Garden in winter

Putting the garden to bed

Garden Life

Tips from Sarah the Gardener

All good things come to an end there is no denying it. The summer growing season is well and truly over and we are well into the autumn. Some plants may be limping along on their last legs sporadically producing a few tomatoes here or a zucchini there. Some plants may even be having a second wind as the extreme heat of the summer starts to subside.

Winter crops sown earlier in late summer and early autumn have taken their place in the garden and will begin to slow down as the weather cools. It isn’t too late to pop in a few seedlings for a winter harvest, but don’t leave it too much longer. There are a wide variety of vegetables available for cool weather conditions and some even prefer it, so look into what can be grown at this time of year in your area.

As the weather fades further into autumn, the garden often becomes neglected. It is no longer the place of great abundance and new growth, but of decline and decay. It is easy to just walk away from the garden and turn a blind eye to dying plants languishing in the garden, still tied to their stakes, as a reminder that the fair season is no longer with us. However, this can make things harder for yourself next season.
The best thing to do is to clear it all away. Most of the vegetable crops are annuals and aren’t meant to go on producing forever. Allowing them to remain not only looks untidy but can create a wonderful environment for pests and disease to overwinter, so they can come back stronger and in greater numbers in the new season.

Not only will you improve the view over your garden for the winter months, but you can use this as an opportunity to find out how things grow in your garden and improve the conditions for next season. Even dead plants have a lot to tell you. Look at the growth habit, how tall did it get? Did it sprawl unexpectedly? Do you need to leave more space next time? What do the roots look like – was it a deep tap root or a complex network of roots over a wide distance? Was the soil prepared deep and wide enough for the plants?

Writing on notepad
Grab a pen and paper and write it all down. It is also a good time to look back over the growing season and note down any other issues you may have encountered that would benefit from improvements next season.

Did you actually like the favours of the varieties you grew? Maybe you should try something else. Is your garden big enough and in the right place? Did it get enough sun? Do you need to move or extend it? Did you grow too much of some things or possibly not enough of others? Were your structures strong enough or do you need bigger and stronger supports next time? As you clear out the garden, think about how the garden performed and make a list of any changes that need to be made so you will have a more successful garden next season.

As you clear away the old plants they can go into the compost to create a nutrient rich organic material that will enrich the garden in the future. However, don’t put anything in the compost that has evidence of pests or disease. If in doubt throw it out.


Garden in winter

As summer gives way to autumn, crops are eaten and as they finish up, more and more of the garden seems empty. However, it can’t be left this way as nature doesn’t like bare soil and will soon begin to cover it back over with weeds.

If you intend to continue to grow crops over the winter months, then continue to tend your garden as you would in the summer, with regular weeding and feeding. In the chill of winter things grow much slower so in some areas, you may not see a harvest until things warm up again in the spring. This is something to look forward to and better than not having planted anything at all. In a mild winter you may find you will have fresh crops ready throughout the cold weather. Watering may not be needed as frequently, however dry spells in the winter aren’t unheard of so stay vigilant. The weeds will also grow slower, and the pests and diseases won’t be as frequent, but could still cause problems.

If you decide not to tend the garden over the winter months or won’t be using all of your space for cool season crops, you need to prevent weeds so that the soil will be easier to prepare in the spring. You can do this by covering the garden in a layer of mulch. This is a thick layer of material that weeds find difficult to grow in or can’t grow through. This could be a thick layer of compost or well-rotted manure that the worms will pull deep into the root zone and incorporate into the soil over the winter months. A layer of plain brown, non-shiny cardboard with any staples removed also works well. Often shiny cardboard has a thin coating of plastic so best to avoid it. Cardboard may look a little unsightly so a thin layer of your favourite mulch on top will improve the outlook and the worms will love it.

Mustard plants

Growing a cover crop or green manure such as lupin, oats or mustard, to name a few, will not only keep the weeds at bay with its presence, but will lock in any nutrients and prevent them from being leached from the soil in heavy winter rains. Before the cover crops flowers or about six to eight weeks before spring planting, whichever comes first, dig the crop into the soil and allow it to rot down and re-enrich the soil ready for the new season. Green manures have the added benefit of giving you something nice and green to look at over the winter.

Winter gardening can be what you want it to be – a gentle potter over cool season crops, or a well-prepared break from tending the garden in a way that not only makes the start of the new season easier, but slowly improves the condition of your soil.