1. Harvesting and Storing Vegetables
A. Tender vegetables which includes: tomatoes, zucchini, peas, beans, winter squash, and pumpkins, don't tolerate the frost and should be harvested before the first frost. Pull out all plants and crop debris, if any of these plants are diseased, either burn them or trash them. Do not leave any infected plants around or put in a compost pile.
B. Hardy vegetables which are: brussels sprouts, kale, collards, broccoli, spinach and garlic. These plants will tolerate hard frosts (usually 25° to 28°F) and can be left in the ground. Often they will taste better after a light frost.
- Brussels sprouts can stay in the ground burying the plants up to their tops in wither hay or leaves in late fall, then pulling off the little sprouts as needed through winter.
- Cooking greens like kale and collards can actually become sweeter in the fall and winter once there has been a frost.
- Broccoli and spinach could also survive throughout the winter without any protection.
- Garlic is planted in the fall (October or November) and overwinters for next year’s summer crop.
C. Semi-hardy vegetables can tolerate light frosts (usually 29° to 32°F). Many of these slightly more sensitive vegetables can benefit greatly from some protection such as a cold-frame or floating row cover. Or simply harvest them before serious frosts set in.
- Cabbages and Swiss chard can tolerate light frosts, but the outside leaves could get damaged or tough but just peel them away before using the rest of the greens.
- Arugula, leeks, mustard greens, cauliflower, English peas, and Kohlrabi can die if unprotected during the extreme winter cold. Simply using a row cover can make the difference.
- Root crops like carrots, turnips, beets, rutabagas, and parsnips can remain in the garden until a frost and then can be removed in good condition, but make sure to get them dug and stored before the ground actually freezes.
- Potatoes can also stay in the soil, but making sure they aren't left on the soil surface for any period of time is very important. Dig and removing the potatoes to a dry, warm area out of the sun will begin to start the process of letting the skin toughen up for storage. But dry in a single layer and make sure to turn periodically this takes about two weeks. Carefully remove visible dirt from the potatoes, but do not wash them: their skins will toughen for longer winter storage.
2. Prepare Herbs for Winter
Herbs are a different mixed bag when it comes to needing winter protection. Some can easily tolerate a cold season, and are very hardy, while others will need extra help:
- Sage being a perennial in most areas does not need special treatment for the winter. Before the frost stops its growth, cut a branch or two to dry and use in stuffing.
- Rosemary is a tender evergreen perennial that should be protected outside (Zones 6 and 7) or potted and brought inside (Zone 5 and colder) for the winter.
- Thyme is a perennial that is fairly indestructible. It will go dormant in the fall, then revive by itself during spring.
- Parsley, a biennial (living or lasting for 2 years), will withstand a light frost. In Zone 5 or colder, cover it on cold nights. It has a long tap-root so it doesn't transplant well, so you are better off starting a new plant come spring.
- Chives are hardy perennials, you can dig up a bunch and pot it. then let the foliage die down and then freeze it for several weeks. Bring the pot indoors to a sunny, cool spot. Water well and harvest chives throughout the winter.
- Basil is a tender annual that won’t survive the winter outside in most regions of North America. Dig up the small plants and bring them inside to extend their season.
- Oregano is a somewhat of a hardy perennial, but will need some winter protection in the form of a layer of straw mulch.
Image is Parsley lightly frosted
3. Cover Up those Garden Beds
By adding compost in late autumn instead of spring it will allow the soil to soak up the nutrients over winter. Before the ground freezes, adding a couple inches of compost or manure on the tops of the beds. Adding a light layer of straw, or mulch will be help with the soil erosion, weed development or nutrient leaching. You can sow cover crops as another option to help improve your soil by using winter rye.
4. Prepare Berry Patches for Winter
Berries are pretty hardy plants that may require fall pruning and care:
- In early to mid-fall:
- Prune summer-bearing raspberries, leaving six of the strongest brown canes for every 1 foot of your patch.
- Prune fall-bearing raspberries relentlessly, cutting them to the ground after they have borne fruit. New canes will come up in the spring and bear fruit.
- Plant blackberries in the fall and then mound up the soil around the canes to prevent hard frosts from rising them out of the ground.
- Many of the blueberry varieties are hardy. But put a thin layer of mulch around their base of the plant for protection.
- Cover strawberry beds with a layer of straw mulch.
5. Prepare Perennials for Winter
- By watering perennial flowers and flowering shrubs in the fall; they will appreciate this for during the winter months.
- Many perennials with bountiful seedheads such as coneflowers or rudbeckia, can be left to be cut back in the spring, the birds will enjoy their seeds through winter. However, there are some perennials such as powdery mildew, especially bee balm, phlox, and hostas which are best to cut back to avoid spreading diseases. Wait until the ground has frozen hard and the foliage has died before cutting back the leaves. Leave about 3 inches of stem and also add mulch to them with a thick layer of leaves or straw.
- If you are adding a new flower bed next spring, cover that area now with mulch or heavy plastic to discourage weed growth for when the ground warms up in the spring. If the new bed is going where a lawn is now, mow the grass down as much as possible before covering.
- Cover pachysandra with a mulch of pine needles several inches deep, before a heavy snowfall.
- Potted chrysanthemums should be moved to a sheltered spot when their flowers fade. Make sure you water well and then cover with a thick layer of straw to overwinter them.
- When the leaves of dahlias, gladioli, and cannas are blacked by the frost. Dig them up carefully and let them dry indoors on newspaper for a few days packing them in styrofoam peanuts, dry peat moss, or shredded newspaper. They shouldl be stored in a dark, humid spot at 40° to 50°F (5° to 10°C) until spring.
6. Winterize Roses
- You can water your roses regularly through the fall; avoid fertilizing 6 weeks before the date of your first fall frost.
- Remove any dead or diseased canes.
- After the first frost, with compost or leaves mulch plants to just above the swollen point where the stem joins the rootstock.
- If you are in an area where winter temperatures are severe, enclose the low-growing roses with a cylinder of chicken wire or mesh and then fill the enclosure with chopped leaves, compost, mulch, dry wood chips, or pine needles.
- For climbing and tea roses, carefully pull down the long canes lay them flat on the ground, and then cover them with pine branches or mulch. This needs to be done before the daily temperatures go down below freezing.
7. Prepare Trees and Shrubs for Winter
- Do not prune trees and shrubs right before winter even if they look a little overgrown, wait until next spring. Pruning involves removing tissue and opening wounds that have no time to heal before the cold arrives. Pruning stimulates a tree or shrub to attempt to grow, but any new growth produced in the fall is likely to be killed because it has not had any time to harden off or become stable.
- If you get early snows in your area, cover small trees and annually sheading shrubs with a wooden structure to protect them from heavy snow. Or you can circle them with a cylinder of chicken wire fencing and fill in the space between the tree and the fence with straw or shredded leaves. Or try driving stakes into the ground at four corners around the plant and wrap burlap or heavy plastic around the stakes, securing it at the top, center, and bottom with twine.
8. Turn Off the Watering System
If you haven’t already so you need to turn off your water. The hose or irrigation connection when it frosts could get damaged. In warmer climates you may be able to simply disconnect the system from a hose spigot and just allow the water to drain out, but living in colder climates you will want to either blast all the water out with an air compressor or just bring everything inside for the winter.
9. Keep Your Garden Helpers Happy
Try to get a feeding routine, keep the feeders topped off, leave out fresh water in your bird bath, If you are in an area that freezes, you can get warmers to keep the water from freezing.
For their snacks, some birds prefer Suet (high energy) for the colder months, while other like sunflower seed, thistle, fruit and nut blends.
10. Do Your General Garden Maintenance
- Empty all of your containers outside and store upside down to prevent them from cracking during the winter.
- Mow your lawn in the fall, as long as the grass is growing. Grass left too tall when snow arrives can develop into brown patches in the spring.
- Clean up the fallen leaves so you don't get brown patches. depending on where you live, you can rakes them, bag, burn or make compost. When raking place them on a tarp to move to an area for bagging or burning. You can also use this method to move them to an area to run over with the mower to turn them into mulch for perennial and bulb beds. Or, add the shredded leaves to your compost bin.
- Cover your compost pile with plastic, tarp, or a thick layer of straw before snow falls.
- Drain the fuel tank on your lawn mower or any other power equipment or add fuel preventatives. Consult the owner’s manual for other winter maintenance.
- Clean up your tools before putting them away. It's best to oil the tools to avoid rust. Also add oil to your hose nozzles and sprinkler attachments.
- For young fruit trees, it’s best to wrap the lower trunk of the tree with a pestproof tree wrap, which will prevent mice and voles from snacking on the tree’s bark during the winter.
- Tree wrap will also help to prevent winter injury caused by premature thawing.