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BEACON Senior News

8 essential tips to prepare your garden for winter

Sep 29, 2023 09:14PM ● By Bryan Reed

According to the Celtic calendar, November 1 marks the onset of winter—nearly two months before the Winter Solstice on December 21. The Celtic calendar also appoints August 2 as the first day of fall harvest, which better aligns with our seasonal calendar here in Colorado. Tomatoes, peppers, okra and melon are ripe and plentiful when August rolls around. Peaches peak then, and apples and pears aren’t far behind. Our cool October nights dial back summer crop production and a frost usually puts a firm stop to summer annuals. 

I give myself a deadline of October 31 to complete my fall chores. Just like we fortify our homes for cold weather by draining the swamp cooler and blowing out sprinkler lines, we finish out the summer garden by pulling irrigation lines and adding compost so that we have unrestricted access to the soil. Here are a few other things we can do this month while the weather is favorable: 

1) Push your plants. Prepare for your final harvest by stressing plants so they reach full maturity and put every last bit of energy into fruit production. 

One way of doing this is to dig a shovel blade into one or two sides of the plant, severing some of its roots. It may be hard to do this to our little plant babies, but they will die off in the cold anyway. Pushing them into this stage of maturity will pay off because the plant will focus its resources on producing seeds, which are inside the vegetable we want to eat. Tomatoes can ripen faster and melons can size up quicker. 

2) Collect seeds. Now is your last chance to collect seeds for future planting. 

3) Plant garlic. The window is still open for planting garlic (October 3-17 are optimal planting dates; October 10-12 are ideal for root crops). 

For garlic planting tips: Plant these cold-hardy crops now for a more flavorful winter

4) Avoid pruning trees and shrubs. This can stimulate woody plants to produce new growth when we want them to direct energy down into the roots, not upward into the leaves. I leave the foliage on all my perennial plants for over-wintering. The frosted back leaves act as a mulch to protect the roots, and the upright texture attracts blowing snow for better moisture all winter. 

5) Mow the lawn, but set the mower on a higher setting to leave more grass for over wintering. The extra biomass can insulate the roots in the event of a really cold winter. Now is also a great time to schedule a tune-up for your mower and yard equipment, as the shops are less busy. 

6) Add compost and mulch. Once you’ve added compost, insulate your garden with mulch. Although there are no roots to protect, this extra layer moderates the temperatures so the soil microbes, worms and dung beetles that live in the soil won’t freeze and die. Plus, it prevents the soil from getting cold, which results in better seed germination come spring. Leaves work well as mulch, but straw tends to stay in place longer. 

7) Tie up any climbing plants for added support. Young, new growth of honeysuckle and wisteria can get wind damaged in winter conditions. Don’t use twine or wire to secure them, as you don’t want that rubbing on the branches and canes. I previously used old pantyhose because it’s flexible, but I find that proper plant tape or grape tape lasts longer.

8) Start a compost pile. I generate food waste all winter, so by stockpiling fallen leaves, I continue to make compost every time I fill a food waste bucket. Generally, two parts leaves to one part food waste will make a nice carbon-to-nitrogen ratio to get the composting process started. Fall and winter run more humid so the compost pile stays moist longer.