Advice from Editor Therese Ciesinski on putting your garden to bed for the winter to protect plants, improve the soil, reduce pests and make next spring’s planting easier.
Once frost starts making a regular appearance, it’s time to tie up the vegetable garden’s loose ends. If you haven’t already done so, use a reasonably nice fall day to put your vegetable garden to bed. How? It’s easy: Clear it out and cover it up.
Start by pulling out any obviously frost-killed plants; the ones with no life left in them. The healthy ones can go into the compost or be shredded and turned back into the soil. Anything that was diseased should be put in the trash or burned.
Remove any spoiled vegetables or fruits. Pull any remaining weeds, especially the winter ones that are now popping their heads up. Take up tomato cages and other supports, clean and put them away.
I’d always rather be safe than sorry, so I pull out all my dead tomato plants and destroy them. Even if they look healthy, I don’t put them in the compost; it’s a sure bet that the plants have one kind of bacterial disease or another and my compost pile doesn’t get consistently hot enough to kill them off.
Lightly rake over empty beds to expose bugs and insect eggs that the birds will eat.
Once the ground freezes, it’s a good idea to mulch empty beds with straw, leaves—either chopped or whole, loose grass clippings or pine needles. That will keep the soil from eroding over the winter.
Plants that like the cold, such as kale, cabbages and brussel sprouts, may still be producing. No special care is needed, simply harvest and enjoy! Onions and carrots can be protected with a 6- to 8-inch layer of organic mulch (Remember to mark where you planted them so you can find them in the snow.)
Newly planted garlic should be mulched 3 to 4 inches deep.
Start thinking about crop rotation for next year: don’t plant those tomatoes in the same bed again.
Empty pots and tuck away any that might crack in the cold. And finally, clean up your tools and store them away.
How, stand back and take pleasure in the neat, clean orderliness of your sleeping vegetable garden. Congratulate yourself for a job well done and begin dreaming about how great next year’s garden will be!
Therese Ciesinski, Garden Variety’s Editor-at-Large, is the longtime former editor of Organic Gardening magazine. She has won multiple awards from the Garden Writers Association and has lectured across the U.S. on gardening, horticulture and living an organic lifestyle. A New York University graduate, Therese has been a master gardener in both Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. She lives in a little log cabin next to a trout stream in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where she maintains a shade-shrouded garden. She loves roses but her sunlight-challenged property has left her trying to fall for hostas instead. She enjoys home renovation projects, travel and is a self-confessed “picker” who buys and sells antiques and vintage finds, especially industrial objects.