Expert Advice On Preparing Vegetable Gardens For Winter

by FoodPrint

Published: 12/16/21, Last updated: 12/16/21

Just because the weather’s changing and prime growing season is waning (or over) in many parts of the country doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done in the garden. Many gardens lay forgotten during December, January and February, shriveled plants blanketed in mud or snow. Without proper care, weeds takeover garden plots, plant disease spreads and soil goes dry.

Preparing vegetable gardens for winter can be done with just a few simple steps and will help provide an ideal growing space for the next season. To guide you towards a properly winterized garden, Kristen Link, FoodPrint’s digital marketing manager and resident expert gardener, shares her tips. We’ve also rounded-up a few ideas from favorite Instagram gardeners to help inspire your garden winterization.

Harvest Away

Depending on where you live, your last haul of the season might include hardy cool weather crops like carrots, cabbage and spinach or warmer weather items like peppers, herbs and green tomatoes. Pick whatever you want to eat, then pick the rest — including produce that may have fallen to the ground — and toss into compost.

To start preparing your vegetable garden for winter, clean it up! Leaving any fruit on the plants to rot can attract insects, disease and pests, which will fester over the winter and be detrimental to next year’s garden. “The first and most important thing to do is to clear any old, annual plants and any fruit and produce that may be left,” says Link. “Rotting fruit can introduce disease and pests if not cleaned up properly.”

Pull Up Invasive Weeds and Get Cleaning

Next, do a final weeding and make sure the garden beds or grounds are completely cleared and clean. Indiana-based Cassie Dunmyer cleaned her garden back in early November, pulling all the plants out and most of the weeds. “I’ve been racing against the weather. I tried to wrap up as much outdoor prep for winter as possible before the temps dropped. Anyone else do the same?,” she recently asked on Instagram.

Link also suggests taking out any supports or structures such as tomato cages, trellises and other items. “Be sure to disinfect these — along with any old pots, gardening tools — before storing and using them next year,” she says. Diseases can remain on these items and transfer to the soil if not properly cleaned.


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A post shared by Cassie Dunmyer (@tworootshomestead)

Feed the Soil

Next, prep the soil for the next gardening season. “Make sure you cover your soil so vital nutrients aren’t lost via wind, rain and snow,” advises Resh Gala, a New Jersey-based organic gardener, on Instagram. Both Gala and Link suggest adding in compost and soil amendments such as bone meal, kelp or manure to boost the nutrients. Another option is planting winter cover crops, such as oats, field peas, oilseed radish or rapeseed, which add nutrients to the soil and provide protection from erosion. Gala also says you can cover the soil with plastic: “Bonus — it will heat up the soil faster in spring!”

To help maintain moisture in the soil during the colder, drier months, add a top layer of mulch to the garden bed or plot. “I mostly just use leaves from our backyard,” says Link. “I don’t believe in a lot of raking as this can disturb the pollinators and other species that make a habitat out of the leaves, but I will gather up some that have fallen and use them on top of my garden beds as mulch. They break down naturally and will add more nutrients to the soil as they do so.” You can also do this with smaller pots and windowsill boxes to help keep the soil insulated and retain moisture levels.



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A post shared by Resh Gala | Organic Gardener (@reshgala)

Prepare the Perennials

Almost all perennials will benefit from a good cut back. Use a pair of sharp pruners or hedge trimmers to cut down the foliage and stems, leaving them about 3- to 5-inches above the soil line. From there, do a little research as to which plants require more mulch than others and add it accordingly. For instance, Link’s strawberry plants need a good layer of mulch to stay insulated in winter (she uses straw for these) whereas her sage and thyme plants are pretty hearty and don’t require much mulch, if any at all.

You can repot some of the more tender perennials, like rosemary, or delicate bulbs such as dahlias, and bring them inside as long as you have an area with good sunlight. Baltimore Valley Garden Centre (@baltimorevalleygardencentre) also suggests covering the base of trees and shrubs with burlap to help prevent them from freezing and browning, and the use of tree guards to protect tree bark from animals and winter weather.



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A post shared by Baltimore Valley Garden Centre (@baltimorevalleygardencentre)

Reflect on Last Year

The last step in preparing your vegetable garden for winter is reflecting on how the gardening year went. Some questions Link suggests thinking about: What worked well and what didn’t work so well? Did I learn anything I can apply to the garden next year? Anything (new varietal, planting/weeding/watering technique, garden layout) that I saw others do that I’d like to try out?

Also reflect on what foods you used and enjoyed the most. “Planting a big garden is great but less so when things might go to waste,” Link says. Think about favorite recipes, vegetables that you used quickly or others you had too many of.

Get Ready for Next Year

It’s never too early to start planning for next year’s garden. With all this information in hand, look through seed catalogs and start making a plan for your next garden in January and February. “It really helps me make it through those cold, seemingly never ending days of winter thinking about warmer days ahead!,” says Link. Look for organic, non-GMO seeds at companies including High Mowing Organic Seed Company, Seeds of Change, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Row 7 Seeds.

When you start your seedlings will depend on your gardening hardiness zone, last frost dates, and the types of plants you want to include in your garden. Resources like the Farmer’s Almanac can provide a lot of geographically specific information about when to start your seeds and when to transplant the starts outside.



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A post shared by Row 7 Seed Company (@row7seeds)

Top photo by bildlove/Adobe Stock.

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