By Catherine Winter
The only things growing in my garden right now are another burst of French sorrel, and winter savory. Everything else has been picked, gone to seed, browned, or been carried off by some random wild herbivore.
Sure, I’ve sown some more peas, beets, and kale in the hope that I may get a second harvest in, but I’m not being terribly optimistic. Weather this year has been absolutely insane, and we’re as likely to get early frost as we are another massive heat wave.
I normally take down my garden in mid October, as I can dismantle everything in peace, whilst basking in the glory that early autumn in Quebec has to offer. This year, however, I’m undoing quite a bit in mid September, instead. Life responsibilities don’t always flow in harmony with the seasons, nor are the seasons dependable from one year to the next.
And so, we do the best we can, when and how we can.
There’s enough pressure out there for us to adhere to various expectations, but gardens are a bit more lenient in that regard. Bless them for their adaptability and lack of judgement.
Putting Everything to Bed
When it comes to prepping your garden for winter, most of it is pretty intuitive.
You can cut back many perennials so they’ll grow anew in springtime, but do your research to find out whether the specific varieties you grow need to be pruned or not. For example, I hack my berry canes back a bit, but I don’t cut them down as thoroughly as my hydrangeas.
Hardy herbs like thyme, rosemary, and savory can be clipped right down to the base of their stems. The herbs themselves can be hung to dry for culinary use, and the plants will grow back enthusiastically once Spring returns.
Spent herb and vegetable stems can be pulled up and tossed into your compost heap, as long as they were healthy and didn’t suffer from any pests or diseases during the growing season. If they’re still healthy, use the scrap bits in soup stock.
Pull out as many weeds as possible. If you don’t, you’ll have to contend with them (and their offspring from dropped seeds) come springtime.
Oh, and be sure to save seeds from as many plants as possible so you can grow those species again next year. Even better, you can share and trade those seeds with your friends, family, and community.
Protective and Cosy Blankets
Mulch and burlap can be a couple of your plants’ best friends.
You know those lovely leaves that fall all over your lawn and garden? Leave them where they are. They’ll create a protective barrier for the plants beneath, and will release nutrients into the soil as they decompose over the winter.
The exception to this is oak leaves, as they’re quite acidic and can alter your soil’s pH levels. If your berry or nightshade vegetable patches are covered in oak leaves, that’s fine: they thrive in acidic soil. For almost everything else, rake them away.
Put down a layer of straw over your beds if your area tends to get heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures. This is especially helpful for perennial beds, and over bulbs that you may have planted over the past couple of months.
If you have young berry bushes and fruit or nut trees, wrap them in burlap. Not only will this insulate them against the cold and snow, it’ll also deter rodents and deer from gnawing on them.
Taking a few extra steps now will be of great help when it comes to spring planting. Your future self will thank you for it, truly.
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