Preparing Your Garden For Winter
When cold weather or frost spells the end of thegrowing season, a horticulture specialist in Penn State's College ofAgricultural Sciences advises gardeners to spend an extra day preparing thegarden site for winter.
"Once you've made the decision to turn the garden under, it will takeless than a day to prepare the site for winter and for next spring," saysPete Ferretti, professor of vegetable crops.
Backyard gardeners should harvest their crops and prepare toclose the garden when nighttime temperatures reach 45 degrees Fahrenheit four tofive days in a row, or if any frost is predicted. Most garden crops cannot thrive after cold injury. Crops thatshould be harvested include beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers,pumpkins, tomatoes, squash and watermelons. Some crops, such as endive, escarole andBrussels sprouts can be grownthrough colder temperatures if row covers (oreven cornstalks) are used for protection, Ferretti says.
After you've decided to pick everything that can possibly be used, Ferrettisuggests following these steps to prepare your garden for winter:
- Diagnosis. After final harvest, check plants for disease. If plants orfruits show major disease damage, the plants should be removed, placed in aplastic bag and thrown into the garbage.
- Stop and chop. Plants with minor or no disease damage should be cut downand chopped up. You can use a sickle, hedge trimmer, lopping shears, or even a lawnmower to chop if you are careful of stones and large pieces.
- Turn soil over. Once the plants are chopped down, use a spade or arototiller to turn the earth so organic breakdown of plant tissue can begin. Leave the surface rough; it lessenserosion.
- Plant annual ryegrass. Ryegrass is a perfect covercrop for small gardens. It comes up in seven days or so, and will be well-established by the time plants go dormant. Annual ryegrass produces a large root-mass, which keeps the soilloose. The roots also absorb phosphorus and attract earthworms and beneficialfungi, bacteria, yeasts, algae and other organisms that make the soil richer. Planting ryegrass nearly eliminates erosion since the root structure holds the soil together and allows water to soak in. Ifthe soil is left bare, a crust will form, and much of the water will runoff.
- Test soil. After the garden is prepared for the winter, test the soil for nutrient deficiency. Apply lime as soon as possibleif it's needed. You won't need to add other nutrients tothe soil until early spring, but it's nice to know what you'll need ahead oftime.
- Add manure or compost (if needed). Gardeners should add manure or compostto the garden site in late October or November. By spring, the componentswill have broken down and been incorporated into the soil structure.
- Start the garden again. By spring, Ferretti says, most of the annualryegrass will have died, so gardeners can rototill or dig up the garden andplant new crops.