Here in Eastern Ontario we are not lucky enough to have garden friendly weather through the winter. So when the frosts start to get bad, and the weather turns wintery it’s time to take down our garden and prepare for next season. We’re still a small homestead, but I hope these easy garden prep steps will help you as well, to organize and prepare your garden to start fresh next year.
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These steps are not in any particular order necessarily. But I would recommend dealing with plants before trying to deal with soil amendments, for simplicity sake. Of course there is no hard and fast rules here either. Everyone has different gardens and different things that they do throughout their seasons. This list is just what I do through my final days out in the yard. All that said, let’s jump into the list!
1. Dealing With Dead Annuals
We use several types of season extending covers in our veggie garden, to really get the most out of it. So usually by the time there’s been a really hard frost or two, the covers don’t cut it anymore, and we need to pull up the remaining plants. I also tend to just let my flowers keep going as long as possible in case there are any late bugs still searching for nectar.
So it’s time to go through the beds and pull up everything that’s left. As long as the plants don’t contain seeds or diseases, they will go onto the compost pile. To help that process along, it’s a good idea to cut the plants into smaller chunks. We collect up all the dead plants in the wheel barrow and them chop them up with sheers as we throw them onto the pile. Adding a layer of soil and/or straw to the pile now and then if you are adding a lot of plants can help to distribute the green matter.
2. Take Care of Perennials
Next up is the perennials. We only have a few perennials around the garden and since I’m not great at flowers, they are super easy. Each plant will have different needs in order for it to continue to thrive next year. There are a lot of guides for specific plant varieties that you can find by looking up your plant on Google. We have a bunch of Ontario native plants, like Day Lillies, Salivas, Black Eyed Susans, and Phlox. As well as a whole bunch of Hostas.
All of the varieties that we have don’t much mind just being left alone until spring. So we don’t trim them back at all. I’ve trimmed Saliva once only to have it begin to sprout on a weird warm week later that December. It wasn’t happy after that when the snow came back. It now just seems easier to leave them alone and trim them in the spring.
We also have a potted Bay Laurel tree that comes inside for the winter. This is common in this part of the world, since we have hot enough summers to pretend we’re the Mediterranean. But need to hide our shame in the harsh winters. So things like Bay Laurel, Rosemary Bushes, Lemon and citrus trees, and Hibiscus should all be moved inside for the winter. Our Bay tree gets a nice new layer of compost, and then over winters in our mudroom which remains around 4C through the winter.
3. Soil Amendments
Soil amending is something I like to do in both the fall and the spring. The fall is a good time to turn the soil thoroughly. Remove as many weeds, roots and rocks as you like. And it’s also a good time to add compost that isn’t fully mature yet. If you have access to manure, adding it while it’s fresh is usually too intense for plants and will burn them. But to add it now, means it will go through it’s breakdown process through the rest of the fall, and beginning of spring. And your early spring plants will them get the benefit of an early boost. Mike’s mother clued me into this and it’s been great for our early plants.
When spring rolls around, you can test the soil and top it up with anything it’s missing, knowing that you came into the season with that extra boost. A quick mention of fall leaves. Though they are really great for the garden, they are even more important to a lot of pollinators. Leaving them where they fall might look a bit messy, but you’ll be happy you did when you have happy bugs next year. And it makes your garden prep easier. Please leave your leaves!
4. Drain Hoses & Irrigation
This one sounds really obvious, but trust me, if you have a lot of water works, you don’t want to forget anything in your garden prep. Make a quick list of all your hoses, irrigation tubes, and for us the pond setup, and check the list off as you go around draining. We use an air compressor to get the last of the water out of our irrigation system, and sleep a lot sounder knowing we wont come out in the spring to a pile of burst tubes. For standard hoses, turn off the water at the source. Undo the hose, and slowly coil it up, while letting one end drain out.
5. Organize Your Pots & Tools
There’s been a number of seasons when I first got into gardening where the spring would roll around and I wouldn’t know where anything was. Wouldn’t know what sizes of pots I had, and would find that most of the things I needed were stuck in a snowed in shed. Very frustrating.
Now, during the garden prep in the fall, I collect up all the pots, supports, and tools, and organize them. Nothing crazy or fancy. But simply going through and making sure that all your starter pots/cell trays, are ready to go. Then checking that you have enough pots to be potting up seedlings as they grow. We use row covers and supports for certain things in the spring. So those need to be accessible, even if all the snow isn’t gone yet. Not thrown into a shed that gets snow piled on it. We use these shelf units in our mudroom for most of the garden tools. They randomly go on sale through the year, so anytime you get a hardware store flyer, check for them!
And I go through all the fertilizers, and other soil amending things to check quantities, best by dates, and quality (did it get wet and ruined through the year etc.). Usually, by garden prep time, we need to top up on bone meal and blood meal. And if it was a bad year for pests, sometimes pesticide.
6. Organize Seeds
The final thing I do in the garden prep is to organize my seeds. Through the season, this little bin can get messy and disorganized. I will sometimes just throw a packet back in out of order. Or put empty packets back in when I’m done with them. I go through and re organize, and tidy it up. Cataloguing which seeds I’m short on, and making notes about which varieties we liked, and which thrived on our property. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to a funky or fun variety, that just wasn’t happy in our area.
Now not all seed packets will have expiration dates on them. But I have a special spot in my seed box for any seeds that have one, and will be up soon. Most seeds will last a pretty long time if they aren’t wet. So I’ll usually hold onto seeds for a bit even after their expiration date. If I plant them, I just know the sprouting rate will be diminished and I shouldn’t rely too heavily on an older seed.
Bonus! 7. Winterize the Chicken Run
Just a little bonus one, since I did this on my final day or garden prep. If you are new to chickens this year (and I know a lot of folks are), having a chicken run that’s full of snow isn’t great for your birds. (Full post on winterizing the chicken coop Here)
There are plenty of chicken breeds that are cold hardy, and if you live in a cold place I recommend them. But they still need a place to go that is dry and out of the harsh winds. Our girls will spend most of the snowy season inside the coop and run. So we wrap our chicken coop in plastic sheeting. This keeps the snow from getting in, and keeps the wind chill out. Come spring, when things start to melt, keeping a dry coop and run is hard enough without the added wetness of snow in the run.
I hope everyone had a wonderful season, and is excited to start again in the spring. This year has been hard, but focusing on growth and the peace of a garden can be a welcome distraction. Happy Garden Prep!