- Author: Jan Rhoades
After a busy spring filled with garden preparation and early planting, followed by a summer of weed fighting and too many tomatoes, and, finally, an autumn of processing the bountiful harvest, it seems fitting that a backyard gardener should get a long winter’s rest to enjoy the fruits of such labor. Right? Well, somewhat right. Though there is not so much to do in the garden during the winter, there are still some very important maintenance chores and some little tasks that will make for a better garden come spring. So, put on that old jacket and wooly hat…time to put the garden to bed!
Pull up old vines and plants that are not producing. Insect pests that feed on these plants in the summer have probably laid their eggs on them. These eggs will overwinter and hatch in the spring, hungry and ready to eat your new plantings. Other pests, such as squash bugs, use old plant debris to live in over the winter…so, best to do a thorough clean-up. If these old plants are not diseased, they can be worked into the garden soil to add valuable organic matter. Fall is an excellent time to amend garden soil. Well-rotted manure, compost, fertilizer and leaves can all be incorporated before the ground freezes, enhancing beneficial microorganisms and soil insects.
If you still have root crops such as beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips, they can be mulched with straw or leaves and dug up as needed. Some say these vegetables turn sweeter after the ground cools. Kale, chard, cabbage and spinach can also withstand winter cold. Be sure to mulch around them to protect their roots and preserve soil moisture. Winter squash and pumpkins should be harvested before heavy frost damages them. If you planted garlic this fall, it will need regular watering and a good layer of mulch.
Annual flowers need to be pulled up and composted. Perennials should be cut back and mulched when the ground has become quite cold. Good mulching materials include straw, pine needles and leaves.
Raspberries and blackberries also need to be cut back. The canes that bore fruit should be pruned to ground level and mulching around the base of these bramble fruits is also good. Berries need water in the winter if there are dry spells. Strawberries also need a thick layer of mulch to protect them.
Trees and shrubs need water during the winter, too. Give them ample water through the fall and then water about once a month during the winter. Watering in the winter is tricky – try to pick a day when temperatures are above freezing, and water early in the day so water can be absorbed before temperatures drop at night. If you have fruit trees, remember that dormant spraying, pruning and other special treatments, such as spraying for leaf curl, are important winter tasks.
So, you can see, no rest for the weary gardener. But, one of the pleasures of these longer nights is hunkering down in front of the fire to spend some quality time with those gorgeous, enticing seed catalogues. Spring is just around the corner!