8 Steps to Winterize Your Garden Beds

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Now that we’re well into the fall season, the weather is starting to feel more wintery — at least, it is where I am. As I write this, snow is lightly falling outside, blanketing the yard and the trees in velvety white.

For those of us who live in temperate climates, it’s safe to say that the gardening season is nearing its end for this year. We’ve spent months carefully cultivating our little patches of earth, and hopefully, we’ve been rewarded with a bounty of delicious home-grown foods. But now, with colder days approaching, it’s time to get our gardens ready for a long winter’s rest.

Why Winterize Your Garden Beds?

I’ll be honest; I never used to do anything to prepare my garden for winter. Around late August or early September, I usually lose steam for gardening; I get lazy about tending to my plants and I start to just let the little guys fend for themselves. When things start to wither, I let them go. And in the past, I never bothered with clearing out all the gnarled dead branches and leaves — I figured I’d just let nature take its course.

But I’ve learned that taking just a few simple steps to get the garden ready for winter can help ensure a better growing season next year. For one thing, clearing out all dead plant material creates a clean slate for next year, allows you to amend your soil if needed, and helps remove diseases and pests from your garden. If the plants were happy and healthy, they can also make good compost.

Amending your soil now with nutrients and organic matter gives them a chance to settle into the soil so that it’ll be ready for planting come spring. A layer of mulch will insulate your perennials, protect your garden beds, and keep weeds under control when the weather turns warm again. Now’s a great time to plant any spring-flowering bulbs, and there are even some cold-weather crops you can plant for late fall and early winter harvests.

How to Prepare Your Garden Beds for Winter

Winterizing your garden beds is fairly simple and doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. Simply follow these eight steps and your garden will be winter-ready.

1. Harvest any leftover fruit, veggies, herbs, and seeds.

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If there’s anything left to harvest from your garden, now’s the time to go collect it. By this point in the season, there may not be much left, but make sure to harvest anything you might use. Produce can be frozen, canned, pickled, or made into preserves for a longer shelf life. Flowers and herbs can be bundled and hung up to dry.

One of my favorite parts of harvesting is gathering seeds for next year — it’s fun, easy, and saves you from needing to buy more seeds. It’s simple to harvest seeds from fruits and veggies like tomatoes, zucchinis, melons, peppers, and pumpkins. However, you can also gather seeds from herbs, flowers, and many other plants. All it takes is a little research to find where the plant stores its seeds — some have pods or capsules along their stems, while others store seeds at the base of their flowers.

Photo by Amber Carlson

To harvest seeds from a plant, let it go to seed and then wait for the seedheads or pods to completely ripen — then, you can extract the seeds and store them in labeled envelopes or baggies. A note here: if you’re in doubt about whether your seeds are ripe, wait a little longer! Harvesting too soon can give you immature seeds that won’t sprout. I like to wait until the plant has completed its life cycle and has started to dry out.

2. Move non-hardy plants inside.

If you want to keep some of your non-hardy plant babies alive through the winter, you can move them indoors to a place where they’ll get the light they need and be sheltered from the cold. Potted plants are the easiest to move, but you may also be able to dig up plants from the ground or garden beds and transplant them inside.

For this method to be successful, the plant does need to be fairly small; bigger ones have more developed root systems and are much harder to move. Some species also don’t like having their roots disturbed, period, and can die from transplant shock. I suggest doing research on the plant you intend to move to maximize your chances of a successful transplant.

3. Clear out all weeds and dead vegetation.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Removing all dead plant material from the garden is an essential step in getting your garden ready for winter. I’d say that if you were pressed for time and could only do one of these eight steps, it should be this one. The biggest risk with leaving dead plants in place is that it can allow insects, molds, and diseases to linger in your garden over the winter and re-infest next year’s plants. Bad news!

Start removing annuals from your garden as they begin to die off for the season. While you’re at it, pull any remaining weeds (roots and all) so they don’t come back with a vengeance in the spring. Healthy plant matter can be composted or discarded, but any disease or pest-infested material should be thrown in the trash or burned.

4. Cut back perennials as necessary.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Since perennial plants come back year after year, you don’t want to pull the roots from the ground — unless you want to remove the plant, that is. The above-ground parts of the plant (stems, leaves, and flowers) die back for the winter, while the roots or bulbs beneath the ground survive and send out fresh shoots the following spring.

Certain perennials can benefit from being trimmed to the ground once hard frosts have started to kill the leaves and stems. Bee balm, phlox, and hosta should all be trimmed since they can carry mildews and pest eggs. Other herbs and flowers do well with trimming, but certain types (especially evergreen perennials) should be left alone. 

If you’re unsure about specific plants in your garden, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has more information on which perennials should and shouldn’t be trimmed.

5. Amend your soil as needed.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Now that you’ve cleared old plants out of your garden, you may want to take the opportunity to beef up your soil. If you had a stellar growing season and all of your plants stayed happy until the end, you might not need to worry about this step, but if you suspect that your soil quality is lacking, now’s a good time to make some adjustments.

You can buy kits to test pH, moisture, sunlight, and levels of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in your soil — or you can have your local nursery or gardening extension service test it for you. Once you have the results, you can add compost, manure, fertilizers, minerals, and other ingredients to balance out and enrich the composition of your soil.

If you’d rather not mess with testing or your soil’s not in need of a massive overhaul, you can’t go wrong with mixing some good-quality compost into your beds. Compost adds nutrients, boosts beneficial microbes, and improves soil texture for healthier plants.

6. Plant cold-weather veggies and bulbs.

Tulip bulbs. Photo by Amber Carlson

Once you’re happy with your soil, it’s time to plant any cold-weather crops you’d like to grow. Even in temperate zones like mine — and I live in hardiness zone 6A — it’s not too late to plant leafy greens like spinach and kale, or veggies like carrots, garlic, and onions. While they may not survive the whole winter, you may still get a good harvest or two out of them.

Fall is also the time of year to plant any spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, or crocus — they need the cold of winter followed by spring warmth to snap out of their dormancy and grow. I planted some tulips and grape hyacinths in my front bed and I can’t wait to see how they turn out next year!

7. Cover up your soil and perennial plants.

Put your garden beds to rest by tucking them under a blanket of mulch. Photo by Amber Carlson

With most of the hard work done, you can now cover your soil and perennial plants with mulch to put them to bed for the winter. Mulching protects your soil from erosion, helps it retain nutrients, and controls weed growth — and some mulches have the added benefit of enriching your soil.

You can use traditional mulches such as wood chips or straw, but one excellent (and free) alternative is to mulch with fallen leaves in your yard. All you have to do is run your lawn mower over piles of dry, crunchy leaves — the blades will chop the leaves down into a rich organic mulch that will break down and turn into compost for next year’s garden.

Whatever mulch you choose, layer it on top of any garden beds you’re done using for the season. Adding compost on top of and around perennial plants can give them some insulation and help them come back more vigorously in the spring.

Some gardeners opt to plant cover crops, such as winter rye, that can help build your soil while serving the same purposes as a mulch. Or, if nothing else, you can cover your garden beds with plastic, cardboard, or old carpet.

8. Reflect and make notes on the growing season.

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At this point, all that’s left to do is look back on the growing season you had this year. What worked well? What didn’t work? If you have a garden journal — or if you’d like to start one — make notes on what you observed this year, how well your various plants grew, and what you might do differently next season. 

Part of what makes gardening so fun and rewarding is trying different things, learning from experience, and becoming a more knowledgeable gardener each year. Keeping detailed notes can help you remember what you did in the past so that you can make your next growing season even better.

That’s it — you and your garden beds are now ready for winter! With these simple steps done, you can rest easy knowing that your garden will be ready and waiting for you in the spring. May you enjoy the remainder of this beautiful fall season and have a safe, peaceful winter.

Do you have any other fall gardening tips and tricks to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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Ready to prepare your garden for winter? Here are eight simple steps to make your life easier next spring. #gardening #gardenplanning #gardentipd

9 Fun Facts About Succulents

Love succulents? Here are nine facts you might not have known about these unique plants. #gardening #funfacts
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Succulents are my new gardening obsession. These unusual plants hold a special place in my heart, partly because I grew up in the Southwest and I love anything that reminds me of the desert — it makes me feel like I’m at home. But also, they’re so…cool. Succulents can have an otherworldly look with their fantastical colors, unique shapes and varied textures — like little alien-plants. From the flower-like rosette formations of Echeveria species to the trailing vines of strings-of-pearls, each type is beautiful in its own way and has its own personality. And when you plant a whole bunch of them together in an arrangement or landscape design, the results can be striking.

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I’m also amazed by how little succulents need to survive and how well they can adapt to conditions around them. Even though they are a hugely diverse group of plants (with over 10,000 known species), all succulents have one trait in common: they store water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, which enables them to withstand long periods of drought. Actually, the name “succulent” comes from the Latin sucus, meaning “sap” (referring to the “juiciness” of the leaves). They can thrive in some of the world’s most extreme environments where most other forms of life cannot, which makes them low-maintenance and — generally speaking — easy to grow and care for.

Succulents have been exploding in popularity in recent years, and for me at least, it’s easy to see why. Here are nine fun facts you might not have known about these intriguing plants:

1. They aren’t all native to the desert. Nearly half of all succulent species come from arid regions of Southern Africa, but succulents can be found in every continent except Antarctica, and they live in a variety of climates. Some succulents thrive in mountain regions, and others in tropical rainforests or coastal areas. What this means is that, if you grow succulents, it’s important to do your research and know what species you’ve got. Plants from different regions will have vastly different needs and preferences — what one species loves, another can’t tolerate. Knowing what your specific plants need will set you up for success and head off a lot of frustration (trust me on that one).

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2. Succulents and cacti are not the same thing. The words are often used interchangeably, but cacti are actually a type of succulent. According to The Spruce, cacti generally have no leaves, are covered in spines and have rounded indentations called areoles along their stems. All cacti are succulents because of their water-storing capacity, but there are many types of succulents that are not cacti.

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3. They may change color with the seasons. Changes in temperature, sunlight and watering can cause some succulents to “blush” and turn beautiful colors. Much like human skin, the plant tissues produce pigments to protect themselves from environmental stresses. So, technically, the color change is a sign that the plant is not growing in optimal conditions — but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plants can tolerate a certain degree of stress while still remaining healthy. 

4. Succulents “breathe” at night. Plant leaves take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen through tiny pores in their leaves. Usually, these pores are open in the daytime so that the plants can breathe and perform photosynthesis, and they close at night to protect the plant from the elements. With succulents, it works the opposite way; they breathe at night and close their pores during the day so they don’t lose too much water to evaporation. This is just one of the many special adaptations that allows succulents to conserve water.

5. The leaves are coated with a wax film that resists water and protects the plant from sun damage. This wax coating, which is also known as farina, also provides some natural defense against pests and diseases. To keep your succulent babies happy and healthy, it’s best to avoid touching them any more than necessary because the farina wipes off very easily — and unfortunately, it doesn’t come back once it’s gone.

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6) Some succulents don’t need soil. If you’re after something really low-maintenance that doesn’t even need to be potted, try air plants. These succulents fasten to trees, rocks, or whatever they can find for support, but air plants gather water and nutrients through tiny scales on their leaves instead of through their roots. They need to be misted or soaked in a bowl of water periodically, but apart from that, they hardly need any care. And they’re just so cute!

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7) They are incredibly resilient. To illustrate this, let me tell you about my prickly pear. I bought it last summer and planted it in a big pot. It thrived in the summer months but shriveled up as soon as the weather turned cold. I assumed it was dead and threw it into the scrap pile in our backyard, where it got buried in dead branches. Fast forward to this summer — one day I was doing yard work and I found my old prickly pear growing up through the scrap pile. That thing survived the winter deep freezes and snow, with roots exposed, and grew up sideways through the branches towards what little bit of sunlight it could find. Unbelievable!

8) Succulents spawn easily. Succulenting (yes, I’m coining that term!) doesn’t have to be an expensive habit hobby. You don’t have to buy new plants every time you want to grow your collection; with many types of succulents, you can pull leaves or take cuttings from existing plants and easily grow new babies (it’s really fun!). Some types of succulents produce offsets called “pups” that can eventually grow up to become full-fledged plants, which is another way they reproduce; others can multiply via flowers and seeds. Growing new succulents is not exactly a quick process, but if you’re patient, the rewards are worth the wait.

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9) Some succulents have medicinal and culinary uses. Aloe is famed for the soothing, healing jelly that comes from its leaves; it may be best known for sunburn relief but according to Medical News Today, it also has antimicrobial properties and is nourishing for the skin. It’s also edible. Prickly pear, also known as nopal, can be peeled and cooked, and is especially popular in Latin American cuisines. And, of course, agave is cooked, milled, fermented and processed to yield tequila. Delicious and therapeutic!

Not all succulents are fit for consumption, though; some (such as jelly bean plants and pencil cactus) contain sap that is poisonous to humans and pets. If you’re intending to grow succulents to eat or use medicinally, make sure to thoroughly research the species in question.

What about you? Are you a succulent addict like me? Or curious about them? I’d love to hear your comments below.


9 Reasons To Have A Garden

Garden curious? Here are nine reasons to start your own garden. #gardening #gardeningforbeginners #DIY
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I get really excited every year when spring rolls around. Why? Because it’s time to start getting the garden ready! Gardening is hands-down one of my favorite ways to spend time in the spring and summer months. And I’ve been doing it forever; my dad and I would go out and work in the garden together when I was a kid. I have fond memories of us planting flowers and eating fresh, delicious raspberries right off the bush. There’s something special, therapeutic, and oddly fun about keeping a garden.

But, then again, gardening also takes a lot of time and energy. There’s physical labor involved, you have to actively maintain and care for your plants, and you may need to do some problem-solving (like, say, getting rid of pests or diseases). It can seem like a lot of work. But, to me, keeping a garden is a labor of love, and I do it in spite of — or maybe even because of — the effort. If you’ve never tried gardening and you’re curious, or possibly wondering what all the hype is, here are nine of the best reasons for taking up this amazing hobby.

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1. It beautifies your home space.

One of the most obvious benefits of having a garden? A beautiful yard, of course! Whether you’re growing flowers or vegetables, a well-tended garden patch adds charm and beauty to your home. If you enjoy wildlife, planting the right kinds of flowers will attract all kinds of butterflies, bees and birds to your yard. But if you don’t have yard space, indoor options like windowsill herb gardens and house plants can look very attractive, too — and as an added plus, they’ll freshen your air.

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2. You can grow your own food.

Growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is surprisingly rewarding. Beginner-friendly plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini are easy to take care of, usually grow vigorously and will probably give you more veggies than you know what to do with. And nothing is more delicious than garden-fresh goodies. My partner and I have grown leafy greens (lettuce, kale, spinach and beets) in one of our raised garden beds for the past couple of years, and we love the bounty of fresh salads we get to eat in the summertime. Trust me, once you eat home-grown produce, you won’t want to go back to the store-bought kind.

3. You get to spend time outside.

Playing in the garden is a great excuse to get outdoors. Part of the reason I actually enjoy the work of gardening is because I get to be outside soaking up the sun while I’m doing it. Having a garden is like having a tiny sanctuary in your own backyard–a place where you can step outside, breathe some fresh air and be a little closer to nature. I find it very calming and I sometimes use “garden breaks” to re-center myself during long workdays.

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4. It keeps you active.

The upside of having to do physical labor to maintain your garden is that it keeps you active. Turns out that lifting tools, hauling around big bags of soil, digging around in the dirt and pulling weeds is actually pretty decent exercise — according to The Spruce, the University of Virginia classifies certain gardening tasks as “moderate to strenuous” physical activity, in the same category as walking or riding a bike. Studies show that gardening for even 30 minutes a day strengthens and tones your major muscle groups, increases your flexibility, burns calories and lowers blood pressure. How’s that for good news?

5. It’s a wonderful creative outlet.

Your garden is whatever you make of it. It can be purely functional, or it can be an artistic endeavor and a means expressing yourself. Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity, who creates some of the most beautiful succulent plant-scapes I have ever seen in my life, says that her work is like “painting with plants”. Depending on how much time and money you want to invest, you can create anything from minimalist garden plots to gorgeous and elaborate landscape designs. And if you’re an indoor gardener, you can indulge your creative side by designing plant terrariums, small succulent arrangements or fairy gardens. 

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6. You get to learn about plants.

Okay, this may be my inner geek talking, but plants are fascinating. Watching a tiny seed sprout, unfurl and slowly develop into a lavender shrub, a pumpkin vine or a basil plant is nothing short of miraculous. Witnessing this whole process firsthand is part of why I am a big fan of growing plants from seed — it helps you get to know and understand how different plants “work” and what their life cycles look like. And every plant is unique; each one has its own needs, preferences, quirks and personality. Regardless of what you choose to grow, plants are living, breathing beings, and getting to know them is a big part of being a gardener.

7. You’ll become more self-sufficient.

Gardening reminds me of the saying, “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” By becoming a gardener, you’ll learn the art and science of tending to the earth and cultivating plants — skills that our ancestors practiced and once relied on for survival. When you start growing your own food, you become less dependent on the industrial food production chain. You have full control over how and where your food is grown. You save money on groceries. And best of all, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you did it all yourself.

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8. You have permission to get dirty.

Okay, let’s just be real for a minute: playing in the dirt is kind of fun, and it’s not just for kids. If you haven’t tried it recently, maybe you should. There is something inherently satisfying about touching and working with the earth, and getting some of it on your clothes and skin just comes with the territory. Best of all, it washes off afterwards — nothing a little soap and water won’t fix.

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9. Gardening is good for the environment.

Keeping a garden is also a wonderful way to care for the environment and live more sustainably. With gardening, the future of the earth is — literally — in your own hands. According to Science Daily, gardeners can play a part in slowing global warming through their handiwork. Now more than ever, we need people to champion the environment and take an active role in restoring the health of this planet.

Gardeners and nongardeners alike, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you love about gardening? What makes you want to try it, if you haven’t? What intrigues you most about it?