The growing season is approaching its end, and now your garden needs attention of a different sort. For some, this means clearing everything down to the bare soil and simply waiting for warm weather to come again. BUT, if you want to maximize soil health and improve growth next year, taking these five, simple steps will help make all the difference.
Before you get started working on your garden soil, take a look at the winter weather forecast for the area. Note the first frost dates--these can be late October in Northern Virginia but are usually in November--and plan your winterization schedule accordingly. You want to get everything done before it gets too cold to work outside.
1 – Clean Up Your Garden
Deadhead dry plants. Remove broken sticks. Take away anything unsightly that will make the neighbors complain. After that, let things be. Do not strip all your gardens down to the bare topsoil. Fallen leaves and dead annual plants will deteriorate over time and add essential organic materials and nutrients to the soil. Also, the seeds and plant parts provide important food and shelter for birds and insects that help make your garden ecosystem healthy. However, it is important to get rid of weeds that you do not want to sprout next year.
2 – Cover Delicate Plants
If your plants are native to Northern Virginia, you can skip this step--no special treatment is needed to survive the winter! For non-natives, use landscaping cloth or even fabric sheets to cover tender shrubs and perennials that still show above the ground in winter to protect them from any snow and frost that we get. Remove these as often as possible to let the sunshine it and give them a breath of fresh air. This is an ongoing maintenance tip all cold-climate gardeners should follow.
3 – Spread Compost
Even if you let old plant parts and autumn leaves stay on the ground, cover them up with a thick layer of rich compost. This nutritious organic material is simply the best soil amendment you can choose for maximum growth in the new year. It replenishes organic matter and essential nutrients that feed plants without using unnecessary and potentially hazardous chemicals. You can purchase bulk compost for your whole yard or choose bagged compost for smaller spaces.
4 – Plant Trees and Woody Shrubs
If you want to spruce up your landscaping for your entire yard, autumn is the perfect time to plant hearty trees and shrubs. Make sure you dig some of the all-important compost into the root hole to maximize nutrition for next year’s growth. What you can plant and when depends largely on your hardiness zone, so do your research before heading to the nursery.
5 – Finish With a Layer of Mulch
Mulch provides more than an attractive finish between bedding plants. For flower gardens and around shrubs and trees, a couple of inches of organic mulch provides protection, installation, and some organic benefits as well. It can also help the compost deteriorate more fully into the ground as it will not wash away in a rainstorm or dry out too much in the cold. You can learn more about the benefits of mulch and how to buy a good mulch in some of our other blog posts. Vegetable gardens do not usually get mulched; a thick, rich layer of compost materials is the best bet there.
All the other steps to winterize things involve cleaning up and maintaining your tools and equipment and making plans for next year’s garden. Even though you may not get the enjoyment of working with the dirt and plants directly, you can enjoy the downtime to learn about new plant types and figure out how they will fit into your front or backyard worlds.