With winter just a few weeks away, most of the United States will soon be covered in a cool blanket of snow. And it doesn’t take a botanist to know that cold temperatures plus little sunlight equals less-than-ideal growing conditions. But since you can’t pick up your garden and store it inside, what’s a gardener to do?
The solution is simple: it’s time to winterize your garden! Winterizing is important because the steps you take this fall will determine how well your fruits and vegetables grow again in the spring.
Step #1: Tidy Up
Even though it will soon be covered with snow, it’s important that you clean up your garden in the fall. Using a pair of gardening gloves, pick up as many fallen leaves, twigs, and spoiled foods as you can and throw them out (or even better, throw them in a compost pile). A little pre-winter maintenance will improve the life of your soil and prevent pesky insects and animals from snacking on fallen fruit.
Step #2: Test Your Soil’s pH
Even when your garden is dormant, soil has a big effect on your plant’s health. Using a home testing kit, determine the pH levels and mineral count in your soil. Depending on how your pH levels read, add a basic or acidic element to the soil before covering it.
Step #3: Cover Your Crops
Just like you’ll soon need a jacket before heading outside, so will your plants. Depending on your specific garden’s needs, these cover crops will help protect it from Old Man Winter.
- Hairy Vetch: As a legume cover crop, hairy vetch is perfect for fruit and vegetable gardens because of its nitrogen-controlling abilities. Hairy vetch should be planted in the late fall and grows well in all soil types.
- Annual Rye Grass: Able to quickly kill germs and prevent weeds from growing, annual rye grass has become a popular cover crop. Throw a little annual rye grass in with your fruits and veggies as the winter approaches or clear out your garden completely and just plant annual rye. When you remove it in the spring, your soil will be rich in nutrients.
- Winter Rye: As its name implies, winter rye is a “smother plant” used to protect crops from freezing temperatures and lock in moisture.
Step #4: Add Mulch
In addition to a cover crop, many gardeners also add mulch to their gardens. A thin layer of organic materials, like grass clippings, hay, or compost, will protect your crops from weeds and frost, and lock in moisture.
Step #5: Look Forward to Next Year
Now that the real work is done, it’s time to clean up your tools and reflect on your year’s hardy crop yield. Before throwing your gardening tools in the shed for the winter, clean and rinse them off with disinfectant soap and warm water. Then, take a look back at what you did this year and plan accordingly for next. Did you end up growing way too much basil and not enough strawberries? Was the soil too basic or acidic when you tested it earlier? While you should certainly give yourself a pat on the back for all that you’ve grown this year, it’s important to look for areas of improvement so that every year is better than the last!
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