Winterize Your Garden to Prepare it for Spring – 3 Steps

12.31.16

Winterize Your Garden to Prepare it for Spring - 3 Steps

The weather is now cooler and the nights have grown longer as we make our way into the winter season. Fall concluded with a bountiful season of colorful and rustic vegetables, but for most of the U.S., (albeit Florida, Coastal California, and the southern portions of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas) cold weather is prohibitive for most gardening endeavors. We have transitioned to winter and the gardening complications it may bring along. Jack Frost may be nipping at our noses, but keep in mind he will nip at our gardens as well!

winterize garden frost on leaves

The coldest season of the year can be harsh, but there are ways to prepare. To winterize your garden, there is more than just throwing a blanket over it. We want to care for our equipment, nurture our soil, and repair minor issues before they become major problems. The following 3 proactive measures will help protect and prepare your gardens until the warmth of spring returns!

  1. Weed your garden
  2. Create a protective layer for your garden: compost, mulch, or leaf mold
  3. General repairs and storage

 

**If you live in a warmer climate that allows for winter gardening, but sometimes gets an unexpected freeze, use these quick frost protection tips**

1) Weed your Garden

This preventative measure should be practiced throughout the year whether the impending cold is coming or not. Weeds, sick plants, and dead materials should be removed from your garden regularly to prevent disease and insect infestation. Insects WILL lay eggs in dead vines and plants, and they WILL survive through the winter and hatch in the spring. Insect eggs are resilient, therefore they must be disposed of before battening down the hatches.

winterizing garden weeding

After you have properly weeded your garden, grab a rake! You want to loosen and mix the soil to create a clean bed of earth. For all of you cat lovers, it’s the same concept as cleaning the litter box. The litter looks dirty and unusable, but after you get rid of the waste and rake it around, it’s as good as new! The point is that aerated soil 'breathes' and contains nutrients that packed soil will lose over time; don’t accidentally waste perfectly good soil!

If you have root vegetables growing (carrots, turnips) in your garden, keep them! They will last through the winter and begin producing again in the spring. When winterizing your garden, instead of aerating and raking the soil where your roots veggies are, just put down a nice protective layer of mulch or leaf mold. This will help keep moisture and nutrients locked in the soil. This also leads us to our next garden winterizing tip: creating a protective layer!

2) Create a Protective Layer: Compost, Mulch, and Leaf Mold

Winterizing your garden means you are proactively protecting and caring for your garden. One of the best methods is to cover your garden with an organic layer. Similar to placing a tarp or garden fabric over your bushes and foliage during a frost, it will insulate your soil and root vegetables to help keep them safe and healthy. There are three tried and true varieties to choose from: compost, mulch, and leaf mold.

Compost is the best for soil enrichment but also requires to most time investment. This is a mixture of leaves, grass trimmings, coffee grounds, manure, and other organic leavings. Using what is called a “compost tumbler”, you place the ingredients inside and allow them to wilt and combine for 5 months to a year. The tumbler is heated by the sun which warms the compost while occasionally turning it to keep the compost moist and aerated.

winterize your garden composting

Once the compost is ready, take it out and layer it generously on top of your garden. This method is ideal for building up valuable soil nutrients, but requires time. There is a decent amount of literature that discusses the science behind the creation of compost as well, so this may not be the answer for some beginning gardeners. Fortunately, there is more than one way to insulate your garden!

Leaf mold is basically the result of you collecting leaves and causing them to decompose faster than normal in a single location. Adding leaf mold to your garden will improve the viability of your soil for the spring and requires less time than composting. Leaf mold begins with your yard. If you don’t have a good rake, get one! The colder season brings us a torrential downpour of leaves, giving us a hefty and convenient supply to make leaf mold from.

winterize your raised garden leaf mold

Image courtesy of The Guardian

To make leaf mold, rake leaves into a pile somewhere inconspicuous in your yard and cover with a tarp. This helps create an environment that retains moisture and heat while still providing air flow, causing the leaves to decompose quickly. Turning and moving the leaves around from week to week will help the decomposition process. If you really want to expedite it, take a lawnmower or weed-whacker to your leaves to shred them before placing them under the tarp. After the leaves decompose, your leaf mold should look something like this.

When you are ready to close down and winterize your garden, put a hefty amount on top of your garden's soil. More is preferred to less! While this is quicker than compost, it still requires planning on your part. What if you need a protective layer right now?! That’s where mulch comes in.

Leaf mulch protects and improves soil’s ability to retain water. Leaf mulch is the same as leaf mold, sans the time spent under the tarp. Rake your leaves into a pile and proceed to shred them. Any method works, but the lawnmower or weed-whacker are your easiest options. Afterwards, place the shredded leaves on top of your garden's soil and be generous!

winterize garden beds with leaf mulch

Building up to 5-7 inches of layered leaf mulch will help contain your soil’s moisture and provide nutrients throughout the winter. Leaf mulch is the quickest way to protect your garden and greenery, but does not come close to providing the same amount of immediate nutrients as leaf mold or compost. The quantity and quality of insulation and protection you give your garden over the winter directly correlates your current soil's growing potential in the spring.

3) General Repairs and Storage

Proper storage is important during the winter season to keep everything functional and in good condition. If you live in areas that have long periods of freezing temperatures and use hoses, move-able sprinklers, or our Garden Grid™ watering system, then you need to hang them somewhere dry. As they hang the water will naturally bleed out. We want to avoid having water in our irrigation equipment in case temperatures drop below 32 degrees and freezes. This can damage your equipment, possibly beyond reparations.

Hoses, the Garden Grid™, and sprinklers are meant to be used frequently. Without the usual flow of water, dust and debris can build up, ruining the nozzles, filters, or tubing itself. Hanging them before prolonged disuse will save you money and frustration when the ground thaws.

This is the perfect time to make repairs as well. Does some of your cultivating equipment need to be replaced? Do you need to clean off the outside cedar walls of your raised garden bed? Whether it is a big fix or just a little TLC, proactive care is always better than reactive solutions. Don’t let the small problems become big issues in the future!

Overall, it's fairly simple and very rewarding for the coming spring months to winterize your garden. Imagine walking out to your garden the first day of Spring. The air is fresh, the sun is bright, and you are ready to warm up your green thumbs. You slowly pull back the protective layer on your garden and what do you find? Nutrient rich soil that is ready for a new year of gardening! Lay your Garden Grid™ back into your garden bed, and begin planting!


Updated For Winter 2018

Are you winterizing or growing? Open up the discussion in the comments below!

About the Author: Wiley Geren III

Wiley is a published author, growing advisor, and a contributing writer for GardenInMinutes. While not writing, Wiley enjoys playing tennis, cooking, and sampling his hometown's local breweries.