Mother Earth Living

Goodnight, Garden: A Winter Gardening Checklist

Put your garden to bed and ensure next season is even better with our winter gardening checklist.
By Tabitha Alterman
November/December 2011
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Put your garden to bed and ensure next season is even better with our winter gardening checklist.

□ Finish Picking 

As frost threatens, pick the last of any fruits and veggies that won’t survive, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant. Keep blankets and garden cloches ready to cover plants at night to protect them. If you’re growing hardier specimens that can withstand frost, such as spinach and chives, light cloches will protect them from severe temperatures.

□ Prep Beds 

Mulch any plants you plan to grow into winter such as root crops or winter-hardy herbs. Mark the spots with stakes (or by any other method), so you’ll know where to dig for garlic or kale when snow has covered the ground. Add finished compost to the beds where you’re growing perennials such as rhubarb and asparagus. Bring tender herbs indoors to overwinter them. (To learn more about overwintering herbs, read “4 Easy Herbs to Grow for an Indoor Garden.”) 

□ Clean Up and Compost 

Cut down and haul dead or decaying plant material—except any plants you know to be diseased—to your compost pile. Pile on the leaves, as well.

□ Plant Cover Crops 

Rather than leaving your beds bare, consider sowing cover crops such as winter rye and hairy vetch, which will improve soil fertility and texture, cut down on erosion and weeds, and provide ample mulch material when you chop them down in spring. Learn more about cover cropping at

□ Take In Tools 

Prepare your garden accoutrements for a long winter’s rest: Scrub them clean, sharpen any dull blades and rub everything with oil to prevent rust. Drain water from hoses and sprayers. Drain and store gasoline and oil from power equipment, and disconnect spark plugs. Gather trellises, row covers and other materials you won’t need any more this season. Store everything in a covered spot.

□ Store Seeds

Make sure any viable seeds—whether saved from your tastiest heirloom veggies or left over from seed packets—are cleaned up, labeled clearly and stored in a cool, dark place.

□ Sample Your Soil 

Even the smallest garden spot can benefit from soil analysis. The tests are cheap and easy, and so are most of the ways to improve soil. If you’ve never done a soil test, now is the perfect opportunity—you have plenty of time to add any amendments the test results recommend, and the amendments have time to break down fully by spring. Your county extension office (search online for your state name and “county extension”) can direct you to soil testing laboratories and may also provide free testing.

□ Take Notes 

Wish you would have installed drip irrigation this year? Did the wooden handle on your 20-year-old shovel split? Was one plot particularly weedy? Now is the time to make a list of all the things you’ll forget by next spring.

□ Look Forward 

You’ve done everything you can to invite a successful spring season. Now curl up by a fire with some gardening books, seed catalogs and a cup of hot tea, and spend this winter dreaming up plans for next year’s garden—your best garden yet.

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