Working in my garden has been a source of such great joy for me, that it irks me to be away from it, even for a few months. I was learning about how to winterize a vegetable garden. I thought it would be helpful to share my knowledge with all of you! A little bit of planning will go a long way towards winterizing your vegetable garden so you can get back to your lovely veggies as soon as Spring comes around.
Here are some tips to winterize a vegetable garden:
- Clean up the garden bed by removing weeds and rotting plants.
- Check soil pH, and prepare it for the next planting season.
- Gather leaves for mulching, composting, and making nutrient-rich leaf mold.
- Plant garlic.
- Turn the water off.
- Expand your garden beds.
- Harvest delicate plants, vegetables, and herbs.
- Review and plan ahead.
There’s a lot that goes into properly winterizing your vegetable garden. After all, we want our gardens to be in the best possible shape for next season, don’t we? So, let’s take a more in-depth look at how to winterize our vegetable gardens.
Clean Up the Garden Bed
Vegetable gardens can get incredibly messy towards the end of the planting season. Your first order of business should be to clean up your vegetable garden bed. For this, you want to focus primarily on two things – removing weeds and cleaning up rotting plants.
Identifying the most common weeds and getting rid of them is essential for beginning to winterize your vegetable garden. Weeds such as the bindweed that attacks raspberry plants can be a real nuisance, so make sure to dig them up and dispatch them properly. This will require that you either burn them in the fall burn-pile or chuck them in the trash and send them on their way.
Shifting weeds to another part of your vegetable garden doesn’t help. A lot of them can survive a compost heap and stay viable in a weed pile! Try your hand at Grandpa’s Weeder to quickly uproot these pesky nuisances. Or, if you prefer to go the mechanized route and get rid of weeds in no time at all, head over to Amazon to try this wonderful little gadget.
Get Rid of All Rotting Plants
Diseases such as late blight can attack any vegetation that you leave in your vegetable garden over the winter. Pests and other unwanted insects also lay eggs in your plant stalks over the year, so removing dead or spent plants is the best way to winterize your vegetable garden.
Disease-free vegetation can be added back to the soil or added to the compost pile. Both of these methods will add organic matter to your garden bed and make the soil more viable for the next planting season.
Compost piles generally do not get to a temperature where diseases or fungi are destroyed, so it isn’t helpful to dispose of them that way. If you spot any mildew, mold, or blight, make sure that you add them to your regular trash or burn them right away to stop any potential disease from spreading to your compost or hiding away in your garden bed.
Prepare Your Soil
As you continue to winterize your vegetable garden, try and resist the urge to hold off on soil preparation until the Spring. The fall is a great time for you to assess your soil’s condition and take remedial steps that will ensure a great harvesting season when Spring comes around again. For this, you will need to take two crucial steps:
- Measure the pH of your soil.
- Add nutrients to balance out your soil.
Measuring Soil pH
This is a great time to play dress-up in a lab coat and let your inner MacGyver loose! You may want to get your hands on a great pH meter if you don’t already have one handy. Most pH meters have sufficient accuracy to guide your soil preparation process and are affordably priced to suit every budget.
The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline your soil is by assigning a number to it between 1 and 14. The lower this number is from 7, the more acidic your soil is. The higher the number is from 7, the more alkaline your soil is.
In general, most vegetables require slightly acidic soil, with the ideal range being between 6.3 and 6.9, according to the University of Nebraska.
Here are some of the common pH values required by different vegetables:
|Vegetable||Soil pH required|
|Potatoes||4.5 – 6.0|
|Carrots||5.5 – 7.0|
|Radish||6.0 – 7.0|
|Beet||6.0 – 7.5|
|Celery||6.0 – 7.0|
|Onion||6.0 – 7.0|
|Turnips||5.5 – 7.0|
Source: Harvest to Table
Soil tests can also help you analyze the levels of essential nutrients in your soil, namely, potassium, sulfur, phosphorous, magnesium, and calcium. They can also give you a heads up on the lead levels in your soil.
Lead is a neurotoxin, and it important to make sure its levels stay low in your soil at all times!
Balancing Out Soil Nutrients
Adding soil nutrients in the fall gives them time to break down and dissipate in your soil and become biologically active. It also gives you a chance to turn or till your soil and to hit the next planting season with a running start.
Amendments such as manure, kelp, bone meal, and compost are simple, natural ways to winterize your vegetable garden.
You may also want to cover the top layer of any organic amendments you add with light straw to slow down nutrient loss due to inclement weather.
You can reference this book to help you with your soil amendments, as it explains everything in a tidy and easy manner. Your state extension office can also help you in finding services and companies to do this properly.
Chemical options available to you include lime, sulfur, and rock phosphate. Add lime to excessively acidic soil and use sulfur if your soil is too alkaline or not acidic enough. Once your soil is sufficiently acidic, add rock phosphate to round out your soil’s nutrient profile and make it ready for the next season!
As you approach the end of fall and winterizing your vegetable garden becomes a necessity, make sure you take advantage of the fallen leaves and stock up on this nature’s bounty. This is crucial if you are going to cultivate natural microbes to use next planting season.
Gathered leaves are best used as either mulching the garden, composting, or as leaf mold.
Mulch is typically any organic material that you can spread out over your soil to help winterize your vegetable garden. To make the best organic mulch, consider shredding and adding:
- Pine needles
- Old newspapers
- Fall leaves
In general, the woodier the mulch is, the slower it decomposes. It will need to be replaced eventually but will provide a longer-lasting cover for your soil. Make sure any material you use for mulching is free of weeds. The last thing you need is for your mulch to sprout and come alive on its own!
Good compost heaps are a delicate blend of green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) layers. Leaves can form an excellent brown layer for your compost to off-set the effects of the nitrogen in the green layer that usually comes from household waste.
Rich, well-made compost can fix any deficiencies in your soil, top-up garden beds, and also fertilize and winterize your vegetable garden to kick-start growth in the springtime.
Some steps you can take to make a great compost heap include:
- Start a leaf compost. Layer a foot of leaves with a layer of dirt, making a pile about three feet deep and four feet wide. Cover with plastic, making sure not to press leaves too hard against each other. Or, you can invest in a good composting bin to make matters easier.
- Keep a close eye on moisture. In particularly cold and rainy environments, the microbes in your compost heap risk being washed away by chilly water. Make sure you situate your compost pile in an area where it cannot absorb moisture from the ground or be exposed directly to it from falling rain.
- Keep your compost warm. The compost’s microbes will be deactivated if it gets too cold, so make sure to have a nearby heating source when composting.
Follow the tips in this great video to learn more about composting and winterizing your vegetable garden. It provides a quick overview of all you need to know!
Leaf mold is essential to adding organic matter to your soil. It enhances the soil’s capacity to hold water while improving the soil’s structure. By doing so, it builds a nice habitat for microorganisms. It helps attracts earthworms and other critters to help soften up the soil further.
Leaf mold can improve your soil’s fertility, leading to higher yields of healthier plants, more resistant to disease. It also helps regulate the soil’s temperature and ensure that evaporation doesn’t happen too quickly.
Head over to the hearty garden to learn the easiest and most effective ways to use leaf mold, and save yourself time, money and frustration!
Once the summer ends, and it is time to winterize your vegetable garden, one of the most effective things you can do is plant garlic. The best time to plant garlic is in the fall before the ground gets too hard and freezes over. This will give the cloves ample time to be exposed to sufficiently cold temperatures so that they can go into a happy dormancy and bulb with ease next Spring.
You should aim to plant each garlic clove at least three to four inches deep and try to space them apart by six to eight inches. Make sure you have worked in fertilizer to the soil, and apply a light layer of mulch when you set out to plant. Naturally, you will need to add a thicker layer once winter sets in.
It would be good to invest in a power planter to help you get this step of winterizing your vegetable garden out of the way quickly and efficiently. Alternately, if you prefer a more hands-on approach to your gardening, you can purchase a bulb planter instead.
While planting, some helpful things to watch out for would be to:
- Sow and harvest by the moon cycle. Using a moon calendar to time your garlic gardening is awesome. I have harvested bigger yields, with stronger and healthier bulbs with this simple step. This video details an excellent method that you can apply right off the bat.
- Choose the right garlic variety. Soft-neck varieties are best suited for warmer climates with mild winters. In comparison, hard-neck varieties will fare much better in colder climates.
- Plant the biggest cloves you can find. The bigger the clove that you sow, the larger the bulb you can expect. Make sure you check for any signs of disease before you plant.
- Never plant garlic near beans or peas. These plants compete with garlic and are not friendly with it, so make sure you keep them as far apart from your garlic cloves as you can!
Turn the Water Off
Watering your plants with the right amount is essential for their growth and development. When it is time to winterize your vegetable garden, you have to make sure that you turn your water system off.
Whether you have a state-of-the-art automatic system, such as the Melnor 65126-AMZ, or you prefer to water your vegetable garden the old-fashioned way with a humble garden hose, winters are not a good time for your watering equipment.
It really depends on the system you use. Some watering systems can simply be detached from the spigot, then drained. Others, particularly those involving PVC hoses, may need to be air-dried with a compressor.
Make sure you safely store your hoses in a temperature-controlled space! This may seem like obvious advice, but you’d be surprised to learn how many hose-disasters I’ve seen in my time.
Before you turn your water system off in preparation for winterizing your vegetable garden, you should give your plants a good long soak. This is especially true for new plants, perennials, and shrubs. Don’t worry about watering them through the winters, but give them a nice extra boost by doing a thorough final watering for the season.
The final watering is best done one or two weeks before the frost hits the ground where you live.
Expand Your Garden Beds
As you near the date by when you have to know how to winterize your vegetable garden, consider adding some new garden beds. Raised wooden garden beds using equal parts of peat moss, compost, and vermiculite from many different sources are your best bet for this purpose.
Raised garden beds can be easily purchased from gardening supply stores or online. Alternatively, you can build your own by recycling old window frames or plywood that you may have lying around.
You may wonder why bother with this at the end of the fall season? For starters, this is the time when you have the least mental clutter, so you will be able to think with more clarity and make better decisions. Secondly, many farming supplies stores will have sales and steep discounts on bagged organic soil and compost that you can benefit from.
Make sure you protect your new garden beds against the elements by draping them in a good quality garden cloche.
Harvest Delicate Plants, Vegetables, And Herbs
I know that trying to winterize your vegetable garden can be a tiresome ordeal, but make sure that you maintain your energy levels long enough to harvest delicate plants, vegetables, and herbs that run the risk of freezing to death without your tender loving attention.
Plants that will need to be harvested include:
- Storage crops such as carrots, winter squash, and beets.
- Annual flowers, such as geraniums and begonias.
- Commonly overlooked plants such as sunflowers, broccoli side shoots, and herbs.
In addition to harvesting, these plants and herbs will also need to be properly cured. Herbs, in particular, are easy to dry and store safely. Ensure that you provide the best possible conditions for storing your delicate plants, vegetables, and herbs over the winter.
According to master gardener Karen Olivier from the Northern Gardener Facebook Page:
“Cut back, keep fairly dry, and store in cool, bright conditions.”
Review and Plan Ahead
As you finish off winterizing your vegetable garden, be sure to take stock of the year before. Some questions to consider may include:
- What did you grow?
- How did it go?
- What diseases and unwanted pests did you face this year?
- What gaps in your knowledge did you failures expose?
Take stock of soil fertility and moisture levels, especially because they will help you decide where to position your plants for next year’s growing seasons.
As you sharpen your tools, then sit back and take in the beauty of winter, perhaps you will realize that you did better than you expected. Perhaps your note-taking will reveal that you need to brush up on some of your gardening concepts. This is where The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbookby Jennifer Kujawski may come in handy. Keep a copy ready and review it periodically.
This kind of detailed note-taking will ensure that you get a realistic picture of your progress and celebrate any achievements that you were proud of. After all, we garden to enjoy the beauty and mystery of life and to witness the magical, transformative power of love and affection. It is truly something to be cherished. Happy gardening!