When the crops are in and the harvest complete, a gardener can pause and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well-done. But don't pause too long because the work of putting your garden to bed for the winter has just begun.
Properly preparing your vegetable patch for the off-season can have a significant impact on your next growing season. Taking steps to winterize is a good garden practice and a task to put on your to do list every year.
Most DIY projects include a clean-up phase and a vegetable garden is no different whether you work in raised beds, or directly in the ground. If you want to improve your soil, discourage disease and pests, and get a head-start for next year, here are a few steps for success.
Before Getting Started
If you're new to gardening and have not dedicated a space for tools and equipment, do this now. A spot in your garage, basement, a mudroom or outdoor shed can serve as a place to store items you use in your garden.
If you have some gardening experience, make time now to clean out your storage space. Recycle used plastic pots, dispose of accumulated trash, sweep out the cobwebs, the floors and any shelves as needed.
Now you're ready for garden clean-up. Let's get started.
01 of 05
Remove or Winterize Irrigation Tools
Your first step is to remove irrigation tools and equipment. Roll and store soaker hoses. If garden hose and sprinklers are part of your watering system, drain and store them. Permanently installed watering systems aren't often practical for vegetable gardens because crop rotation requires the garden layout to change from year to year and the soil must be worked up prior to seeding or transplanting, However, if you are using a permanently installed system, be sure to follow winterizing instructions in your owner's manual to avoid damage from freezing temperatures.
02 of 05
Remove Plant Debris
Tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, and some beans are vining crops vulnerable to disease and pest problems. Leaving vines on top of garden soil provides a perfect place for Mexican bean beetles, squash borers, cucumber beetles and other crop pests to overwinter. Remove debris from these plants out of the garden area. If disease free, it can be composted or tilled under before the ground freezes. To be on the safe side, cut back dead vines, pull or dig up the stalks and pick up any fruit left on the ground. Burn the debris or bag it and throw it away.
Plants with thick stalks, like sweet corn, peppers, some cole crops and bush beans, also are best removed and composted or burned. The leaves of these plants will compost much more rapidly than the stalks which, when left in the garden, can lead to problems preparing the soil next year.
Residue from leafy crops including lettuces, kale, spinach, and most root crops will break down fairly quickly. Once the garden is prepared for winter, you can til or dig this plant waste into the soil or add it to your compost pile.
03 of 05
Remove and Store Garden Structures
Garden structure includes everything from tomato stakes to the shortest length of string used to anchor the vines.
- Take down and store trellising for cucumbers, gourds, and pole beans.
- Remove fencing used to support peas and/or dried beans like kidney or black beans.
- Pull up, hose down, and store any plastic mat or synthetic mulch you plan to reuse or dispose of it.
- Make sure you've picked up all anchoring materials including landscape pins, brick or rock.
- Pay attention to used string and twist ties which can wreak havoc on tiller tines.
04 of 05
Enrich the Soil
Vegetable crops use a lot of nitrogen which is one of the three major elements they require. The other two are phosphorous and potassium. At the end of the growing season, your patch will benefit from an infusion of nitrogen to replace what's been depleted.
One way to put nitrogen back into the soil is to add compost or manure. Compost can be applied and tilled in or you can cover the soil, continue let it break down, then til it in next spring. If you plan to add raw or fresh manure, which is too hot for plants, let it age by overwintering on top of the soil before tilling or digging it in.
Another way to add nitrogen is to work the soil now and plant a winter cover crop. These are rapidly growing nitrogen fixers like legumes and clovers that mature in late fall and are tilled in the following spring.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Clean and Store Tools and Equipment
Cleaning and sharpening tools now, and storing them in a protected location will save you valuable time when the busy spring planting season begins.
- Remove caked on soil with a rag or blast from the garden hose.
- Soak in a mild solution of soap and water.
- Remove any rust, and sharpen those with rough, dull edges.
- Now is also a good time to disinfect your tools before storing them.
Hand tools such as diggers, pruners and snippers can be hung on hooks or stored blade down in a bucket of sand. Hoes, rakes and other long handled tools are best stored with the blades up and preferably anchored to avoid accidental injury.
For power equipment like gas or electric powered tillers, weed-eaters and mowers, be sure to follow manufacturers instructions including draining or stabilizing fuel, and cleaning and sharpening blades.
You're ready for next season and you can finally take a break. But wait, the first seed catalog has arrived in the mailbox. One of the most enjoyable parts of gardening begins: perusing and choosing new seeds and plants to try your hand at next year.