Putting Your Garden to Bed for the Winter
It is that time of year, the leaves are falling and the holidays are around the corner and most of the garden has stopped producing. That does not mean that all the work is done for the year. In fact this is an excellent time of year to put your garden to bed giving it a head start for the coming spring which will be here before you know it.
For those of you that have greens like kale and cabbage likely you are still able to harvest and will be able to for a while yet. I had kale growing while there was snow on the ground. I do pick the cabbage after first frost and turn it into kraut, cabbage rolls, and freeze some for boiled dinners.
When the plants have finished producing, pull them and toss them in the compost pile or throw away. It makes your work much easier without fighting tough and large masses of plant material that can wrap itself in the tines of the rototiller.
Once you have removed all the dead or dying plants it is time to do any amending to your soil that you may need to do. This could be putting down lime on sour or acidic ground, fertilizing with manure. Taking a soil sample will help determine what your gardens needs are.
Gardens can really benefit from a good mulching, this helps protect the soil from the strong blowing winter winds,preventing soil erosion. You can mulch with compost, straw, old hay or by planting a cover crop. Cover crops are great as they help hold the soil in place while adding nutrition back to the ground and can be tilled under in spring. Cover crops also help with controlling weeds.
Give the garden a good tilling to work in the amendments. For some that is the end of putting your garden to bed. However there are some that prefer to go further in enriching their garden bed and protecting it from the fierce winter winds.
I usually bed my garden down with a heavy layer of old hay and manure from the barnyard. Not everyone has that option for me it is cost effective and beneficial. This also helps to control the weeds that sprout up. In the spring I add another thick layer of old hay through the garden around the plants after planting. This helps with the weeds as well as moisture retention.
Another option when putting the garden away for the winter is fencing it off and allowing your animals to do the work for you. Growing up on the farm we would allow the cows and horses into the garden patch for the winter. This cleaned up a great deal of the left overs and they provided fertilizer. The garden in the spring had nice rich soil that grew gorgeous vegetables and flowers.
Late fall is a great time to divide those perennial plants or to dig up shrubs and trees for transplanting. Some plants that can be divided are Lilly’s, Daffodils, Lilac, Roses, Lavender, Chives, Columbine and Iris.
An easy method of propagation that you can do is to layer plants that you would like to propagate that are not large enough to divide. Simply take a stalk for example lavender is a good candidate for this. Pull off the lower leaves, then nestle the bare part in the ground, weigh down with a stone cover a little with soil, leave a large tip above ground with leaves and there you go. Come spring it will start forming roots where you removed the leaves. In the fall you can separate and plant it in its own little home. I do this with roses are well.
With all the great things that nature provides in the fall it is a wonderful time to consider creating a compost pile as well. Take those dead leaves, clippings and discarded vegetables and toss them out in the pile. This will make great dressing for the garden in the spring. Do not add berry branches to compost pile.
Now that you have pulled, tilled and amended your garden, top dressed or mulched or planted it is safe to say that your garden is ready for a winters rest.
Here are a couple of other articles on preparing your garden for winter to also check out… One from Colorado State University and another from Allstate.