Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter

Weather: Sunny; High 50, Low 37

 

This garden bed is ready to be cleaned up for winter.

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been visiting school gardens working with students and teachers to put their gardens to bed for winter. Often overlooked, it is actually an important part of caring for your soil and maintaining a healthy and productive garden. In a school garden, when we try to get the most out of a fall growing season, the timing of this can be a little tricky. Generally, in our region the first killing frost happens around mid-October although in recent years they’ve been coming later. This first hard frost signifies the end of summer tomatoes and peppers and a good time to start easing the garden into shape for winter. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Pull out any dead plants and weeds and add them to your compost. You may choose to have a separate compost pile for weeds, so you are not adding weed seeds back into your garden soil.
  2. Plant a cover crop that will add organic matter and fertility to the soil. Rather than leaving your soil bare over winter, a cover crop will help to prevent soil erosion and can be tilled or turned under in the spring. To ensure that your cover crop has a chance to establish itself you want to plant it before temperatures get too cold. The general rule of thumb is plant by mid-October at the latest.
  3. Add a 2 – 3 inch layer of compost to your garden beds, so that by spring these nutrients will be incorporated into your garden soil.
  4. If you don’t use a cover crop, cover the garden beds with a mulch layer of leaves or straw about 3 – 6 inches deep.
  5. Mulch strawberries with loose straw 3 – 6 inches deep to protect the plant’s crowns from cold injury.
  6. If you still have some hardy fall crops, you can extend their season by building a low tunnel. Here’s how we suggest doing it.

This is also a great time to reflect on your garden with your students. What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn and what would you like to do next year?

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