Veggie Garden Winter Preparation: How To Prepare Vegetable Garden Beds For Winter

The annual flowers have faded, the last of the peas harvested, and the previously green grass is browning up. It’s time to get organized and decide how to prepare vegetable garden beds for winter. With a little veggie garden winter preparation, you’ll be setting the groundwork for a bountiful harvest during the next growing season.

How to Prepare Vegetable Garden Beds for Winter

The first order of business when getting the garden ready for winter is sanitation. Remove any spent crop detritus and compost. Break everything down into smaller pieces and mix in shredded leaves to create a balance of nitrogen to speed up decomposition. Do not incorporate any plants that show signs of disease or insect problems, as they will infiltrate the compost pile and cause future problems. Dispose of these in the trash or burn them if allowed to do so in your region.

Also, thoroughly weed the garden but don’t compost the perennial weeds. They will likely reseed themselves and become the bane of your existence if you use the compost in the garden the successive season.

Other items on the list of winter prep for vegetable gardens are to remove any unused stakes, ties, and trellises and allow to air dry before storing. This is also a great time to clean and oil gardening tools.

More on Preparing a Vegetable Garden for Winter

At this time in your veggie garden winter preparation, it’s time to think of your soil. You may wish to have the soil tested to see if and what type of amendment would be most beneficial. Depending upon the test results, soil improvement may be needed with the addition of lime, organic matter, or fertilizer.

Lime is added to the soil to make it more neutral and is added every other year or third year for heavy soils. For every 100 feet (31 m.), mix in 4 pounds (2 kg.) of lime for sandy soil, 6 pounds (3 kg.) for loamy soil, or 8 pounds (4 kg.) for clay soils and blend into the top 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm.).

Organic matter, such as compost, can be added any time of the year; however, in the fall straw is often added to prevent weeds and retain moisture. Additionally, this is a good time to till in some fresh manure.

Fertilizing in the fall is often an exercise in futility since it will likely wash down through the soil and into the groundwater. A better thing to do is to plant a cover crop that will protect the soil and aid in nutrient retention. There are many cover crops or green manure, such as crimson clover, fava beans, field peas, vetch, and legumes. Legumes are great since they add nitrogen to the soil and enrich it when the soil is turned in the spring.

Some planting may also occur at this time when getting the garden ready for winter. Garlic, for instance, is always best when planted in the fall. There are other cool crop plants suitable for this season.

Lastly, before putting the garden to bed for the winter, take some notes. It’s a good idea to keep a record of what crops did well or not. Photos or a sketch of the garden will also keep it fresh in your mind and remind you of successes or defeats. Also write down the soil amendments you have made. Proper sanitation, soil amendment, and the addition of organic matter with the use of green manures will ensure a bumper crop in the following year.

Make a map of your garden with this year’s crops

Do you have a map of this year’s garden? If not, make one now while it’s fresh in your mind. Remembering where you planted things this year can help you design a good rotation for next year.

It’s a good idea to keep garden maps for 3 or 4 years so that you can avoid planting annual plants within the same family in the same spot for a few years.

A good crop rotation helps to balance nutrient depletion from the soil and helps to reduce disease pressure. It’s also a good idea to note any problems on this year’s map such as melons had Alternaria so that you will remember to look for resistant varieties next year.

Remove or bury debris

Many pathogens can overwinter in plant residues, so it’s a good idea to either chop and bury debris or to remove vegetables from the garden. This is especially true for plants that experienced significant disease pressure this year such as lilacs or tomatoes.

That said, keep pollinators and insects in mind when cleaning up your garden. If you have perennial or flower strips, leave some stems in place for stem nesting bees.

For more tips see this UMN Extension video on fall cleanup for pollinators.

Clean your tools, wash any seeding trays

Fall is a great time to clean your tools before putting them away for the winter.

  • Tools can carry plant pathogens, so they should be cleaned and sterilized regularly.
  • Proper tool care will also keep your tools in good shape for many years.
  • Make sure to clean and sanitize any trays you used for seeding, and any pots you plan to use again next year.

1. Review the Vegetable Garden

Before the gardener does anything else in the garden to prepare for winter, it is a good idea to walk around the existing vegetable beds and assess the garden of the previous year. Every growing season comes with its own set of challenges, disappointments, and triumphs.

Evaluating how well the previous year’s garden did is essential for wasting less time, money and energy in the coming growing seasons. Here are some questions for a gardener to ask him/herself about the garden as winter closes in.

  • Which vegetables did the household eat more often than others, and which were wasted?
  • Which vegetables failed and why? (Pests, disease, growing conditions, etc…)
  • Which vegetables did well and why?
  • What garden tasks proved to be time-consuming and could be revised for next year?
  • Should any plants be moved to a different spot to improve growing conditions?
  • Where are my current crops located in the garden layout and where can I rotate them for the following season?

Late autumn is a good time to try and address problems from the previous year. It is not good to be scrambling for solutions in the midst of the growing season. The gardener has time to take on systemic issues with the garden with less urgency and more thought.

It is also important to think about the environment when revising a garden plan every year. Many small ways are available to increase a garden’s productivity and its value as a wildlife habitat without doing further damage to the earth through the use of tilling and insecticides.

As stewards of the earth as well as harvesters, this is the gardener’s duty to the land he/she works. If the land is not protected and appreciated, then it will not produce a good harvest.

Winter gardening jobs

Prune your roses

Most types of roses should be pruned in January or February before the leaves emerge. Cut back the plant to about half to create an even, rounded shape, and remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems.

Planting and pruning trees

Bare-rooted trees can be planted between November and March but make sure the soil is not frozen. You can also prune fruit trees. Remove dead or rubbing branches and open the crown to allow for easier harvesting.

Herbaceous perennials

Leave some herbaceous perennials to create a winter habitat for the wildlife in your garden. This will make the winter months easier for insects such as ladybirds.

Look after wildlife

Leave out birdfeeders and water baths or break the ice on ponds so our feathered friends can get a drink. A healthy garden ecosystem also needs insects so why not make a bug hotel?

Protect outside taps

Drain outside taps and isolate them if you can. This will prevent burst pipes and a damaged tap in frosty weather. If you can’t isolate your garden tap then insulate exposed pipes and fit a tap cover.

Cover woodland plants

Cover tender and newly-planted woodland plants with fleece or enviromesh. Or you could create a wigwam out of canes and hessian. Keeping the roots dry greatly increases the plant's chances of survival.

How to Prepare the Soil for a Vegetable Garden

Last Updated: October 4, 2019 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Steve Masley. Steve Masley has been designing and maintaining organic vegetable gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years. He is a Organic Gardening Consultant and Founder of Grow-It-Organically, a website that teaches clients and students the ins and outs of organic vegetable gardening. In 2007 and 2008, Steve taught the Local Sustainable Agriculture Field Practicum at Stanford University.

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If you want to grow your own vegetables, your garden needs to have the proper type of soil to provide nutrients to your plants. Luckily, there are easy ways that you can prepare the soil to get the best yield throughout the growing season. Start by testing the soil in your garden, then use organic materials and fertilizers to adjust the pH and drainage. Once the soil is ready, form it into rows for your vegetables so you can plant them!

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