Winter can be a harsh season for your garden, but there are many things you can do to prepare it for the awakening of spring.
Spring is the season when things come back to life, when the green shoots of your early flowering plants come through, and a season that all gardeners enjoy. What can you do to prepare your garden for the rigours of winter?
We have some helpful tips that should help you ensure your ground is prepared and ready for the spring, so let’s read on!
Remove Remaining Vegetables
If you have a vegetable patch you need to make sure it’s cleared for the winter. Old and decaying vegetables that are not uplifted are a problem. They will make the perfect hiding and resting place for irritating pests.
All vegetables should be lifted and stored properly indoors. This will also prevent them from dropping seeds. You should be able to clear your vegetable crops and leave the patch fresh for the winter.
We suggest covering it – best with a tarp to keep weeds at bay – so that it is ready for you next season.
Remove Diseased Plants
While most of your plants can be left in place, it is important that you remove any you suspect or know may be diseased or infected. Left in place, these will pass their diseases to those around them.
Healthy plants can be left to decay and will add to the nutrients in the soil. This is important as they will come back next season with vigour. Be careful with your perennials – more on that later – as some like to be left alone at this time of year.
Winter is a growth period for some plants, so make sure you know which to deal with and which to leave alone.
Add Compost and Manure
Many gardeners leave composting and adding manure until the spring. We recommend early winter as the ideal time to add a layer of compost or animal manure to your flower and vegetable borders.
Not only does this help prepare them for next year, but it also keeps the soil covered which is an essential element of protection in the winter.
Leaving soil exposed encourages weeds to grow and will also encourage pests. If you don’t want to add manure at this time, make sure you cover bare ground with a tarp or plant a ground cover crop.
Ideal cover crops vary geographically, so we recommend you talk to your local garden supplies store for advice on the best to plant where you live.
Our Top Tip – Plant Spring Bulbs
Now is the time to plant your spring bulbs. It’s also the time to dig up and divide bulbs of any plants that did not look like they were doing well during the spring, summer, and fall.
Dig carefully – lilies are a prime example for dividing – and you see smaller ‘bulblets’ attached to the main bulb. These are drawing off nutrients important to the plant. Carefully separate them and replant, and you have new fresh plants.
Bulbs to be planted late fall or early winter include:
- Winter Flowering Pansies
Each of these will appreciate being put in the soil now and will be ready to emerge in the early spring for a glorious show of colour.
Weed Your Borders
Don’t allow borders to gather weeds during the winter months. Some weeds are extremely hardy, like chickweed, broadleaf and crabgrass, and will grow and spread during winter. You need to keep control of these.
As we advised above, covering bare soil with a tarp or an aggressive cover plant is the way to go. Weeds will spread rapidly and, if left to get out of control, will be a major problem by the time spring comes around.
Weeds eat into the nutrients that planted bulbs need to start growing. They are taking food from your regular plants all the time. This will leave your borders unnurtured and weak for growing in spring and summer.
Have a walk around every week and pull out all weeds you see in your garden – make sure you get the roots and fill in the hole left behind so that seeds cannot germinate – and you’ll have a neat and tidy garden for the spring and summer seasons.
Prune Perennials with Care
There are some perennials that like to be pruned in the early winter, and others that prefer to wait until spring. The reasons are varied. Here are plants that like a late fall or early winter pruning:
Following are some that you should leave until spring:
- Raspberry canes
While pruning save a thought for the birds that will be looking for food sources in the winter. Leave the heads of other flowering plants to go to seed, as this will make for excellent food for wild birds that populate your garden during the harsh winter months.
Mulching is not something that is often associated with winter, yet it varies many benefits for your garden. Here’s what a good layer of mulch does for your ground:
- Reduces water loss from the soil
- Protects the soil from erosion
- Keeps weeds at bay
- Regulates the soil temperature in the cold months
- Protects against hard frosts
- Keeps roots healthy and ready for growth
- Adds valuable organic material and nutrients into the soil.
Put a thick layer of mulch around the root vegetables that you have for a winter harvest, and you will help prolong the lifespan of the crop. You’ll also protect the ground against the rigours of the frosty winter.
Start a New Compost Pile
The compost that remains in your compost heat or bin is more than likely ready to use as it’s been there a full year. Now is the ideal time to clean away the old compost and start again.
Put the old compost on your flower beds and other border and it will start to work and give your garden a boost for the spring. Add straw and sawdust in layers with green active matter – food and veg scraps – on top.
Never put meat in a compost heap – or animals waste – only organic waste such as food peelings and left-over fruit and vegetables. Your new compost heap will start to work right away, providing you a new batch for the spring.
Sweep up fallen leaves and add them to your compost heap as they are ideal for a rich and useful mixture.
Check Soil Fertility
A key factor in aiding plant growth, soil fertility is often overlooked. You should take a few samples of your soil and take them to a garden specialist to be checked for pH levels and other potential problems.
The garden expert will advise as to the best organic additives to your soil that will amend it to be perfect for growth during the spring. Be careful not to use chemical additives as there are natural, organic, and eco-friendly fertilizers and other garden additives that make an able alternative.
Plan for the Spring
Our final tip is really several put into one sector. Now that the growth season is over, it’s the right time to think ahead for the spring. Ask yourself these questions:
- Which plants thrived and where?
- Which plants did not do well?
- Did my vegetable crops perform as expected?
- Are there better locations for my flowering plants and shrubs?
- What can I change in the garden that I would appreciate?
- Do I want more flower beds or fewer?
- Are there other fruit, vegetables, and flowers I would like to grow?
With many plants you may find a certain variety will grow better in some locations than in others. Perhaps the variety of vegetables you are growing are not the right ones for your location or climate?
This can have a considerable impact on the growth of your plants. Talk to a local plant expert and they will happily advise you about the right variety of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and shrubs, for your location.
Planning your garden in advance gives you a chance to decide on improvements and changes. Draw a rough outline of what you want and where, and everything will come together eventually.
A well-maintained garden is a thing of wonder. There’s one area we haven’t mentioned above, and that’s your lawn. A neatly tended lawn adds a great deal of beauty to the garden as a whole, so make sure that you cut your lawn a final time before the winter sets in.
Now all you need to do is work through the above tips one by one and you’ll soon have a garden that is prepped and ready for the new growing season. We can’t wait to get working on ours, so good luck and get started.
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Simon Barker is the Founder and Editor of Grow Your Yard, and an expert in lawn care. Majoring in Agriculture at Ohio State University, Simon’s passion for gardens is rooted in ten years of experience in the gardening industry.
Dedicated to helping gardeners from the novice to the experienced get the best out of their yard, Simon sees Grow Your Yard as a way of helping everyone have a garden they can be proud of.