Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Preparing Your Garden for Winter
Katelyn Brinkerhoff, Horticulture Educator

The end of the growing season is creeping up on us as colder temperatures start to move in. It is time for us to start thinking about our after-harvest care for our vegetable gardens. Proper care in the fall can lead to a more successful garden next growing season.

Plant Clean Up

This is one of the most important steps when doing your fall preparations. Removing and destroying any residue of diseased plants will help minimize disease problems next year. Many plant pathogens can overwinter on infected stems, leaves, and other plant parts that are left behind. This step is especially important for potatoes and tomatoes because the foliar diseases that attack them can overwinter in the dead foliage left in the garden. Do not throw the diseased plants into your compost! You can throw them into your trash, or deeply bury the residue plant material to help them breakdown quicker to prevent overwintering.

Cover Crops

Consider planting a cover crop in the fall. A cover crop is a crop that is grown to control weeds or return organic matter and nitrogen to the soil by tilling in before the crop sets seed. There are a few options of cover crops such as clover, vetch, oats, rye, or wheat. The addition of a cover crop is beneficial to the health of your soil by holding the soil in place to prevent soil erosion (blowing or washing away) during the winter.

Sowing the cover crop seed thickly will create a cover that will not allow weeds to compete. However, it is important to mow the plants down if they flower, to prevent the cover crop from self-seeding. If it is not maintained the cover crop can become a weed themselves.

In the spring, till the cover crop into the garden to create green manure. This will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil. You will want to till your cover crop in a few weeks before new planting begins. This will allow the green manure to return the nutrients and organic matter to the soil. This is also the to add fertilizer to the soil!

Garden tools

At the end of the season it is important to clean and prepare your tools for the next growing season. By properly caring for your gardening tools they can last a lifetime! It is important to clean your tools after every use. Most tools can be cleaned with a forceful stream of water from your hose outside. Built-up soil on your tools can be removed using a brush. If there is a heavy buildup of sap, scrape with a paint scraper or sharp chisel while taking care not to gouge the metal. Clean with alcohol, mineral spirits (paint thinner) or household foaming bathroom cleaner. Follow up with fine steel wool. After the tools are clean this would be the best time to sharpen any dull tools.

Once your tools are cleaned make sure they are completely dry by using a rag before preparing for storage. Storing your tools dirty and damp can lead to deterioration and rust. Another added step to prevent rust on your metal tools would be to lightly oil them using a lightweight motor oil or WD-40. Clean up any rough parts of wooden parts of your tools by trimming and sanding down to create a smooth surface. Wooden handles can be coated with linseed oil to keep them smooth and splinter-free.

Taking time to care for your garden in the fall will give you a fresh, clean start to a successful garden in the spring! Once you have successfully cleaned up your garden for the season it is time to start planning for your next season. Happy gardening!

up from the earth volunteers

Katelyn Brinkerhoff, Horticulture Educator

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

712-276-2157 or