5 Easy Ways to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

Well, we've had a pretty good run run this fall, but with the "s" word starting to make it's way into the forecast again, it's definitely time to get serious about preparing the garden for winter.

I always struggle with getting the garden ready for winter, in large part because I am bound and determined to let the garden grow as long as possible, which usually leaves me only a few days to do the work, usually under the pressure of an impending snowstorm.  This inevitably leads to me standing in front of the garden, overwhelmed by everything I need to rush to get done.  But getting the garden ready for winter is really not all that difficult or complicated, and it can easily be broken down into manageable tasks:
Remove Debris
If you only have time for one fall garden chore before the snow flies, it should be this: remove all plant debris to prevent pests and disease from harboring over winter.  Almost everything that grows in the garden can go directly into the compost pile, but any plant that suffered from disease (in particular, blighted tomato vines) should be removed and destroyed (burned or thrown in the trash).  The same goes for plants that were infested with pests.
Amend Garden Soil
Fall is a great time to amend garden soil to return important nutrients that were consumed throughout the growing season.  Turning in a layer of compost and/or finely shredded leaves will feed beneficial microbes in the soil.  As those microbes start to break down the organic mater, they'll use up a lot of nitrogen, so adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer like blood meal and/or planting a cover crop that includes nitrogen fixing legumes is equally important to recharge the soil.  Fall is also a good time to test and amend your garden soil to improve soil pH.
Fall is for planting garlic, but just because those garlic cloves are now out of sight, don't let them be out of mind.  Fall plantings, whether they be bulbs or end of season deals on perennials, shrubs, or trees, still need consistent water until they go dormant.  It is also important to keep in mind that your soil is a living thing (or rather, many living things) that needs moisture to assist in breaking down organic mater into usable nutrients for next year's garden, so be mindful of how much rain and snow is falling, and water accordingly if there is a particularly dry stretch of weather before the ground is frozen.
Here in Minnesota, it's almost a given that we will go through several cycles of freezing and thawing before spring is here to stay again, and adding mulch to the garden is a great way to protect perennials and biennials  from these extreme temperature swings.  In addition to providing insulation from harsh winter temperatures, it can also provide a little padding to help prevent breakage from ice and heavy snow, and mulch is a great way to prevent soil erosion.  Lighter, drier materials, like straw, pine needles, and grass clippings are your best choices for winter protection, but shredded leaves, wood chips, and compost will also do the job.
Clean & Store Garden Supplies
Taking good care of plant supports, stakes, and other garden supplies and structures will prolong the useful life of your investment in your garden.  As you clean up the fall garden, take the time to organize, clean, and inventory your supplies.  Discard anything that has been damaged or broken, and make note of what you might need to replace for next year.  Drain rain barrels, drip irrigation, and hoses to prevent damage from freezing water.  Check expiration dates and storage temperature requirements for leftover bottles of fish emulsion and other fertilizers.  Taking a little time now to strategically store everything so it is easily accessible and ready to use will save time next spring.

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