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How to prepare gardens for winter

In this episode of Digging in with gardenstead, we’re going transcontinental — Katie speaks with urban gardener Patrick Vernuccio, aka @thefrenchiegardener — in Berlin! Yes, a French gardener with an Italian surname, in Germany. It’s a wonderful world.

Patrick, a certified permaculture gardener with an impressive balcony garden of organic fruits and vegetables, chats with Katie about a most important topic for this time of year — how to prepare gardens for winter.

In their wide-ranging (and at times philosophical) autumn gardening season conversation, they cover what to plant in fall, mulch, compost, pruning, how to maximize next year’s fruit tree yield and more.

Step by step winter garden preparation

Clean up or…not

If you’ve had any illnesses in your garden, remove the affected/diseased plants. Same goes with any pest-infested plant. Get those plants out of the garden, and dispose of them separately from your usual compost pile/bin.

The remaining otherwise healthy but now dead plants can be left on the soil to feed next year’s crop.

Invasives be gone

Now’s a great time to remove any invasive plants that may have infiltrated your garden — we’re looking at you, mint (but maybe that’s personal). In any case, once you’ve completed your harvest and/or your plants have finished flowering, it’s much easier to get at those unwelcome invaders that have a habit of taking over. Bindweed anyone?

Feed your soil

The growing season takes a lot out of soil — give it some love by adding compost and organic material back into your garden beds. Lots of folks love to take this step in the spring, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that — but when you amend soil in autumn, material gets a good chance to break down and integrate over the winter months.

Consider cover crops

Another way to amend your soil — and protect it — is to grow a cover crop. Rye, winter wheat, oats, barley, red clover, vetch, alfalfa — there’s a pretty long list of possibilities. Do some research to find out what will do best in your area.

Prudently prune perennials

Some plants will benefit from a good pruning (blackberries, fennel, roses, rosemary, sage). Raspberries may be pruned in the fall. Thinning the plants may also be beneficial (here’s a good guide).

Before you prune perennial flowering plants, consider leaving some or all of the seed heads as food for birds throughout winter.

Plant bulbs, divide crowds

Tulips, allium, crocus, snowdrops — the list of bulbs to plant in the fall is a wonderfully long one. There are so many bulbs that you can plant in autumn for glorious spring blooms. But, make sure you’re planting them at the right time, in the right way.

And, if you have a patch of plants (or two, or three) that you noted was feeling a little crowded this year, now’s the time to divide those bulbs. Wait until the foliage has died back, carefully dig up the bulbs, separate them, and replant them. If you find any rotten or soft bulbs among the ones you dig up, discard or toss them into your compost bin.

More mulch, please

As Patrick and Katie discuss in the podcast, fall is a good time to replenish the mulch in your gardens. In the summer mulch’s best purpose is to retain moisture and keep your plants’ roots cool. Conversely, in the winter mulch helps to regulate soil temperature and provides an insulating effect. Mulch can provide a layer of protection to roots. Plus, as it breaks down, it will add organic matter back into soil. Add a thick layer of mulch to your vegetable gardens and flower beds for the proverbial win-win.

Pre-seed for spring

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that doesn’t deep freeze every winter, there are a number of vegetables you can direct sow in the fall, many of which you can harvest in the spring. Leafy greens, onions, shallots, spring onions, garlic, asparagus and turnips are just a few. Research what’s possible for your area, ready your soil, and get planting.

It’s absolutely worth your while to watch the podcast, too, to hear Patrick speak eloquently of the joy he feels in planting food for overwintering. Check in at about 4:07 of the episode to share in the green love — and then stay for the whole episode, because he is just as joyful and passionate all the way through.

A man walks in his balcony garden. There are a lot of plants and vegetables.
yellow petaled flower by elias sorey unsplash

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