As fall rushes in, it’s time to think about putting your garden to bed for the winter. From the fall cleanup to preparing a layered compost pile, you can get that garden in shape before the winter rain and snow arrive.
Stop Weeds Before They Start
Start the garden cleanup by clipping large weeds with anvil pruners and popping the plant, seeds and all, into a large trash bag. By following a “seeds-be-gone” policy, you reduce the number of weed seeds germinating in spring. After removing any large weeds, mow the lawn with a mulching mower and rake up any dead leaves. Place grass trimmings and leaves on the compost pile or set aside for a layered pile on the garden bed.
Finish the Harvest
When frost is in the forecast, pick any remaining vegetables. Tomatoes can finish ripening on the kitchen counter, in a brown paper bag, or you can fry up a batch of fried green tomatoes. Winter vegetables can wait a little longer; for example, cabbage leaves sweeten with a touch of frost. In USDA zone 9, a winter vegetable garden filled with broccoli, cabbage, leeks, kale and Swiss chard may grow all winter.
Take Time to Tidy Up
Remove all plant debris from the garden bed. Take out the old, crumbling mulch, and put it on the compost pile to finish breaking down. Rake or till the soil thoroughly to disturb any hibernating pests, viruses or fungi. Leave the bed open to the elements — and the birds — for up to 30 days before adding layers of compost, manure or other amendments.
Cover the Garden Bed
Remove any weeds that germinated after you tilled the garden bed. Then build a layered compost pile to decompose over the winter. Rake 1- to 2-inch layers of green and brown matter over the garden bed. Begin with the green layer, which might be green grass clippings, coffee grounds, chopped kitchen scraps or manure. Next, add a layer of chopped leaves, shredded paper, sawdust or wood ash from the fireplace. Continue adding layers until you run out of materials.
The pile may be quite tall, but no worries, it will slowly shrink as it decomposes. Sprinkle the pile with water until it is thoroughly damp. Finally, loosely cover the pile with a layer of mulch, chopped straw or black plastic, and let it “sleep” all winter.
This slow, no-dig, no-turn method of composting takes several months to decompose. The smaller you chop the ingredients, the faster they will meld into a rich, crumbling compost. When spring arrives, plant seeds or transplant seedlings directly into the finished compost, and you’ll enjoy a beautiful, healthy garden all next year.