how to get garden ready for fall and winter frost
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We know, we know. You probably aren’t interested in even talking about the start of fall and winter. But, if you’re an avid gardener (or a newbie), it’s probably a good idea to consider how you’ll prep your garden for the upcoming colder months.

“Cleaning up the garden in fall or winter can remove sources of overwintering pests and diseases that can return next spring,” says Carmen DeVito, co-founder of Groundworks garden design firm.

DeVito adds: “If you have had problem areas, definitely clean up the garden. Doing a lot in fall will save you a ton of time in spring when gardeners usually have a lot more to do.”

Here, we’ll walk through the top five tips for gardeners who want to get their gardens in order before the ground begins to freeze come fall and winter.

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Related Reading: 5 Veggie Harvest Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Garden Before Summer Ends

How to Prepare Your Garden for Fall and Winter

If you have plants in your garden that you want to last through colder months, then you need to prepare ahead of time, explains Melinda Myers, gardening expert & host of The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series.

One of the simplest ways to protect your outdoor plants is by mulching. When doing so, you should layer an organic material, such as straw, bark chips, and other course-textured materials, to cover the ground. This protects from frost.

“I like to spread compost or other organic mulches over areas that will be planted in spring,” says Lee Reich, Ph.D., scientist, gardener, and farmer. “I hate to see bare soil, which is prone to wide swings in temperature and subject to washing away and forming ruts from winter rains.”

Another tactic is to “wrap any tender trees or shrubs like camellias or figs, especially if you live in the Northern part of the U.S.,” DeVito says.

What to Clear Out of the Garden

When prepping for the cold, you should also consider what in your garden needs to be taken away.

“In a vegetable garden, clean up and compost old, dead plants, so you’ll be all ready to plant next spring,” Reich says.

DeVito agrees with Reich and says that you should also “cut down all perennials.” Once the first frost sets in and they start to look blackened and “sad,” pull them out and deposit them in the compost bin.

Additionally, you should also “rake up most leaves and add to compost—or shred and put on other garden beds,” DeVito says. “You can shred leaves with a lawnmower on the highest setting.”

What to Store Away for the Season

There are certain garden tools and items that you should put away for the winter.

For example, “empty out any pots that could freeze and crack over winter—terracotta or ceramic only,” DeVito says. “Leave the rest out and plant with fun fall or winter plants.”

This is a good idea, especially since gardening pots—such as ceramic ones—can be so expensive in price.

growing herbs

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How to Protect Your Garden from Frost

Protecting your garden ahead of time is key—especially when it comes to the frost that’s about to hit.

“Continue proper care even as the temperatures drop,” Myers says. For instance, animals’ eating patterns change in colder months—which could send them straight for your gardens to nibble.

To protect against hungry critters, like deer, you should “apply repellents like organic Plantskydd, a product that is also rain and snow resistant so you will not need to reapply as often,” Myers says.

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Otherwise, to keep animals from feasting on your plants, you could also install protective fencing or “several strands of fishing line strung on posts around small gardens has also helped many gardeners discourage browsing by deer,” Myers says.

What to Plant in Fall and Winter

“Many vegetables thrive in cool weather,” Reich says. “Those would include many members of the cabbage family, including broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and Chinese cabbages.”

Reich adds: “Parsley and arugula are also quite cold hardy, [as are] kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts. One of my favorite salad greens that survives winter—even at 20 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) is mache, also known as corn salad.”

Related Reading: How to Grow Your Own Lettuce & Salad Greens

This time of year is “also a great time to prepare new planting beds—whether a raised bed or in-ground,” Myers says. “Fall often provides wonderful weather, since it’s cooler and a bit drier, allowing you to prepare new planting sites whether removing existing grass and adding compost or creating a lasagna garden.”

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I’m trying something different in the new kitchen garden that I’m building. It’s called “Lasagna gardening”! Instead of filling my raised beds with soil mix only, I’m filling them using the lasagna gardening method. What is lasagna gardening? It’s a process of layering carbon/“browns” (dried leafs, straw, sawdust, peat moss etc) and nitrogen/“greens” (fresh plant material, kitchen scraps, compost, manure, grass clipping etc). And then adding soil mix on the top. The layers of carbon and nitrogen act together to create a beautiful “compost like” soil. I’m excited to give this a try for a couple of reasons- 1) it’s much more cost effective because I’m filling the beds with approx. 75% free material that I have in my yard. I will only need to purchase and mix the top 1/3 (ish) with purchased soil. 2) As these materials break down they transform into nutrient dence soil with beautiful texture that will retain water and allow great aeration! Essentially it’s pretty simple and doesn’t have to be exact but here’s a rough idea of how to go it- 1) bottom later- nitrogen (compost of kitchen scraps) then water it well 2) a layer of cardboard or thin layer of newspaper 3)compost and water it 4)carbon and water it 5) nitrogen and water 6) carbon and water and keep layering until you have about 1/3 to 1/4 left to be filled for the top layer. 7) fill the top with a nice soil blend (I mix up Mels mix from square foot gardening). A rough rule of thumb is that you want the overall ratio of your layers to be approx 3 parts carbon to One part nitrogen. After the mixture sits for approx 3 week…you’re good to start planting. If you want more exhaustive info check out book “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza. There are also lots of good articles and YouTube videos. I’m excited to try this! Have you tried lasagna gardening or would you like to? #dreambigurbanfarm NOTE- The black insert that you see me putting into the bottom of the raised bed is a weed barrier which is breathable and will allow water drainage. The purpose of this weed barrier is to keep our grass and weeds from the garden. I just wanted to mention that in case you were wondering 🙂 beds by @rhinogardensupply

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When cold weather hits, “it’s also a great time to plant trees and shrubs because they won’t be stressed by summer heat,” says DeVito.

“Finally, it is a great time to plant chrysanthemums, asters, and grasses,” DeVito says. “In early winter, before frost, I also love to plant small evergreens in containers so that I have something pretty to look at all winter.”

She adds: “Choose dwarf types and do a mixture of textures and colors. Hollies, spruces, junipers, and Chamaecyparis are good choices.”

Start Planning for Next Spring

How to Start a Garden: 5 Tips for Beginners

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