Preparing Your Vegetable Garden for Winter


Buckwheat and compost rows with straw paths

Every gardener probably has a different version of the “best” way to prepare a backyard garden for the winter. Because our Ohio garden is large, and each year is different in climate and crops, I find that our garden goes into each winter with a little different variation of preparedness. Winter preparations occur over several weeks, but perhaps the following suggestions will give you ideas that you can try now and in the years ahead.  

Clearing out. One thing that most gardeners will agree upon is that it’s worth the effort to clean out all the old annual plants. Some of the vines and climbing plants will die on their own and can be hauled to the compost by now. Others like tomatoes will wait for a hard frost to die. I’m in no rush to clean out crops if I can still get some green tomatoes or a sweet pepper or two. However, when the season is over, cleaning out the dead plants prevents the build-up of disease and harmful insects. The heat of composting will kill them.  

Soil building. The dead plants and weeds that you clean out from your garden in the autumn become valuable additions to your compost. Don’t worry about knocking all the soil off the roots. Soil contains microbes that will boost the decomposition of your compost. The compost recipe is “two-parts brown and one-part green. Dried leaves, pine needles can be added to the dead plants to provide the “brown.” Kitchen waste, grass and still-green plants will help provide the “green” component of your compost recipe.  

Composting. If you don’t have room for a compost pile outside your garden area, consider digging trenches in your garden where you can bury this debris along with the other compost ingredients. After one trench is filled and one area of your garden cleaned out, dig another trench for the next area. This will compost and enrich your soil for the next year.  

Late-season planting. There are lots more options for your garden before you say good-bye to it until next spring. For one thing, if you plan ahead, your garden can continue to provide food through much of the winter. Kale and collards can be planted in the heat of August and then ignored until cold-sensitive plants have died. Carrots can be planted about late August or September and then covered with straw and not harvested until frost has sweetened them. 

11/19/2020 7:10:32 AM

Interesting article. We put our garden in a sectioned off area of my chicken and duck pen. We added a 13x40' area to their pen just for the garden last fall and let them get rid of all the vegetation for us. We closed area off a couple months before planting to allow soil to rest and be tillered. We had super sized plants yielding a lot of vegetables. We picked the last of the peppers, zucchini and yellow squash the first week of November. We had multiple frost and low 20° nights, although we covered everything, the plants were dieing. I picked nearly 20 pounds of peppers alone, bad ones were tossed to chickens who were lined up at the fence. I only had 1 time they got into the garden, found area in fence that wasn't latched fully. I only have a 4ft fence between them and garden, they somehow know not to fly over to sneak a bite. As with many in my area, tomatoes were slow to grow, many peoples blighted, we were fortunate. They were late to ripen but we picked them by the basket load. We gave a lot away to family and friends who couldn't afford or grow their own fresh vegetables. We're expanding garden next year and will soon be fencing off the new area so the chickens and ducks can do their thing over winter. Peoples loved how we used them as a natural fertilizer, we also use no chemicals on our plants. We bought some guineas in hope they will debug the garden next year and get that always elusive tomato worm.

9/29/2020 7:36:30 PM

I would like some instruction on the best way to put my container garden to sleep for winter, getting it ready to be at its best for spring. All my vegetables and herbs are grown in 22 inch in diameter plastic pots. I leave the pots outside all winter on my deck. Might there be a recommendation for how best to prepare it to overwinter so it is at its best come spring?

Walter Barnett
8/22/2019 9:16:25 PM

It would be quite interesting, for me, to have an article like this one written by someone gardening in Texas on the Gulf coast. We’ve had temperatures between 98-102 degrees beginning in July and continuing today with little or no rain. Some days it’s so hot the grass is smoking in the sun. Our tomatoes, sweet peppers, bell peppers et al didn’t last long and the only thing left is a clump of Chives. It’s still too hot for my old bones to get out and prepare our garden spot for fall. So what do folks in “our area” do for fall gardens?

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