As the air begins to cool down and the leaves begin to fall, nature begins to get ready for winter. Does this mean you are finished gardening? Of course not! Protecting your garden against the cold of winter will ensure beautiful flowers next spring!

  1. Pull up all dying plants. Dying plants can become hosts for pests or diseases. Don’t throw the dead plants on your compost pile either as this could be transferred back to your garden.
  2. Cut back your perennials, leaving about four to six inches. However, make sure you don’t do this before the first frost! During a frost, the energy from the top of the plants travels down into the roots. Cutting perennials back too early won’t allow this energy transfer.
  3. Remove slimy leaves. After the first frost, check your garden for any slimy plants or leaves and remove them. Slimy plants will provide a home for pests just like dead plants.

    Image result for coneflowers with butterflies

    Coneflowers are plants that you should leave standing for butterflies!

  4. Leave pretty plants standing! Any plants with a seed head will provide winter food and homes to butterflies and bees. Cutting these back too early could harm your next year’s butterfly population!
  5. Compost, compost, compost. While it doesn’t sound fun, spreading one to six inches of compost on your garden could do wonders. Compost could be anything from kitchen scraps to manure. Try to keep a balanced compost of greens and browns.
  6. Plant your spring bulbs. When you plant your bulbs, plant them at a depth three times deeper than the height of the bulb (a one inch bulb would be planted three inches down). Although the bulbs don’t need water, watering the soil will make it harder for animals to dig up.
  7. Save your raked leaves. As you rake your leaves in the fall, save them for your compost! Leaves hold vital nutrients that can be added to your garden.
  8. Keep late harvest veggies. As you winterize your garden, don’t go destroying everything in your path! Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale are able to withstand a light frost and can even be harvested into winter. They also tend to get sweeter as the weather cools down.
  9. Divide perennials. Fall is a great time to divide up plants. You should divide them six weeks before the ground freezes. This allows the plants to become established in the soil.
  10. Plant cover crops! There are two types of cover crops for your garden- ones that will die with winter and ones that will survive. Cover crops for gardens that will die off in the winter are oats, radish, flax, mung bean, phacelia, and Ethiopian cabbage. Ones that will survive are clovers, vetches, turnips, rye, triticale, barley, and annual rye grass. These can be killed off chemically or mechanically, for example, with a rototiller.

We will also have a garden cover crop blend available by the end of next week!  If you have any questions on cover crops contact me at


About Bret Margraf

As a Nutrient Technician, I spend my time helping farmers manage the nutrients necessary to grow crops, with a special emphasis on the economical and environmental concerns. I also help on grants and educational events. Sampling, analyzing, budgeting and visiting are what I do. I enjoy writing about precision farming technology, cover crops and being responsible citizens.

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