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How to Winterize a Garden in 9 Simple Steps
There’s a day every fall when we feel a chill in the air and the sun heads out of sight much sooner than it used to. At that time, we realize we finally have to accept it: winter is almost here. That means it’s time to winterize your garden!
This year, we’ve had a longer fall than usual – we had our first hard frost in the last week, and have yet to see any snowflakes. However, we can’t wait until the ground is completely frozen to winterize the garden! So read through these tips on how to winterize a garden, pick a decently warm day, and get started.
Step #1: Bring in Tender Plants
If you haven’t already done so, bring in any warm weather plants that you’d like to keep over the winter. You’ve probably already done this a few times to protect them from frost, but now’s the time to bring them in permanently.
To successfully acclimate them, you’ll want to go slow. Bring them inside only in the evening to start with, then put them back out in the morning if it’s warm enough. Gradually increase the amount of time they spend inside, until they’re fully ensconced in a warm sunny window for the winter.
If you pull this off properly, you can keep blooming annuals for years to come! Many, such as geraniums and impatiens, will bloom while indoors, although a little less fruitfully. (Here’s how to overwinter a geranium successfully.) Others, like begonias, will lose most of their foliage and may go entirely dormant, but will come back stronger than ever in the spring with proper care.
Step #2: Perform a Final Harvest
You’ll want to make sure you’ve harvested everything before winter. Pick all the flowers, gather all the peppers, haul out any squash you find (like the 2-foot zucchini that was hiding in grass and leaves…), and so on, so forth.
Dig up all your root vegetables before the ground freezes entirely. Carrots may benefit from a slight frost, but trust me, you don’t want to be digging them up when the ground and the carrots are half-frozen and snapping off below the surface!
And don’t forget about potatoes! We’ve haven’t planted potatoes in over 3 years, but every year they keep coming back because we missed one or two the year before. It seems like the plants die and disappear long before it’s time to harvest the potatoes, so try to mark the spot so you can find them later.
Step #3: Pull Up Annuals and Winterize Garden Perennials
I know, this is the hardest part. You’ve spent the last 6+ months tending to these little plants. They’ve become kind of like leafy kids to you, and you know their unique shapes, their growth rate, and the amount of water they did and didn’t like.
Unfortunately, it’s now time to pull them all up.
It’s easier to pull them now than letting them go overwinter. Otherwise, you’ll have a bunch of crunchy stems (and potentially reseeded plants) to deal with when prepping in the spring.
This also applies to warm-weather perennials that we in the north have to use like annuals – such as begonias, dahlias, and gladiolus. Dig them up before the ground freezes, or they won’t come back next year.
Even your overwintering perennials can use a little love before snow comes. They can be trimmed down if you prefer a less bushy look for your garden.
This applies to vegetable perennials too – while plants like asparagus need little care, you should trim back the “evergreen trees” that grow throughout the summer, and weed their area well. That way you’ll easily spot the tender green and purple shoots that come up in the spring! I like to use garden clippers to speed up the process.
Step #4: Weed
This part you should have no qualms about! Make sure you pull all the weeds from in and around your garden, so they won’t come back stronger than ever next year. If you’re lucky, they won’t have gone to seed yet. If they did… well, you’ll just have to get an early start to weeding in the spring, won’t you?
On top of keeping the weed population down, pulling weeds also exposes unsavory bugs that may try to overwinter under dense weed foliage. Like the weeds, they’ll be killed off so they can’t bother your garden next year! A double win.
Step #5: Divide and Plant Perennials
Fall is the best time to rearrange and tidy up your perennial patches. Plant fresh bulbs for the following spring and summer, and if the patch has been getting a little dense, go ahead and dig a few up to divide them. Here’s how.
Step #6: Consider Mulching
If you have some tender perennials, you may want to add mulch on top of them for the winter.
Any variety of mulch will do, whether you prefer wood chips, leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, etc.
While you’re at it, you may want to re-mulch any walkways you have in and around the garden to keep the weeds away next year.
I like to use cardboard boxes as mulch. Just slice them so they lay flat, then place them in any area of the garden where you need mulch or weed defense. Place a few rocks on top to keep them from blowing away in the cold winter winds. They’ll naturally break down over time, and act as a great ground cover in the meantime!
Step #7: Add Rich Fresh Fertilizer
Come spring, you’ll have plenty to do without adding fertilizing to the mix. Why not fertilize during your garden winterizing efforts instead? When using fresh fertilizers, like manure, you should fertilize in fall anyway to let the cold and snowy conditions do the breaking down and rotting for you.
Whether you use manure, compost, or a mix from the store, add your fertilizer and work it in before the ground freezes.
Step #8: Clean and Winterize Your Garden Tools
Once you’re done working in the garden for the year, it’s time to put the tools away! But don’t just throw them in a box on the shelf for next year – take good care of them by cleaning them up, and they’ll last for years to come.
Start by washing up all your tools in soapy water. Scrub all the dirt and grime off, then rinse and dry them. You can remove any rust with sandpaper, steel wool, or wire brushes.
Once they’re clean, you can sharpen any small tools that need it using a file. You may want to use a special tool sharpener for larger ones. Just be careful doing so!
Once everything is clean and ready to go, store your tools in a clean, dry place for the winter. They’ll thank you with extra years of service and quality!
Step #9: Plan Next Year’s Garden
Did you have too much of one vegetable? Not enough of another? Realize something may have done better in an area with more sunlight?
While these thoughts are still rattling around your mind, it’s a good opportunity to get them down on paper and begin planning next year’s crops. That way, you can make sure you don’t plant the same thing in one spot two years in a row and get the right number of vegetables and flowers for your needs.
You can also take an inventory of what seeds you already have (although you’ll want to check them again in the spring to make sure they haven’t spoiled).
Go Winterize Your Garden!
With these tips in mind, you should be ready to winterize the garden, thus prepping yourself for spring success! What other garden projects do you like to complete in the fall?