(keep in mind this is for Ohio garden in US, sorry am trying to find tips for southern hemisphere, Google doesn’t want to seem to comply since i am in northern. it can’t really be a threat to national security for me to know about gardens down under now can it lol)
Every gardener probably has a different version of the “best” way to prepare a backyard garden for the winter. Because our Ohio garden is large, and each year is different in climate and crops, I find that our garden goes into each winter with a little different variation of preparedness. Winter preparations occur over several weeks, but perhaps the following suggestions will give you ideas that you can try now and in the years ahead.
One thing that most gardeners will agree upon is that it’s worth the effort to clean out all the old annual plants. Some of the vines and climbing plants will die on their own and can be hauled to the compost by now. Others like tomatoes will wait for a hard frost to die. I’m in no rush to clean out crops if I can still get some green tomatoes or a sweet pepper or two. However, when the season is over, cleaning out the dead plants prevents the build-up of disease and harmful insects. The heat of composting will kill them.
The dead plants and weeds that you clean out from your garden in the autumn become valuable additions to your compost. Don’t worry about knocking all the soil off the roots. Soil contains microbes that will boost the decomposition of your compost. The compost recipe is “two-parts brown and one-part green. Dried leaves, pine needles can be added to the dead plants to provide the “brown.” Kitchen waste, grass and still-green plants will help provide the “green” component of your compost recipe.
If you don’t have room for a compost pile outside your garden area, consider digging trenches in your garden where you can bury this debris along with the other compost ingredients. After one trench is filled and one area of your garden cleaned out, dig another trench for the next area. This will compost and enrich your soil for the next year.
There are lots more options for your garden before you say good-bye to it until next spring. For one thing, if you plan ahead, your garden can continue to provide food through much of the winter. Kale and collards can be planted in the heat of August and then ignored until cold-sensitive plants have died. Carrots can be planted about late August or September and then covered with straw and not harvested until frost has sweetened them.
The garden is also a good place to create a “root cellar” of sorts. Plants don’t have to be deep in the soil to be protected from the cold. If you have cabbage in the garden that you would like to save for the winter months, dig it up now with the roots attached. Next, dig a hole to put it in, head-first, with the root sticking out to mark the spot. (You might also want to mark the spot with a stake in case you have high snow). When you dig it up this winter, you can remove only the outside leaves and have a perfect cabbage. Potatoes and carrots can also be dug now and preserved with a mound of straw and dirt above them.
Depending on where you live, you might still have time to put in some plants for next year. Spinach is planted four to six weeks before frost and then covered with straw for a late winter or early springtime treat. It’s time right here to plant garlic, rhubarb and shallots for next year’s harvest.
Some people say that soil should not lay bare through the winter because top soil will be lost to erosion. The best solution for this is to plant a cover crop (see the photo for an example of a buckwheat cover crop as well as compost rows). Cover crops can do more than hold your soil in place. Some plants can also serve as “green manure” when tilled back into the soil next spring. You want crops that will break-down readily, and buckwheat and rye serve this purpose well. A good source of cover crop seeds is Johnny’s Seeds.
Another purpose of cover crops can be to enrich the soil while they hold it in place. Legumes do this best because their roots have nitrogen-fixing nodules. Red clover is my favorite for this purpose because its stems don’t contain silicone and therefore breakdown readily in the soil in the springtime. Other clovers are difficult to get rid of when you’re ready to plant your crops.
The granddaddy of all cover crops is a mixture of buckwheat, red clover and turnips. The buckwheat feeds the bees, holds the soil in place, suppresses weed growth and breaks down readily after a frost. The red clover enriches the soil, suppresses weeds and also helps to hold the soil. And the turnips? After the buckwheat dies, you can protect them with a bit of straw and have turnips to eat throughout the winter!
I have one more way that I am getting our garden ready this fall, but it is next springtime that I have in mind. Last spring was so wet right up into June that it was difficult to get into the garden to plant seedlings. The only parts of the garden that I was able to plant were the rows that I had already laid out with compost and straw-paths the previous autumn. I am therefore getting my daily work-out now by hauling compost, cart-load by cart-load, from the compost pile in the meadow to the garden. Who knows what next spring will bring, but with every part of the garden in a different stage of preparation, some part might be “just right.”
You can postpone the inevitable (that is, winter) for a while by covering your vegetables with old sheets or bedspreads on cold nights, but the declining light and chilly daytime temperatures will naturally bring plant growth to a halt. See how to predict a frost.
- Leave carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, radishes, and turnips in the garden for harvesting through early winter. Mark the rows with tall stakes so that you can find them in snow, and cover them with a heavy layer of mulch to keep the ground from thawing.
- Pull up tomato, squash, pea, and bean plants. If they’re disease-free, compost them. If any are diseased, either burn them or discard separately. Pull up and put away the stakes.
- Before the ground gets too hard, remove all weeds and debris and eliminate overwintering sites for insects and disease.
- Gently till the soil to expose any insects who plan to overwinter; this will reduce pest troubles in the spring and your garden site will be ready come spring!
- Once most of the garden soil is exposed, add a layer of compost, leaves, manure (if you have it), and lime (if you need it). Gently till into the soil.
- Another option is to sow cover crops such as winter rye to improve your soil and reduce weeks. See our Related Article above on Cover Crops for the U.S. and for Canada.
- If some areas have hopelessly gone to weeds, cover them with black plastic and leave it in place over the winter and into the spring to kill sprouting seeds.
What to Do With Herbs
- Sage is a perennial in most areas and does not need special treatment for the winter. Before frost stops its growth, cut a branch or two to dry and use in stuffing at Thanksgiving!
- Rosemary is a tender evergreen perennial that should be sheltered outside (Zone 6) or potted up and brought inside (Zone 5 and colder) for the winter.
- Thyme is fairly indestructible. A perennial, it will go dormant in the fall, then revive by itself in the spring.
- Parsley, a biennial, will withstand a light frost. In Zone 5 or colder, cover it on cold nights. It has a long taproot and does not transplant well.
- Chives are hardy perennials. Dig up a clump and pot it, then let the foliage die down and freeze for several weeks. Bring the pot indoors to a sunny, cool spot. Water well and harvest chives throughout the winter.
Putting the Berry Patch to Bed
- In early to midfall, prune summer-bearing raspberries, leaving six of the strongest brown canes for every 1 foot of your row.
- Prune fall-bearing raspberries ruthlessly, moving them to the ground after they have borne fruit. New canes will come up in the spring.
- Plant blackberries in the fall and mound up the soil around the canes to prevent hard frosts from heaving them out of the ground.
- Cover strawberry beds with straw or hay.
Perennials and Flowers
- Water your perennials and flowering shrubs in the fall; they will thank you for it this winter.
- Once the ground has frozen hard, cut perennials back to 3 inches and mulch them with a thick layer of leaves or straw.
- If you plan to put in a new flower bed next spring, cover that area now with mulch or heavy plastic to discourage emergent growth when the ground warms up in the spring.
- Before a heavy snowfall, cover pachysandra with a mulch of pine needles several inches deep.
- Move potted chrysanthemums to a sheltered spot when their flowers fade. Water well and cover with a thick layer of straw to overwinter them.
- When a frost blackens the leaves of dahlias, gladioli, and cannas, carefully dig them up and let them dry indoors on newspaper for a few days. Then pack in Styrofoam peanuts, dry peat moss, or shredded newspaper and store in a dark, humid spot at 40° to 50°F until spring.
- Geraniums (pelargoniums) are South African in origin, and there they have a three-month dormant period during winter’s excessive dryness. They need to be kept well watered before going into dormancy.
- In the old days, we had cool cellars with dirt floors that were dark and moist. Our mothers shook the dirt off geranium roots and hung them upside down in bundles. In spring, they were cut back and potted up, and performed nicely.
- If you have a cool place in your house (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit), it is possible to overwinter your geraniums by keeping them in their pots and giving them very little water.
- In spring, bring them into a warm place and water them heavily. When they start to show buds, repot them and prune heavily.
- They will do best in plastic or glazed pots with very good drainage. (You can overwinter geraniums as houseplants without letting them go dormant, but they will be deprived of the rest they like.)
Putting Rose Shrubs to Bed
- You may water roses regularly through the fall; no need to fertilize starting 6 weeks before the first frost.
- Remove any dead or diseased cane.
- After the first frost, mulch plants with compost or leaves to just above the swollen point where the stem joins the rootstock.
- In areas where winter temperatures are severe, enclose low-growing roses with a sturdy cylinder of chicken wire or mesh and fill enclosure with chopped leaves, compost, mulch, dry wood chips, or pine needles.
- Before daily temperatures drop well below freezing, carefully pull down the long canes of climbing and tea roses, lay them flat on the ground, and cover them with pine branches or mulch.
- Protect small trees or shrubs from extreme cold by surrounding it with a cylinder of snow fencing and packing straw or shredded leaves inside the cylinder.
- Inspect your trees. Remove any broken limbs, making a clean cut close to the trunk.
- If you’re planning to buy a live Christmas tree this season, dig the hole where you’ll plant it before the ground freezes. Store the soil you remove in the garage or basement, where it won’t freeze. Place a board over the hole and mark the location so that you can find it if it snows.
Garden Odds and Ends
- Empty all your outdoor containers to keep them from cracking during the winter. Store them upside down.
- Hang a bucket over a hook in your toolshed or garage and use it to store hose nozzles and sprinkler attachments.
- On a mild day, run your garden hose up over a railing or over the shed to remove all the water. Then roll it up and put it away.
- Mow your lawn as late into the fall as the grass grows. Grass left too long when deep snow arrives can develop brown patches in the spring.
- Don’t leave fall leaves on the lawn. Rake onto a large sheet or tarp, then drag to your compost pile in thin layers mixed with old hay and other material. Or, rake the leaves into loose piles and run the mower over them to turn them into mulch for perennial and bulb beds.
- Cover your compost pile with plastic or a thick layer of straw before snow falls.
- Drain the fuel tank on your lawn mower or any other power equipment. Consult the owner’s manual for other winter maintenance.
- Scrub down and put away your tools. Some folks oil their tools with vegetable oil to avoid rust
The above tips are just a start! How do you clean up your garden? Please share your advice below