Winterizing your garden

The crops are in, the first frost has decimated whatever was left, markets are over, but the work isn’t over yet. In fact, it’s often one of the busiest times for farmers. That last push is crucial, and it can be difficult to get motivated in the cool mornings and reduced daylight. Most farmers are close to burnout by this time. My partner and I like to take a well deserved vacation in November so there’s a real fire under our asses to meet that Halloween deadline. Besides the usual firewood stacking and yard clean up, I’ve posted my autumn to-do list:

PLANTING:  Most people are stoked to plant in the spring, and busy garden centers at that time are proof. Fact is, the fall is the best time to plant and deals can be had. I like to plant perennials, spring bulbs and fruit trees. Garlic, of course, should always be planted now. They will stay dormant throughout winter and get the earliest possible start in the spring. Cool wet weather should get their roots established before the hot dry summer.

PRESERVING SURPLUS: This is the time to use up what’s left. Pickle, make jams, freeze, dehydrate and juice. It’s a shame to see your hard work wasted. Trade, barter or give it away.

DIGGING/STORING/COVERING TENDER PLANTS: If your favourite plant is pushing its winter hardiness zone, you will have to protect it or move it indoors. Perennials should be cut back and mulched, roses and hydrangeas should be hilled with dirt. Really tender stuff should be potted and slowly acclimatized to the indoors. We are busy at this time digging up hundreds of dahlia tubers and storing them in crates in our garage. Some root crops can be mulched and covered with plywood and harvested throughout the winter.

REMOVING THE POLY FROM HOOP HOUSES:  If you don’t do this now, you will inevitably be shovelling and/or waking up to a collapsed greenhouse.

SHUTTING DOWN AND DRAINING WATER LINES: If you don’t do this now you will inevitably be facing split lines and fittings in the spring. Roll up hoses and hang them up.

SERVICE MACHINERY: This is the best time to fix broken stuff, maintain and winterize anything mechanical. Put it away in a dry spot.

COVER CROP: Fall rye and legumes are excellent amendments and protect your soil from erosion and weeds. Plant them now and turn the green carpet under in the spring. Topdressing with manure is also an excellent idea.

FERTILIZING: This is often overlooked at this time. Look for high potassium (K) to increase hardiness and Phosphorus (P) for early root growth in the spring. Feed anything that didn’t thrive and seemed depleted. If you soil tends to be acidic, lime now to raise PH as it takes many months to adjust.

RAKE LEAVES: While this can be done in the spring, it’s easier to do now when they’re dry and they can be used as mulch or compost. Whatever you do, don’t burn them, you just smoke out your neighbours. Cleaning up under fruit trees is important to prevent the spread of  pests and disease.

CLEARING AND BURNING BRUSH: With the leaves gone, its easier to brush cut. It’s also often the safest time to burn it.  Theres nothing better than watching “Hippie TV” on a cool autumn evening.

PICK STUFF UP:  It’s a drag to find rusted tools and odds and ends when the snow melts.

TAKE NOTES: While your memory is fresh, this is a good time to reflect on your successes, failures and what you plan to change next year.