Garden Preparations Before Winter

Compost Pile

Preparing My Garden for Winter

Fall is here and like many gardeners in the New York region, I have to make preparations. I would like to share a few things I do around this time before winter gets here.

Setup A Composting Pile

When the temperature begins to change and the frost hits, your garden will start turning brown quickly. You can leave it in place and hope that it breaks down in time for next season, but you might be better off collecting all that biomass into one area. I recommend layering it with multiple layers of green (grass clippings) and brown (dried leaves). You can even throw in your food scraps, but try to stick with only adding vegetable and fruit scraps. Here are some key tips:

  • The minimum size for the compost pile should be one cubic yard (3 feet wide, 3 feet across, and 3 feet tall).
  • Save money on wood and try to reuse old wood fencing or clean pallets (no chemicals) to build the walls of the compost bin.
  • The bacteria breaking down your biomass needs moisture, so if you're in a dry climate try to keep the pile wet (not drenched).
  • The bacteria is also aerobic, so if you have a pitch fork, use it to flip the pile around and aerate it once in a while to speed up the composting process.

Clean Up and Secure Your Equipment

The Winter weather conditions can get extreme sometimes, so you want to make sure that your equipment has been put away and secured for next season. The last thing you want to do next season is deal with rusty pruning shears that you accidentally left out or find plastic garden products all over your garden. This happened to me the first year and I swore never to let it happen again. One year, I was testing to see if certain plants could survive our winter, but instead found many clay pots cracked probably due to the freezing water.

Give Next Season a Head Start

So if you're lazy like me, add some mulch, straw, or even extra leaves, to cover up your beds at the end of the season. An inch or two thick should probably do the trick. I let all my tomatoes knocked off the vine by the storms remain in the beds. I simply add a layer mulch on top of the beds after I pull out the vines. At the beginning of next season, many of the tomato seeds just regrow within the beds and I thin the plants as needed.  It saves me time from prepping many tomato seedlings indoors and then having to harden them off. Just as a disclaimer, I only do this because I grow the chocolate cherry tomato in that bed and it's my favorite.

Save Seeds

This leads me into the next tip, which is to save your seeds just in case. For example, I just mentioned that the chocolate cherry tomato is my favorite variety. However, I'm not sure it'll be the same exact tomato if I purchase the seeds again from the same vendor. What I do at the end of each season is save the seeds from a few of the chocolate cherry tomatoes so I can use them the following year in case they don't regrow in the beds. Remember, most seeds also have a shelf life, so the longer you hold them the lower the germination rate. Try to use and harvest them on an annual basis.

Protect Your Fruit Trees

Trees that are not normally grown in your zone may be susceptible to the cold during the winter. If you're unsure which zone you're in, you can check the USDA site here. To protect these trees, make sure to prune them properly first. Then cover it with burlap, fruit tree frost blanket, or plastic to protect it from the frost.