For most gardeners, growing plants is best done during the spring and summer season. Most plants cannot survive the cold season; other plants grow dormant until the ground warms up again. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to continue growing plants in the fall and winter season. You can also take advantage of the cooler months to prepare your garden for the next growing season. Don’t worry too much about the cold, here are our favorite gardening tips for weatherproofing your garden for fall and winter:
Preparing Your Vegetable Garden for the Fall and Winter Season
Most vegetables cannot stand the cold so you have to protect your crops from the dropping temperature. If you get forecasts of frost, cover your vegetables with bedspreads, old sheets, and other protective row covers during the night. You can also use old newspaper, straw, and evergreen branches to cover your vegetables. These insulate heat effectively while keeping frost at bay. By mid-morning, you have to remove all the coverings you installed so the vegetables can take advantage of the sunlight.
Frost-resistant crops like carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, and rutabagas can survive the dropping temperature. Parsnips, in particular, will taste better when left to mature near freezing temperature. But don’t wait until you’re deep in the winter season before digging these crops out. Dig and store them before the ground freezes!
Some crops are quite sensitive to temperature changes, like potatoes, which has to be dug and stored as soon as the cooler climate sets in. But before digging the potatoes, you have to toughen the skins up prior to storage. Do this by drying the freshly dug potatoes for two weeks in a dry, warm area that’s away from direct sunlight. Turn the potatoes regularly for even drying. As the skins of the potatoes dry up, they will store beautifully all winter long.
Frost resistant greens like cabbages and Swiss chard have tough leaves so they can withstand light frost. In case the leaves are damaged, just peel some of the layers away and they should be good. Kale, collards, and other greens turn sweeter when exposed to a light frost so they should be fine on a frosty night too. Delicate greens, like lettuces, cannot withstand the frost and will need more protection from the cold. Other veggies, such as tomato, squash, pea, beans, etc., cannot tolerate the cold at all so compost the healthy ones and discard the diseased plants separately.
Do all your gardening tasks, like watering, weeding, and raking, before the ground freezes and gets too hard to work with. Watch out for insects, pests, and diseases during the start of the fall season. Till the soil gently to expose burrowing bugs and avoid an infestation come spring and summer season. Add a layer of organic compost to the tilled soil to prepare it for the next growing season. For patches of soil overtaken by weeds, use a high-quality landscape fabric to kill the weeds in one go. Just set the landscaping fabric on the weed-ridden soil, secure the covering with landscape staples and within several days to a few weeks, the weeds will die.
Preparing Your Herb Garden for the Fall and Winter Season
Herbs are surprisingly resilient to cold climate and some do not require special prep at all. However, there are herbs that are greatly affected by frost so it’s important to prepare your herb garden before the winter season. Sage, which is a type of perennial plant, requires no coddling for the winter. If some of its branches dry out due to the cold, cut the dried branches and use them in cooking.
Thyme is surprisingly resistant to the cold although it will go dormant in the fall season. You can always revive this herb once the weather warms up. Parsley is also resistant to light frost but it will require a cover-up on cold nights. Do note that this herb has a long taproot so it is prone to transplant shocks. Chives are quite hardy but you have to dig them up and plant them in a pot so you can harvest the chives throughout the winter season. Expect the leaves to brown or freeze for several weeks. It helps if you can set the pots in a sunny spot.
Rosemary is more fragile and will require shelter for the winter. If it’s potted, take your rosemary inside until the weather warms up again. If the herb is planted in the ground, you can use a protective cover to keep the cold away.
Preparing Your Berry Garden for the Fall and Winter Season
Most berries are resilient; they will survive the cold climate. However, extra prep is always a good idea to ensure a bountiful yield even in the winter season. Summer berries like raspberries require pruning during the mid-fall.
Late in the fall, bend the young canes gently into the ground. Mound 3 inches of soil over the young canes to insulate the plants and protect the canes from winter frost. As the climate warms up, gradually remove the soil. We also recommend cutting down all the canes each year after harvest. This will promote the growth of new canes every spring. Yes, this method means sacrificing your summer yield but you can expect a bigger crop in the fall season.
Blackberries will also benefit from proper protection and insulation as the cold season sets in. Again, gently bend the young canes into the ground. Mound 3 inches of soil over the young canes to insulate the plants and protect the canes from the winter cold. For strawberries, use hay or straws to insulate and protect the plants from hard frosts.
We recommend planting blueberries in late winter to ensure an excellent yield. Of course, don't forget to prepare your soil first. The soil must have an acidity of 4.8. Use a soil test to check the acidity of the soil. If the acidity is too low, you can use sulfur to bring the acidity up.
Preparing Your Perennial Plants and Flowering Plants for the Fall and Winter Season
Most perennials and flowering plants can withstand the cold climate so they are best grown before the winter season sets in. They are easy to maintain too. Perennials and flowering plants tend to go dormant during the winter season. During this period, the plants will lose their leaves and flowers but they will sprout new foliage as the spring season approaches.
We recommend watering your perennials and flowering shrubs deeply during the fall season. Don’t do the watering if the ground has become hard from the cold. Perennials will also benefit from regular pruning. Remove all the wilted leaves, decaying plants, and unwanted debris to prep your perennials for the cold season. Regular maintenance will prevent pests or diseases from harming the plants.
Do note, however, that some perennials should never be trimmed in the fall. Evergreen perennials, for instance, do not require regular trimming. You can trim these perennials right after blooming. Leave the lower leaves alone in the fall season and continue the trimming in the spring. Don't trim woody perennials either. You can continue with the pruning in the spring.
We recommend mulching your perennials with a generous layer of straw, hay, peat moss, or leaves. Wait until the ground freezes before you add the mulch. If you are preparing a new flower bed for spring, the fall season is the best time to protect the plot with landscape fabric or mulch. This method will protect the new flowerbed from emergent growth.
For perennials that are blackened with hard frost, gently dig them up and leave them to dry indoors. Lay the freshly dug perennials on newspaper for several days. Then, pack the plants in Styrofoam peanuts, shredded newspaper or dry peat moss. Store the plants in a dark, humid spot until spring season and replant.
Preparing Your Trees and Shrubs for the Fall and Winter Season
Small trees and tiny shrubs are quite vulnerable to the cold so they need all the protection they can get for proper insulation. In case of extreme cold, surround small trees and tiny shrubs with a cylinder of snow fencing and packing straws. You can also pack the cylinder with shredded leaves to keep the cold from seeping in.
Regular maintenance is a must to ensure the survival of young trees and small shrubs during the cold season. Always check the trees and shrubs, remove broken branches, and make a clean cut close to the trunk. Remove unwanted debris that could pave the way for pests and diseases.
Continue to water your shrubs and trees during the fall season then quit watering once the soil freezes. To protect the shrubs from sunscald and animal damage during the winter season, use a type of insulating blanket or additional mulch. To prevent evergreens from browned needles and desiccation, you can use burlap as a windscreen or plant cover-ups to shield the plants from the harsh winter sun and wind.
As for multi-stemmed deciduous trees like upright evergreens and birch, you want to protect their branches from breakage brought on by heavy snow and ice. You can use horticultural tape, nylon strings, or strong cloth strips to secure the branches and prevent the trunks from bending or breaking. Remove the tree protectors you used as soon as the climate warms up.
Your Garden Activities Before the Winter Season
Apart from preparing your plants for the cold season, you have to complete a list of gardening activities to protect your garden from extreme weather changes. These gardening tasks include:
Organize and Store Your Tools Properly
Go through all your outdoor containers and make sure they are empty. These containers tend to crack during the winter season so store these upside down before the climate gets too cold. Store your metal buckets over a hook in your shed or garage. Roll your hoses neatly and hang them. Store hose nozzles and sprinkle attachments to prevent winter damage. We recommend running your garden hose up over a railing or the shed to remove all the water on a mild day. Then, roll the hose again for storage.
Drain your lawn mower’s fuel tank and check the owner’s manual to winter-proof your power equipment. Keep your garden tools rust-free by scrubbing oil on your tools.
Prep the Lawn
Do not wait until the last second before you prepare your lawn for the winter season. Mow the lawn late in the fall just as the grass begins to grow. Leaving the grass to grow for far too long will lead to unsightly brown patches in the spring.
Using a rake, remove all the fallen leaves, twigs, and other garden debris then pile them up on a tarp or large sheet. Drag the sheet to your compost pile and add in thin layers mixed with old hay and other organic matter. You can also use the fallen leaves as mulch for your perennial plants. Cover your compost pile with a thick layer of hay or a plastic sheet to protect it from snow.
Gather Compost Materials
Keep your garden tidy by raking all the fallen leaves and removing all the dead vegetation. Healthy dead plant materials of all kinds will be useful as compost material. You can also use shredded leaves as mulch to suppress weeds, enrich the soil, and encourage the growth of beneficial soil organisms.
If you live in a place with mild winters, make a habit out of tilling the soil to get a head start on your garden maintenance. Just gently turn the soil and till organic matter. Tilling the soil helps break hard clumps and aerate the soil for the next growing season. The dying weeds, plant debris, and organic matter will be converted into natural compost once they have been exposed to the elements. This tip will not work if you live in a place that gets bitter winters or if the ground is sloped, however.
Unprotected soil tends to lose more moisture during the cold season. Keep your soil moist and warm all winter long by adding a healthy layer of mulch. Organic matter also insulates plants, keeping them alive even in their dormant state during the cold months.