We all know that gardening is more enjoyable in the spring and summer. But, for those who want to maximize their crop yield, there’s plenty to do in the garden during fall and winter, too. Whether you’re growing fruit and vegetables or flowers, getting outside in the colder months is good for your health and makes spring and summer in the garden even more enjoyable and rewarding! So here’s a list of 10 essential things to do in the garden in fall and winter.
1 – Establish Your Hardiness Zone
Wherever you are in the world, you need to know which hardiness zone you’re in. This lets you know the approximate dates of the first hard frosts and the depth of the frost line. Once you’ve established this, you can properly plan cold-season projects in the garden, particularly those centered around growing. You can find your zone using this great resource for world hardiness zones.
2 – Ready, Steady, Till!
When you lift crops and clear beds, it’s a good idea to till or rotovate right away. You want to get this job done before the ground gets wet and claggy to avoid the soil sticking to your tines, making the job much harder. Tilling in organic matter like leaves, dying weeds, and even vegetable peelings helps to replenish the soil as it will compost down over winter and release valuable nutrients. Fibrous matter like straw also makes a great addition as it improves soil structure.
3 – Turn in Manure
Manure from livestock like horses, sheep, cows, goats, and chickens is invaluable organic fertilizer for your garden – and, because it’s packed with fibrous organic matter, it improves your soil structure, too. Now you can leave the manure pile to rot down for a year, then add it to your compost pile, but to give your soil a jump start, turn or till in the manure over winter, where it will break down in the earth.
4 – Don’t Forget the Green Manure
Green manure consists of fast-growing cover-crops and has multiple benefits for your garden. These quick little plants consume large portions of the nutrients remaining in your soil, preventing them washing away during heavy winter rains. Plant green manure in bare earth, or after you’ve tilled over a bed, in autumn and then just plough them back into the soil in the spring, around two weeks before you want to plant up the bed, where they’ll return all their nutrients to your beds. Check out this page from the RHS for a range of green manure cultivars.
Green manure benefits:
- Keeps nutrients in the soil
- Creates root mats that prevent soil erosion
- Prevents excessive moisture loss
- Helps to keep soil warmer
- Provides coverage and warmth for beneficial wildlife
5 – Spread That Mulch
Mulch is invaluable in the garden. Where you haven’t got green manure growing, or if your winters are too cold for even the hardiest cover crop, mulch is the way to go. Good quality organic mulch generates heat as it decomposes, so a generous layer over the soil provides enough warmth to protect delicate roots and bulbs. Mulching helps to retain moisture and offers protection to wildlife.
6 – Bulb Maintenance
Depending on your haridness zone, a thick layer of mulch over your bulbs might be all the maintenance your bulbs need. Although for the best results, even in warmer climates, we recommend digging up the bulbs and separating them, removing any dead or decaying bulbs, then replanting. You can also plant any new bulbs at this time. Just remember to leave enough time for the bulbs to generate healthy root systems before the temperature drops too much.
If your locale is subject to hard winters and a deep frost line, you’ll want to lift and separate the bulbs, then store them in a cool, dry, dark place until the danger of hard frosts has passed.
7 – Plant Cold-Season Vegetables
Depending on which hardiness zone you live in, there’s a range of cold-season veggies that you can plant during fall. Some types, like garlic, start growing during the winter, while other hardy varieties start growing during the fall and continue throughout the winter, getting ready to harvest in the spring. Still other varieties lay dormant in the winter soil and begin to grow vigorously in early spring.
8 – Maximize Your Growing Season
Now it’d be fabulous if we could all buy heated greenhouses – but that’s not too likely – and it uses lots of energy, too. But there’s a few things you can do to increase your growing season. Use cloches and fleece to cover low-growing crops and offer protection from frosts. In late winter or very early spring, sow seeds either in a greenhouse or under cloches or fleece up to three weeks earlier. Make sure you sow successionally, too, so you’ve got crops actively growing for as long as possible.
9 – Look After the Youngsters
If you’ve got tender young trees and shrubs, it’s important to offer them some kind of protection from hard frosts and snowy conditions. Use burlap or garden fleece to cover up the youngsters when a frost is due to arrive. However, make sure you uncover them again once the temperature rises above freezing, otherwise you might accidentally fool the plants out of dormancy, which can kill them.
10 – Weed Control
Weeds sprout up at the first hint of warm-ish weather, so get a jump start on your gardening by pulling up pesky weed shoots as soon as they arrive during the winter. Remember, though, to not walk over your beds if the ground is particularly wet, as you’ll compact and damage your soil structure.