Before the ground gets too solid to work in from the cold temperatures, clean/remove all annuals, weeds, and debris. Be thorough with this process, because this cleanup is a critical part of winterization regardless if it is a vegetable or flower garden. Any plant material left in the soil can harbor unwanted pests and disease that can carry over to the next growing season in your garden. Diseases/pests alike can all overwinter if given the proper environment where they incubate and lie waiting to come out of dormancy once the soil starts to warm up in the spring. Be vigilant… when you think you’re done… do a once over - toss/turn the soil a little bit to see if any additional garden waste/debris was left hiding in all the nooks of the garden.
The second most important part of the winterization process is mulch/protecting various areas of (if not the entire) garden. A blanket of new mulch over your perennials and various other garden areas will help in many ways; it conserves moisture, inhibits weeds, and moderates soil temperature (you don’t get those really hard freezes and really high heat spikes). Additionally, because the temperature of the soil is consistently moderated where you’ve mulched, you will typically have both an easier and earlier access to work in that soil in early spring.
WHEN TO MULCH
While there are notable reasons why some people wait until after a hard frost to mulch, the decision is completely up to you if you want to mulch immediately after the clean/removal process. If your garden areas are known to have pests such as mice, etc., you may want to hold off until after a hard frost to mulch, as they have been known to burrow and create nests in warm mulch that is laid out in early fall.
WHAT MULCH TYPE
Don’t rush out to the store and grab mulch right away. Did you know that leaves falling from trees during the autumn season are an invaluable asset to our gardens? Practice sustainable gardening while helping to reduce waste, costs and labor for yourself.
Leaves help improve soil in many different ways as they begin to decompose into what is commonly referred to as leaf mold:
When mixed into poor soil, it improves its texture
The coarse structure of leaves creates air spaces in the soil, making it easier for roots to penetrate during active growth.
As the leaves continue to decompose, they improve the soil's fertility. Earthworms especially enjoy dining on particles of leaves that they digest leaving nutrient rich castings all throughout the garden.
Leaf molds integrated into soil helps increase moisture absorption and retains longer it for plants. Absorbing rain equals to reducing wasteful runoff too.