Preparing Your Garden for Cold Weather

Reader Contribution by Noah Rue
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When winter comes around, it might be tempting to let everything go dormant — from your garden, to your compost, to productivity, to anything that requires you to step outside into the frigid weather. Personally, if I had the choice, I would prefer all chores to be done for me while I lay cozy in bed until spring rolls around again — but unless you’re a grizzly bear, that’s not really an option.

Getting things in order before the snow falls, however, is the best way to make sure winter gardening goes off without a hitch — not to mention, a better chance at success when everything comes back to life again in a few months when the weather starts to warm up again.

Photo by Pixabay


Because food scraps don’t stop when it starts getting cold outside, keeping a compost pile or bin during the winter might take a little more effort than during the warmer months, but you’ll still be able to rest well knowing leftovers from the kitchen aren’t just going to waste in the trash bin.

One of your first steps is making sure the compost bin is airtight to allow the microbes inside to remain warm and active. If they freeze, not only will it slow down the composting process and possibly kill the necessary microbes, leaving you with a frozen block of scraps until spring comes around to thaw them out. Be sure to avoid allowing snow and other unnecessary moisture into the bin, and the chemical reactions inside will keep themselves warm.

Photo by Pixabay

Second, be sure you’re balancing “green” scraps (nitrogen) and “brown” scraps (carbon). Use dead, dry leaves from fall as sources of carbon to balance out the nitrogen of the kitchen scraps, and methods for keeping your leaves dry and crunchy throughout the cold season. Not only do the leaves provide a balance to the chemical reactions occurring inside, they also help absorb any extra moisture that would otherwise leave your compost soggy and useless.

Some people also opt for an indoor compost bin, located somewhere out of the way like the garage. This way, you’re not forced to brave the cold to deposit scraps or turn the already-existing compost. However, indoor bins like these can cause some of their own problems, namely, an unwelcome aroma, as well as the possibility of a messy floor. When it comes down to it, neither is necessarily a better choice than the other; it just depends on your personal preference.

Photo by Pixabay

Preparing the Garden for Spring

Other than deciding whether or not you want to let your plants go to seed or clean up after them, there’s a lot more to be done than just letting the ground freeze and deciding you’ll pick up again only when it warms up.

While it’s fine to let most non-food garden plants go to seed and rest there over the winter, it’s another story for many fruits and vegetables you have perfectly lined up in garden rows: If you don’t clean up well enough at the end of the season, your garden risks contracting late blight, an infectious organic disease that can travel on the wind, even between neighboring gardens.

The blight is strong enough to survive through the winter, meaning it’s critical to cut away and quarantine, or dispose of all plants that might have been vulnerable to the disease, as to avoid any possible issues in the next season.

Photo by Pixabay

After cleaning away dead plants, smooth out the remaining soil either by hand or with a portable rototiller, depending on the size of your plot. Next, spread a layer of new soil and/or mulch, to boost the garden’s nutrients for next spring.

The end of the season is also the best time to expand your garden, especially since you’ll be laying new soil anyway, so take some time to decide if you think you’ll be planting more, or new things come spring. You might also consider planting some winter cover crops, which are sown in fall and then harvested in the oncoming spring.

Don’t forget to gather as many fallen leaves as possible for your garden’s mulch layer, as well as for your wintertime compost stock — chances are you’ll have plenty lying around, so don’t wait until the last minute. The leaves might go soggy any day now, which makes them useless for storage!

Photo by Pixabay

Enjoying a Mini Indoor Garden

Falling snow doesn’t mean the end to gardening — at least, not completely. When your large plot outside hibernates for the winter, consider growing another indoors to keep you company. Smaller plants, ranging from basil to green onions, make perfect indoor companions and mean you’ll have plenty of fresh herbs and spices to use on the stored harvest from the outdoor garden.

Even if you don’t want to go the route of growing more vegetables or fruits, consider a small family of succulents, flowers, or other easy-to-grow plants, to remind you of the warmer weather to come again. Especially if you suffer from illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) brought on by the low light of winter, keeping plants indoors is proven to help boosts spirits, even if just a little bit, just like keeping a larger plot during the warmer months can help ease things like depression and anxiety!

Photo by Pixabay

Whether you choose to take a break during the winter months like a grizzly bear, or continue on your journey of composting, gardening, and preparing for spring, there’s so much you can do — even during the cold months to keep your thumb green. Those things could range anywhere from growing things indoors with you where it’s warm, to dreaming of the things you’ll plant in a few months when the sun comes out again.

Either way, it’s a time to appreciate all the work you did the season prior, and enjoy your harvest of tasty, fresh fruits and vegetables!

Noah Yarnol Rue is always looking for where his next trip will take him. When he’s not traveling the world, he’s writing articles on all the new things he learns!

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