How to Prep Your Garden for Every Season
You’ve canned the last of your summer harvest, and you’re already planning what to can from your late fall and early winter harvest. While making your plans, remember to prepare your garden for next spring’s planting, and for every season.
Planting cover crops like cereal rye will keep microbes in the soil active during the winter months and will give your garden a jump start in the spring by adding organic material when you till them into the soil. If you roll them down to form a mat before they go to seed, they can also help to suppress weeds and prevent topsoil erosion in the fall, winter and spring.
Covering your garden with compost for the winter months will also help protect and prepare your garden for spring. Another way to protect your garden from spring pests is to leave vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and radishes in the ground until just before you plant in the spring. They will act as lures for bugs and in the spring they will release compounds to kill off some pests.
Salt in the winter does a number on ice, but it can also do a number on your garden by pulling life-giving water away from the roots of plants. Consider using ice salt alternatives that are biodegradable and not as damaging to wildlife or local water resources, or using birdseed to add a rough surface to ice-covered walkways and feed birds at the same times. Fill in any low spots in your lawn and garden before snow falls to prevent damage from ice.
Covering your shrubs with burlap rather than plastic will also protect them from winter winds, and trimming perennial flowers down to just a few inches above ground and covering them with a thick layer of straw or leaves raked from your yard will help to protect them from snow and ice damage. You should also have any trees on your property inspected every few years, or sooner if you suspect that a tree has been damaged by insects or disease.
Winter doesn’t have to be a colorless season in your yard or garden. Plant evergreens, trees that will lose their leaves to expose unique bark, flowers that bloom until late fall and shrubs with brightly colored berries, and you will have a beautiful winter that could almost compare to spring.
Once the snow melts, gardeners get itchy green thumbs begging to get dirty. This is the time to make repairs to winter-damaged raised beds, fencing or trellises. When garden beds are dry enough, mulch spots where you have pulled weeds to prevent more from coming up and prepare for your spring planting by topping them with compost or seasoned manure.
If an unexpected frost threatens your seedlings, cover them with whatever you have available if you don’t have a starter greenhouse. One practical way to recycle empty plastic milk jugs is to cut the bottom off of the jug and use them to cover seedlings to protect them. If the weather remains chilly during the night but without risk of a freeze, you can also use empty milk jugs to keep your seedlings warm. Fill them with water, and as the sun warms the water during the day, it will release the heat at night to keep the seedlings warm.
Spring is also the time to move any shrubs before they begin to leaf, cut back damaged or dead limbs on trees and shrubs and prune fruit trees. Waiting until they bud will cause them to stress and will lead to a smaller harvest for fruit trees. You should also apply any oils or sprays to prevent insect infestations or diseases.
Summer can be a time when some gardeners step back from gardening and step into relaxing. Unfortunately, weeds don’t keep the same schedule and they can quickly overrun your carefully planned garden if given the chance. With hotter temperatures, even one forgotten day of watering can cause plants to struggle. One way to keep your summer weeding easier is to fill a bed with one type of flower or vegetable so weeds will stand out and be easier to identify and pull.
Keeping your summer garden flowering until fall means remembering to deadhead flowering plants to help them produce new blooms. You can also add at least three inches of mulch to prevent weeds from coming up and water from evaporating. Running drip lines to ensure that your plants are watered to a depth between six and 12 inches will also help the roots become stronger, making the plant better able to withstand days of extreme heat and resist insect infestations.
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