Oct 30, 2021 2:02:45 PM / Brooke Loeffler / winter garden preparation

5 Steps to Prep Your Garden for Winter

As the excitement and exhaustion of harvesting and preserving winds down, you may feel a strong desire for snow to just cover your garden so you can checkout for a while. You’re so close, but hold on just a bit longer! Taking the time to properly put your garden to bed for the winter can yield big results in the spring.

1. Plants: Tear Out, Prune, or “Tuck In”?

The first step is to identify which of your plants will be able to handle the winter on their own, which need to be ripped out, and which need protection. Some plants that are classified as cold hardy, may experience frost damage to their outer leaves. However, the heart of the vegetable is still pretty resilient to colder temperatures. Root vegetables for instance, can enjoy the insulation of the ground even if their tops wilt and die off.

Semi-hardy

According to Oregon State University (OSU) Extension, semi-hardy vegetables can withstand light frosts down to around 29° F. The following vegetables are considered semi-hardy:

  • Chard
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Endives
  • Radicchio
  • Cauliflower
  • celery

cold hardy vegetables

Cold Hardy

Cold hardy vegetables are not only resilient down to around 25° F, they often taste better after enduring a frost. These plants include:

  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Rhubarb
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Walla Walla sweet onions
  • Arugula
  • Fava beans
  • Radish
  • Winter pea
  • Turnip

*Note: Vegetables with the purple/magenta pigment anthocyanin, are extra resistant to winter rot.

Fall Pruning

Unlike landscaping plants, most food bearing trees, bushes, and canes should be pruned in the early spring. Pruning woody plants stimulates growth. If pruned in the fall, any new growth would not have a chance to harden off and become strong before the winter. There are a few exceptions:

  • Fall-bearing raspberry canes can, and should, be aggressively pruned in the fall.
  • Asparagus can also be pruned to the ground to make room for fresh shoots in the spring.
  • Woody herbs (like sage, thyme, cold-hardy rosemary) can be pruned back in fall or spring.

Tuck In

  • Move sensitive plants and perennials inside and ensure they have adequate lighting.
  • Mulch around strawberries, blueberries, woody herbs, and anything else you would like to keep protected over the winter. (read more about mulch in the section below)

Tear Out

  • Remove wilting and dying vegetation but leave the roots in your soil (they will break down over the winter and increase your organic matter levels).
  • Remove weeds, roots and all.
  • Throw away any plants with blight, insect infestations, fungus, or other ailments.
  • Use the healthy (non-weed) plant debris in your compost (see compost in section below).

2. Tend to Your Soil

Many people don’t think about testing or amending their soil until the spring. However, fall is the perfect time to invest in healthy soil. Changes you start in the fall will have all winter to settle in before spring planting.

Test & Amend

  • Test your soil for nutrient deficiencies, pH levels, and physical texture. Garden center tests may provide you with basic readings, but for a more in-depth and comprehensive test, use your local ag extension.
  • Click here to find the most convenient cooperative extension near you.
  • Amend your soil in the fall to correct any problems before spring.

Shovel adding soil amendment

Compost/Mulch

Fall is the perfect time to add brown matter to your compost pile and/or use as mulch for your garden.

  • Do not use any plant debris with pest or disease infestations for compost or mulch.
  • Rake up and collect fall leaves.
  • Bag and save some of your leaves so you can add layers of brown matter to any green matter (kitchen scraps) you add to your compost during the winter.
  • Run over the remaining leaf pile with your mower (large, intact leaves can mat up and create a cap that actually prevents moisture from getting down into your soil).
  • Add a few inches of compost, manure, etc. to your garden beds
  • Cover with a light layer of leaf mulch or straw to prevent soil erosion, nutrient leaching, and weed growth.

3. Sow Winter Cover Crops

Some gardeners choose to plant winter cover crops to protect their bare soil instead of mulching. Cover crops can help prevent winter erosion (especially from wind), and support the nitrogen cycle in your soil.

  • Some common crops are: oats, winter rye, winter wheat, crimson clover, and hairy vetch.
  • Click here to learn more about winter cover crops from the University of Maryland Extension.

4. Water/Ice Readiness

  • Check greenhouses, hoop houses, and sheds for sturdiness and make sure they can handle snowfall and icy buildup.
  • Water perennials well before shutting off exterior water.
  • Turn off exterior water sources and empty hoses of leftover water.
  • Stock up on plant friendly ice melt, like mineral rich Nature’s Blend for garden paths and walkways.
  • Click here to learn more about how Nature’s Blend can keep you safe during the winter and protect your garden in the spring.

Garden safe Nature's Blend ice melt

5. Store Garden Supplies

  • Remove trellises, plant cages, and plant supports.
  • Clean off plant debris and broken ties and store in a dry location for next year.
  • Clean and oil metal garden tools to prevent rust and corrosion during the winter.

For over 50 years, Redmond Minerals has proudly helped growers enjoy more productive, resilient, and nutrient dense crops. Click here to learn more about how our soil programs!