Winter Gardening

Ways to prepare your garden for the winter so that come spring, your soil will be prepared for another season.

Preparing your garden for the winter is the first step in making sure next year's garden is great.

First, once you've had the first frost, go out and pick any vegetables that are still good. Anything else that's out there probably won't last to maturity. If any vegetables are overripe or in any way bad, throw them into the garden and leave them there. Remove any cages or stakes you have in the garden, so that all that's left is your plants.

Get your pitch fork and a good shovel; don't forget your gardening gloves! Dig up the plants in your garden and turn the soil. Leave it as loose as possible, and make sure the good, green plants are torn down and mixed in with the soil.

If your soil isn't naturally very good, go out and buy some peat moss, sand, clay, or whatever your soil is lacking. Mix all of these things into your soil (clay soil needs peat moss for nutrients and sand for drainage; other soil needs clay to retain some water). Add enough so that your soil seems more balanced. Make sure, even if your soil is good, to add some peat moss to help with the nutrients. If you keep a compost pile, now's the time to add that.

Leave your soil bare during the winter. Whenever you have left over vegetables or peelings, bring them outside and throw them on your garden. Continue to turn your garden every so often to get the new nutrients into the soil.

If your garden starts to look hard (not frozen; clay-heavy), add some more sand and peat moss. This is especially important as you get towards spring. Dig as deep as your plants' roots need to go. Continue to add compost to your soil, too.

Some recommend that you turn your soil as often as once a week (not as heavily as you did the first time; just a few pitch forks here and there). If your climate is very cold, turning again won't be necessary (and may be impossible) until the beginning of the spring thaw. That's okay; the land is dormant during the snow anyway. (And the melting snow will give the land its first good watering.)

In warmer climates, you may want to keep a crop of plants that are meant only to "hold" the land until the major growing season. Try to plant something that puts in the nutrients your usual crop pulls out of the soil.

A few weeks before spring planting, check out the requirements for what you'll be planting (if you don't already know them). For example, blueberries need an acidic soil. Add any nutrients you need in order to get the soil right for any particular crop.

Then, when it's time to plant, your soil will be perfect! A hint if you're plagued by weeds: after planting your crops, lay newspaper down around them. Water and nutrients will get through, but sun won't (so the weeds won't grow). At the end of the growing season, these newspapers can simply be turned into the soil with the rest of the old plants and such.

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