Top Tips to Prepare Your Garden for the Cold

Our local expert's best tips for prepping your garden for fall and winter.


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Before beginning any cold-season gardening projects, you need to know the approximate depth of the frost line and date of first expected killing frost for your zone.

Mid-October is usually when the first frost happens but it could come earlier or later than that. There is a month wide window that we could expect the first frost to come in, which will kill any remaining summer plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. Luckily, the depth of frost isn’t too much to worry about for gardening in our area.

 

What are the best practices for gardening in New York zones?

Keeping the soil covered with mulch in between plants such as tomatoes. Usually you will plant your tomatoes four feet apart, and then plant shorter, quicker growing crops such as radishes, arugula, etc. underneath the tomatoes to keep the soil covered, which yields a better crop. Most natural soil doesn’t have all of the minerals that most vegetable plants need to survive, so it’s a good idea to get a soil test to see what minerals your soil is deficient in. If your soil is deficient in needed minerals, your plants will have problems with diseases because they’re not getting the proper “food” needed to thrive. Also, when you buy fertilizer and soil from the store, it won’t always have everything that the plants need. 


Related: Keep Your Garden Growing With Vegetables You Can Plant in the Fall


What are the best fruits and vegetables to plant in September and October?

October is too late for planting. Daylight hours are limited in the Fall so around Oct 15th is when plants stop growing so make sure your plants are ready to harvest before October 15th. If your plants are protected, you can pick them throughout November and December while they’re dormant. Some vegetables such as arugula, mizuna, radishes, and other leafy greens only take a month to grow so you could plant them in September and harvest them in October. The later you get into the fall, the less options you have for plants but August has plenty of options such as beets, carrots, broccoli rabe, bok choy, spinach, onions.

 

Why is mulch so important for winter gardens?

Mulch is important in every season but especially helpful in the wintertime. When you go for a walk in the woods, you rarely see bare dirt, you always see leaves on the ground, which is the “natural mulch” that you want to mimic. Mulch helps retain moisture so the plants roots don’t dry out. Mulch will provide a better microclimate for not only the roots of the plants, but also the microbiology in the soil such as bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi depend on a stable climate underneath the leaves and the soil. They work with the plants to provide nutrients for a healthy plant which will provide more nutrient rich foods.

 

What are some tips for watering your plants when the ground is frozen?

You don’t need to water your plants when the ground is frozen because plants are dormant in the winter.


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What about getting the timing right when planning and planting a winter garden?

A great book to reference is The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. Eliot Coleman is a farmer in Maine who pioneered winter gardening techniques. You can grow plants in the fall and keep them covered and protected so that you can pick them all winter long even if the plants aren’t still growing. You can still harvest plants for weeks after they’re done growing.

 

Which covering/protections work best for your winter garden?

For instance, if you’re growing carrots in the fall, instead of digging them up when it gets cold, you can leave them in the ground and cover them with 6 inches of leaves or hay and that will protect the plants and keep the ground from freezing. Whenever you want to pick the carrots, you can dig them up all winter long because the soil won’t be frozen thanks to the mulch covering. This technique works with root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and sunchokes.

 

What can you do to protect your plants before a big snow storm?

In substitute of hay or leaves, farmers also use a thin white fabric sheet to cover their crops in the case of early frost or if they want to prolong the farming season. Sunlight and rain can still go through the sheet but it protects from insects and also provides frost protection, which makes it a great alternative to mulching. A great brand that farmers use is called Reemay.  


Related: How to Capitalize on the Plants You Already Have


What should gardeners do to protect their bulbs in the winter?

Planting bulbs to the right depth is very important. Bulbs need to be 4-6 inches deep so they can survive the winter.

 

What is the best way to protect young trees and shrubs from damaging frost?

It’s important to pick the right trees and shrubs for your climate and area. You should plant trees in the spring so that they have a chance to grow their roots and establish themselves before they go dormant for winter. For example, it’s better to plant fruit trees in the springtime. People also cover their young trees and shrubs with burlap for the winter for added protection.

 

Which plants should be brought inside during the winter months?

Fig trees and citrus trees are usually brought inside during the winter or wrapped with sheets to keep them from freezing.


For more information or to sign up for a class at Hilltop Hanover visit their site.

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