Winter is quickly approaching, but that doesn’t mean your garden needs to close down for months. Prepping it for colder weather will allow you to exercise your green thumb well past autumn.
How to Prep Your Garden for Winter
Although activity above the soil may have slowed down considerably, a lot is happening below your mulch. Roots continue to grow and draw on the nutrients remaining in your soil. Compost that you applied continues to break down and decompose.
To get your flower beds ready for dropping temperatures and snow, cut back perennials as well as any dead or diseased leaves from trees, shrubs, and foliage. After removing any “dead stuff,” lay a thick layer of compost on the soil to continue feeding root systems until next growing season.
Young or tender evergreens should be shielded from the sun and damaging, harsh winter winds. Place burlap screens around them to help them get through the tough winter months.
Try Growing Winter Wheat
What exactly is winter wheat? Winter wheat is a crop planted in the fall that is used primarily for all-purpose, pastry and cake flours. Typically winter wheat sprouts before freezing occurs and then remains dormant until soil warms in early spring.
Plant winter wheat in the fall about six to eight weeks before the soil in your region freezes. This timeframe allows for good root development. If you plant too early, the wheat could be susceptible to late-summer insects. If you plant too late, it may not overwinter well.
Winter wheat may be planted in rows. Once you’ve done that you need to roto-till the seeds into the soil so they sink about 2.5 inches. You can tell how far along your winter wheat is by its color. It will change color, going from green to yellow and finally brown.
When your wheat stalks grow heavy and start to lean toward the ground, they are close to maturation. This is just the first sign, though, and they may not be ready to harvest yet. To determine that, you need to test the wheat yourself. Trim off a few grains and test their consistency. Are they soft and doughy? Then they need more time before harvesting.
Your winter wheat is ready when its grains are firm and crunchy. Harvesting is easy — just cut off the heads of the stems.
Small amounts of your winter wheat can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer, but larger amounts need to be stored to minimize moisture. You can use a flourmill to ground the grains into fine flour, which then can be used for cooking. Store your ground flour in an airtight container in a cool location.
Bringing Plants Indoors
Container plants can be brought inside during the winter to increase their chance of survival. Moving plants indoors should be done gradually as a sudden change in temperature, light, and environment can be detrimental to the plants.
Begin by bringing plants indoors for a few hours every day and place them in their “winter space.” After about two weeks, the plants should be acclimated to their new surroundings and can stay there until spring. Try to have your plants completely inside before the first chance of frost in your area.
Be aware that small insects can travel indoors with your plants and should be addressed immediately. Use an insect killer, such as Safer® Brand Insect Killing Soap, to kill bugs before they make your home their winter residence.
Controlling Fall Pests and Critters
There are a couple of fall pests and critters you should be aware of so that your garden and outdoor living areas are not overrun with unwanted visitors. Stink bugs, grubs, and deer are all present during this seasonal change and should be handled accordingly.
- Stink bugs – A smelly pest that can reproduce exponentially in a short amount of time. Safer® Brand EndALL helps to eliminate these bugs by killing them on contact. Using a trap like the Safer® Brand Stink Bug Magnet will catch the bugs without the use of poisons.
- Grubs – Dead spots on your lawn is a clue that grubs are present on your property. As the larval stage of many insects, grubs feed on root systems and kill the plants and grass they support. Safer® Brand Grub Killer uses Neem oil to effectively eliminate your grub problem.
- Deer – These large animals can clear a garden quickly as well as create damage to trees by raking off the bark and eating the leaves. A repellent like Deer Off® II Deer, Rabbit & Squirrel Repellent will help to keep deer from destroying your crops. You can also install a tall fence, at least 6 feet high, to keep deer from raiding your gardens.
Composting Through the Winter
The waste you create through the winter can be composted to help your garden in the spring and summer. Composting, nature’s recycling process, converts your old scraps and “natural trash” into a nutrient-rich treat for your garden. In addition to providing a nutritious boost to soil, compost helps combat plant disease.
There are two basic sources for creating compost: Old plant material and the waste from our daily life. Sure, you can throw your dead plants and vegetable food scraps away, but why not let them continue to help you by adding it to your compost?
To make compost, you need a good mixture of “green stuff” and “brown stuff.” Green stuff is high in nitrogen and is the heating agent for your compost. It helps get the mixture cooking. The brown stuff, which is high in carbon, helps the compost break down. Dead plants, fall leaves, and even dead weeds all serve well for compost.
An alternative way to collect materials for your compost is to look at what you throw away every day. Materials that are organic and are not animal-based (meat, milk, or cheese, for example) can be tossed in with your compost to provide additional nutrients. Consider using the following:
- Egg shells
- Coffee grinds
- Food scraps
- Tea bags (be sure to remove the staple!)
- Stale bread or crackers
- Paper bags
- Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls
Getting your compost pile started is easier than you may think. You can place your compost-ready materials in a container or you can start a mound in a specific area of your garden. Applying a compost starter product, such as Ringer® Compost Plus Organic Compost Starter, will kick-start your composting process. This mixture supplies additional nutrient resources to keep the composting process quick and efficient.
After applying your starter product, be sure to water your materials so they are about as wet as a damp sponge. To maintain your compost, regularly apply materials to it as available. Aerate your compost pile every 7-10 days by raking through it with a pitchfork or spade. There’s a lot to learn about composting, of course, and we offer additional tips in our What to Compost infographic.
Storing Your Garden Tools for the Winter
Garden tools are worth winterizing because a properly maintained tool will allow you to do a better job in the garden in less time. Appropriate care for your garden tools also will allow them to serve you for a longer period of time.
When you are finished with a majority of your tools for the summer, you can prep them for winter storage. Clean your tools with warm soap and water and allow them to fully dry. To ward off rust, spray them with a light oil or lubricant, such as WD-40, before storing them. You may choose to have tool blades or spikes sharpened at your local hardware store so they are in great condition for the next season, too.
Keep tools with wooden handles in a cool, dry place so the wood does not become moldy and contaminated. Your shed, garage, or basement are all great options to keep your garden tools when you’re not using them.
Although it can be sad to “close down” your garden for the winter, remember it is not really the end. It is just a more dormant period where you are able to allow your garden to work underneath the ground and have a rest.
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