How to Get Your Veggie Garden Ready for Winter
Now that the heat of summer is over and your seasonal vegetables have been harvested, it’s time to prepare your gardens for winter. Caring for your garden at the end of the season will make your life a lot easier when you start to prepare for the next round of seeding.
Not to mention, the simple act of gardening is great for your physical and emotional health, your children’s cognitive and social development, as well as your stress levels. So let’s all get out our spades and gloves and dig into some dirt!
Clean Up Your Garden Beds
First things first, it’s time to clean up your garden beds! Get rid of any weeds that have popped up (and make sure to get their roots as well), pluck out any finished plants, and clean up around perennials.
If you have any plants that were unhealthy with disease, mildew, or mold, be sure to properly dispose of the foliage. The best way to do this is to put it in with your garbage or burn it, but make sure you don’t put it in with your compost. Not only will doing so contaminate your compost, but it will also spread the disease around in your soil.
Overall, there aren’t that many vegetable perennials — many of them die once they’re no longer in season. However, if you also plant flowers or fruit, then it’s important to know how to properly nurture them so they can be bountiful come spring.
First of all, be sure to trim only those that will actually benefit from it. Plants that thrive from a ‘fall pruning’ are vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus, and herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme. Check out this article for a list of plants that need to be pruned in the fall.
On the other hand, plants that continue to be nourished throughout the winter and thus don’t need pruning are raspberries and blueberries. If you’re going to give these a trim, do so come spring. Not to mention, many birds rely on the dried seeds from perennials for food. When pruning, always make sure to do so with a sharp pair of shears or hand pruners.
If you live in Lebanon or the Mediterranean as a whole, then fall is also a great time to plant certain perennials. These perennials will generally be dormant until spring, so if you are looking to take your gardening one step further, then look into indoor winter gardening! Not only will this extend the life of many of your plants, but it will also keep you in fresh food all year long.
Do a Soil Test
Fall is the perfect time to test your soil for nutrient levels and pH, and see what your soil is lacking and what additives it may need. In doing this, make sure to check your pH, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and phosphorous levels. Additionally, check your levels of organic matter and lead content.
Testing your soil will also make sure you don’t waste fertilizer on soil that’s already healthy.
Add Nutrients to Your Soil
The secret to growing healthy plants? Well-maintained soil. And how do we ensure our soil is well-maintained? By adding nutrients to it after the test!
Plant growth and health are largely dependent on your soil pH. Soil pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral (plants prefer anywhere from a 6 to a 7). Soil tests for pH and other nutrients are available at any home and garden store, and these kits will give you an exact measure of your levels.
Any number below seven is considered acidic, and above 7 alkaline. To up your pH levels (acidity), add lime, dolomite limestone, or wood ashes. To lower your pH (alkaline), add composted leaves, pine needles, or horticultural sulfur.
If you want to take the next step in testing your soil and check it out nutrient by nutrient, then taking it to a lab is your best bet. Thankfully, labs that specialize in agricultural and garden soil testing are found in most locations– and they test for nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrate, potassium, sulfate, magnesium, calcium, as well as micro-nutrients.
Add Your Compost & Mulch
Adding compost and mulch come fall will greatly add to the health and lifespan of your garden.
First, add a thin layer of compost to your garden by using any plant matter that you’ve put in a compost bin over the summer. This plant matter will be rich in nutrients and will nourish your soil and help your plants grow come seeding season.
Next, lightly cover your garden with old mulch such as dead leaves. Doing so will help to kill weeds, regulate soil temperature, retain water, and protect the soil from erosion.
If you live in a place where the ground freezes come winter, then further protect your perennials by adding a second layer of mulch (to perennial areas only).
Assess Your Plant’s Performance
Now that the harvesting season is over, take stock of how your plants fared this year. Did some plants thrive better than others, and is there anything you can do to up all of your plants performance next year?
Oftentimes, as mentioned above, plants respond to the nutrient levels in the soil, but also take into account factors such as spacing between plants, your garden’s drainage system (and the soil’s moisture levels), the order you’ve planted your garden, and whether or not you should plant certain things earlier or later in the season.
It’s only by thoroughly assessing your plants at the end of the season that you can learn and help your plants better thrive in the years to come!
Do Any Repairs or Add-Ons
Fall is the perfect time to do any repairs to your tools or garden, or add on more space. Give all your tools a look over, checking for any damage, and then repair accordingly.
If you’re looking to expand your garden, doing so in the fall when you can let your soil and nutrients set over the winter is a great thing to do, especially if you plant using raised gardens.
Clean Your Tools
If you want to give your tools a longer lifespan and keep them in tip-top condition for years to come, then a little fall TLC will go a long way. First, clean all the dirt off of your tools and give them a good wash down. Then, clean off any rust on your tools with a wire brush. Finally, rub the surfaces of your tools with machine oil. Machine oil closes off the metal from oxygen, extending the metal’s life.
Thanks for reading! What are some additional ways you prepare your vegetable garden for the cooler months? Share your knowledge and let us know in the comments!