How to winterize a garden: It’s time, now!

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Now, more than ever, there are so many reasons to grow your own food. By ‘food,’ I mean any edible crop, be it a vegetable, herb, flower, weed, etc. Along the East Coast, we’re just coming out of our harvest season. Some people are still harvesting certain herbs, squash, pumpkins and other late-producing crops. For the most part, however, the growing season is over and colder temperatures have arrived. This doesn’t necessarily mean that home gardeners have nothing to do at this time of year. On the contrary, it’s important to winterize a garden, which involves multiple tasks to “put the garden to sleep” and prepare for next spring.

Some crops stay in the ground over winter. Perhaps you planted some perennials this past year. Or, maybe you started a new crop of asparagus, garlic or other food that won’t start producing for a harvest for a couple years. There are also several types of hardy plants that can stand up against the first frost. If you planted any of these crops, such as collards, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts or spinach, you may not have harvested all of it yet. And, that’s okay. In this post, however, you’ll find numerous tasks that you can start on now to help winterize a garden and protect it from the harsh elements of colder weather.

Take care of your herbs when you winterize a garden

Herbs are relatively easy to grow, inexpensive and versatile. You can use them in teas and as spices and seasoning for food. You can also use many herbs medicinally by making oil infusions, herbal vinegar and more. As far as winterizing your garden goes, some herbs are hardier than others. For those that are less sturdy against harsh winter weather, you can prepare and protect them for the cold by covering them with a thick layer of straw. Herbs that do well throughout winter when you give them this added protection include oregano and rosemary.

Another way to protect herbs in winter months is to dig up a portion of a plant, pot it and bring it inside. Garden experts say that you should never take more than 1/3 of a single plant. If you choose this option, you can continue to harvest herbs all winter long! The ones that are most likely to thrive indoors are basil, chives, sage, lemon balm, parsley and thyme.

Spread compost in late autumn to winterize a garden

A lot of home gardeners develop a habit of composting their soil in the spring. If you want to winterize a garden, however, it’s best to spread compost over the whole plot in late autumn. This gives your soil the opportunity to absorb all the nutrients that compost provides throughout winter months. Whatever you add, be it manure or compost (or both), it’s best to have a layer that is a couple inches thick. You can spread it at any time, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. If you really want your soil to get the most of a winter compost, cover the compost or manure with a layer of straw. Doing so helps prevent erosion and will also deter weeds.

Some berries want a winter blanket while others just need pruning

When you winterize a garden, don’t forget to take care of your berry bushes. (If you haven’t planted any berries yet, I encourage you to make it a goal next spring. The health benefits of fresh, homegrown berries are many!) Certain kinds of berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, need a winter blanket. Straw is typically the best option. If you have blackberries or raspberries, you don’t have to cover them. You should, however, prune them before harsh winter weather sets in.

When and how you prune berry bushes depends on several factors. The type of berry, as well as when it produces, meaning, through the summer or into fall, matters. It’s best to research pruning information according the specific types of berries you are growing. For instance, when pruning some types, you leave the strongest canes taller while cutting back the rest. With other types, you prune them all the way to the ground. Taking care of berry bushes before winter arrives helps ensure that you will have a thriving crop the following year!

Why you shouldn’t prune trees or shrubs before winter

If your garden includes trees or shrubs, it’s best to prune these at the start of the spring season. Many people think they’re supposed to prune trees and shrubs as part of the winterizing process. However, when you prune these plants, it stimulates new growth. You don’t want the to sprout new growth before winter because they’re not hardy enough with withstand it. If you have smaller shrubs or trees that you planted not long ago, you can cover them for winter months.

You also might want to wrap the trunks of saplings or construct a small fence around smaller trees and shrubs to keep rodents, deer and other pests from eating them or gnawing on bark.

Don’t forget that water pipes might freeze

If you live in an area that gets freezing temperatures, an important task to remember to winterize a garden is to turn off your outdoor water supply! If you forget and leave it on, harsh temperatures might cause damage. Some people use air compressors to blast all the water and air out of a system for added protection.

You may have other tasks that you like to take care of when you winterize a garden. You can give all of your garden tools a thorough cleaning, for instance and make repairs, as needed. Mow your lawn a few inches shorter than usual. This helps prevent brown patches in spring. You might also want to drain the fuel tank in your mowers and gas-powered weed trimmers. Make sure you understand how to do so safely, though! By putting in a little extra effort before winter arrives, you can continue to nurture your garden so that it will be healthy and ready for a new planting season!

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