Preparing the vegetable garden for winter

By: Lisa Johnson, Horticulture Outreach Specialist

Fall is here, so it’s a good time to think about preparing the vegetable garden for winter. There are things you can do now to protect or extend harvest of existing crops and prepare your soil for next year.

Here are some tips for existing crops:

  • Tomatoes are very frost-sensitive. They can be harvested green if frost threatens and ripened in closed paper bags indoors. Don’t refrigerate them; this affects flavor.
  • Light frost makes spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards sweeter, so you can wait a little to harvest them. You can use small hoops covered by clear plastic or even a large, clear plastic bin with the sides mulched with straw to protect these crops into winter (at least for a time if not all winter)
  • Winter squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkins tolerate light frost but not a hard freeze. Cure them in warm dry conditions after harvesting. Check out this link for more information on vegetable storage.
  • Asparagus ferns can be left up or cut back just slightly. Over winter, if left on, dead ferns catch snow and keep the soil cooler, protecting crowns and delaying premature spring spear emergence, shielding them from frost damage. However, if you’ve had asparagus beetles, which can overwinter in the foliage, you should cut the ferns down.
  • Mulch in your garlic for winter
  • Cut rhubarb back for winter
  • Removing diseased or infested material now helps prevent problems in spring. ‘Clean’ material can be shredded and tilled into the garden to increase organic matter, or composted.
  • Keep good records, or take digital photos so you know what you planted where. This helps you rotate vegetables from different plant families to different parts of the garden and prevent disease and insect build-up. There should be a 4 year rotation between families. If your garden is too small to rotate crops and you have regular and/or severe disease issues, consider growing some plants in pots using bagged potting soil.

For more information on gardening things you can do now, check out our Articles for Fall section.

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