How to Close Vegetable Gardens for the Winter

Overview

Your tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and green beans graced your table with fresh, nutritious food for several months during the summer. When Jack Frost comes calling in the fall, these plants and other summer annuals will die back, leaving you with a bit of a mess to clean up. All of your summer veggies can go toward providing next year's vegetable garden with needed nutrients if you compost them. But there's more that you can do to your empty garden to ensure that you have even bigger, better vegetables next year.

Closing a Vegetable Garden for the Winter

Step 1

Compost all dead plant material. Chopping it up into small pieces will cause it to compost faster than if you left all plant parts whole. When you build a compost pile, be sure to alternate layers of fresh, green material with old, dried, brown plant material, so this is a good chance to do some pruning of trees and other plants.

Step 2

Hoe up weeds and rake your garden area. Deposit the gleanings in your compost pile, but avoid adding weeds that contain seeds because they will likely spread when you use your compost.

Step 3

Plant a cover crop. You won't use or harvest a cover crop, but you will dig the plants into the soil before your spring planting. Typical cover crops include clover, soybeans, buckwheat, vetch and fava beans.

Step 4

Start some winter vegetables if you live in a climate zone where you get only occasional light frost. You can grow broccoli, spinach, chard, carrots and other root crops during the winter in many climate zones.

Step 5

Till in a granular fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 5-10-10 to add nutrients that have been depleted during your garden's active growing season.

Step 6

Mulch bare areas and areas where you have planted winter crops to keep the soil a little warmer than it would be if it were directly exposed to the elements. Mulch will also keep weeds away. When it decomposes and you dig it under in early spring, it will nourish the soil.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid pruning too much fresh plant material from trees in the fall because the reduced cover can let in harmful frost. To avoid plant diseases, always dispose of diseased plants by burning them or sending them to your landfill, never to your compost pile.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden clippers or shears
  • Hoe
  • Cover crop seeds (optional)
  • 5-10-10 granular fertilizer
  • Rake
  • Mulch
  • Plastic sheeting (optional)

References

  • Gardens by Daisy Moore
  • Hume Seeds advice
  • Oregon State University
Keywords: vegetable garden, winter care, cover crops

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hiā€˜iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides.com and eHow.com. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.