By Alaynia Winter
How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter
The bittersweet task of winterizing your gardens and saying goodbye (officially) to summer is upon us. We know pulling your once colorful and tasty summer vegetable plants is hard and there are many questions you may have. We’re here to help make it as easy as possible!
Why Winterize Your Garden?
The main goal of winterizing your garden is to protect your soil from the harsh winter months and replenish the nutrients your garden will need next season. Your garden has worked hard all summer, now it’s time to prepare it for winter!
Steps for Winterizing a Garden
To prepare a bed for winter you will want to follow these steps:
1) Remove debris and summer crops.
Just remember the 4 C’s: Chop, Clip, Cut, Clean.
If you keep a compost bin you can throw your plants into your compost. It's best to chop them up to help with decomposition. If your plants have pests or are diseased, throw these away so as not to spread the pests and disease throughout your compost. Try to avoid throwing weeds into your compost, especially weeds that have gone to seed.
Prune back any shrubs or vines that require it. Additionally, remove all weeds from your beds at this time. This Old House has some great video tutorials on pruning and dividing shrubs and vines.
2) Test your soil. (Optional)
This step is optional, but pulling a soil sample is easiest when your garden bed is empty and before the soil hardens in the winter. If you seem to be having issues with your vegetable plants and their progress, a soil test may be a good option. You can buy an at-home kit or you can submit soil samples to Utah State University soil lab. They will test your sample and tell you what is lacking and offer recommendations on how to fix it. (For more about soil, check out our soil video with the soil lab!)
3) Till your soil using a garden spade (or rototiller if you have access to one).
Gardeners often mix their garden soil to create airflow and assist in drainage. Tilling also eliminates overwintering pests that may be using your soil as a cozy winter abode. At this point, you will want to add any nutrients recommended by the soil lab test.
Pro Tip: Add compost. By gently tilling the compost into your soil, you’ll be adding a lot of nutrients your vegetables have been taking from the soil this past summer.
This can also be done in the spring, but because the excitement to get seeds in after a long winter is high; we recommend fall tilling. Additionally, remove any roots or rocks you unveil.
Now that your garden is cleared and tilled, it is ready for the next step.
4) Mulching and/or Cover Crop
This is an important step because it not only prevents overgrowth of weeds come spring, but it also protects your soil from erosion and provides much-needed nutrients. It can also break up the clay or hardpan. Hooray for healthy soil!
Sow cover crops.
Cover crops are quick-growing ground cover plants. Benefits to cover crops are many. They amend the soil and improve fertility, prevent soil erosion and soil compaction, keep soil microbes active, and keep weeds at bay.
Over the winter the cover crop will lie dormant and began to grow very early in spring. You will pull them and add them to your compost or till them into your garden before you begin to plant. It’s important to do this before they go to seed otherwise you may have alfalfa growing in your tomatoes!
Some Utah-friendly options can include legumes such as alfalfa, hairy vetch, and Austrian winter peas, or non-legumes such as winter rye or buckwheat.
Cover with mulch.
Some mulch options include fallen leaves, grass clippings, straw or any organic mulch cover from your local garden store. Watch out for Black Walnut tree leaves however, these are toxic!
Reaping the Benefits of Winterizing Your Garden
So show your garden some love while there are still warm days and you’ll be glad you did come spring. Your work will be well worth the effort, producing a healthier garden with a larger bounty come harvest season.
Don’t forget to follow Modern Gardener on Instagram and Facebook to see more information about gardening, and make sure to chime in with your own tips! We love to learn from other gardeners, and look forward to seeing what you’re learning in the garden too!
If you live in Utah and have a garden or garden project that you'd like to be featured on Modern Gardener, click here!