Taking some time to prepare your garden for winter may make for an easier time in the spring. As the days get shorter and the cold sets in, it’s time to get your garden ready for its long winter’s nap. Here are some ideas as to how to do that.
1. Prepare for Pests and Diseases
While freezing winter temperatures kill many insects, many of them are just lying low in dormancy. Insects, after all, have been surviving year after year for millions of years! Plant diseases, too, may seem to be vanquished only to reappear in the warmth of spring. So prepare your garden in order to decrease pests and diseases next year.
Remove dead plant matter, as this can harbor insect eggs and fungal spores. For annuals and vegetables, remove the entire dead plant; for perennials, cut them back to several inches above the soil.
Remove any other plant matter that does not belong – dead leaves (insects love to overwinter under leaves), weeds, and tree fall-out.
Work some compost, hummus, or other organic material into the soil. If you have chickens, let them roam in the garden area and leave their little “gifts.” Over the winter, the manure will break down and be ready for spring planting.
Green fertilizer – or a cover crop – is another option. Rye, winter wheat, red clover, and/or rapeseed can be planted over your garden as each bed dies back. In spring, these crops can be tilled under to enrich the soil.
Many gardeners take the time to mulch in the fall. This protects roots against freezing temperatures and, if using cedar mulch, discourages pests. Mulch also holds in moisture during a season when most gardeners do not think to water. You can use chopped leaves or the needles and boughs of evergreens. It’s a great way to use your old Christmas tree if frost comes late in your area, or if you need additional mulch protection later in the season.
Covering the garden with newspaper and weighting it down with rocks is another possible approach to protecting the soil and perennials. Cut slits in the newspaper around the perennials. This prevents winter weeds and discourages pests. The newspaper breaks down and makes excellent worm food when it’s tilled under in the spring.
4. Trees and Shrubs
Fall is a good time to cut back trees and shrubs that need hard pruning – just make sure it’s late enough in the season that new growth won’t start. If you apply pesticides, consider a systemic pesticide that can be applied to the roots of your trees and shrubs so that the plants will be “armed” when spring comes.