisms contained within the organic matter it’s composed of.
You can build your own compost from a number of materials. One of my favorite tutorials on making your own compost is done by Homesteading Family.
While laying down compost in the spring also works well, spreading it in your garden in the fall allows for a deeper nutrient penetration earlier in the year. What I mean by that is that rain and snow will help the nutrients seep deeper into the soil over the course of the winter where they will be ready to be utilized by your plants come spring.
Not that laying compost in the spring is a bad idea, it also works well, but, you get a better assimilation if you lay it in the fall. Not only that, but you also save on time when spring rolls around!
When it comes to spreading compost in the fall, laying anywhere from 1-3 inches of finished compost is ideal.
Mulch is a wonderful way of covering the soil in your garden, preventing erosion, helping retain moisture, and keeping a more stable soil temperature. You can utilize a number of materials for mulch in your garden, depending on resource availability!
- Wood chips
- Grass clippings
- Wood shavings
One of the nice things about mulch is that it’s so versatile. You can get creative! As long as it covers the soil and is an organic material, your options are varied.
If you are interested in starting a new garden bed this fall (a great time to put one in!), check out our post on starting a Combination No Dig and Back to Eden Garden.
Another perk of utilizing mulch in your garden is that it will help suppress weed growth in the spring. This way you won’t be worrying as much about pulling unwanted plants and can just focus on planting your own.
Similar to the compost, you will want to lay about 1-2 inches of mulch on your garden beds.
Sharpen Garden Tools
Sharpening your garden tools in the fall makes life so much easier when spring arrives.
Sharp clippers and saws make for an easier time pruning. Plus, it offers less damage to the plants when they cut clean. Not only that, but it saves you a lot of physical exertion as well!
Sharp shovels and other such tools make planting and other garden maintenance that much easier. No one likes digging in hard soil with a dull shovel.
Any amount of maintenance you can do in the fall will help you exponentially in the spring. You’ll be ready to go as soon as the weather cooperates!
Organize/Clean Out Garden Equipment
Cleaning and organizing is a crucial part of garden prep. It might seem insignificant at first, but, if your garden tools are thrown askew across several different locations, it makes it much harder to find them when you need them.
I like to break this step down into a couple more steps:
- Throw away any broken (beyond repair) tools and equipment.
- Make sure all your tools are in one place (ideally a garden shed or garage).
- Do any small repairs that need done on tools/equipment.
- Have a place for each tool and put it there where it is easy to find/see.
- Make sure things aren’t piled on top of each other. Everything should be visible.
Make a List of Things Needed Before Spring
This step I feel like is one that gets overlooked frequently, even by experienced gardeners. It’s so easy to get caught up in the physical work that goes into preparing your garden for winter that you completely forget to look ahead to spring!
As you are going through your garden, putting trellises and stakes away, organizing your garden shed, etc. take a notebook (or your phone) with you and write down things you need to replace.
Did your clippers break this year pruning? Write down that you need a new pair!
Write down things you realize you’re low on (seed starter trays, seeds, etc.).
It’s amazing how having a list done as you are going through organizing in the fall can save you tons of time as spring approaches!
Not only will it prevent last minute panic attacks when you realized you didn’t have (x) but need it ASAP, but it will also give you a plan for budgeting as you head into winter.
You’ll know what exactly it is that you need to stock up on. And this allows for decisions to be made throughout the winter if you are on a tight budget to save up for those items or slowly get them over the course of the winter months so it’s not one huge expense all at once come spring!
While I’m sure this list is not exhaustive, it is a good place to start as you consider the list of to-do’s heading into fall.
The key is to not find yourself halfway through winter, or worse, come spring, and realize that nothing is in order and you have twice as much work to do!
Doing the prep work in the fall really saves time and effort, allowing you to focus solely on getting those plants growing and hit the ground running once spring rolls around.
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