Thanks to La Niña, most of the northern United States has already spent a few nights under cover of ice. Once the killing frost hits, there's little to do but prepare your garden for the long cold months ahead. That doesn't mean you should just abandon it, though. Spend a little time on your chilly soil now, and you'll reap the benefits -- literally -- next year.
Cut the Dead Weight
If your garden is anything like mine, it's full of sad, ugly remainders of summer's glory. Plus the weeds I stopped pulling at the end of summer. It's ugly, yes -- and worse, it's a perfect habitat for pests. Now's the time to clean up the mess.
Be sure not to mix your weeds and invasive plants with the ones you want. Pull weeds and diseased plants by the roots and pile them in a corner of the yard, covering them with weighted black plastic to smother them over the winter. Everything else can go in your compost pile, to slowly break down and eventually feed future gardens.
Fertilize, Compost and Mulch Merrily
If you kept a compost or vermicompost bin throughout the summer, now is a good moment to apply the results. Distribute compost or fertilizer throughout the garden, and till it into the first couple of inches of dirt. It will continue to decompose, along with the remains of any foliage, and make rich new soil. Or start a winter compost bin to be ready for spring planting!
Now is also the perfect time to mulch tender perennials like strawberries. A few-inch layer of leaves, seed-free hay or wood chips will protect from freezing temperatures and help retain moisture -- but be careful not to mulch until after the ground freezes, lest some four-legged friend decide to nest in the underbrush.
Plan For Next Year!
It's never too early to start on the fun part: Designing next year's perfect garden. Take notes on what happened this year and what you want for next summer. Think carefully about next year's layout, too: If you're making changes, be careful to pull up any remainders of this year's crops so they don't volunteer where they're not wanted.
image: Takato Marui.