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Winterize Your Vegetable Garden in 5 Easy Steps

You have spent all summer caring for the beautiful garden at your housing cooperative home. It has paid off in the end with a bountiful harvest so now you're work is done, right?! Wrong. The fun doesn't stop there.

Caring for a garden doesn't end after the last tomato has been picked. Nurturing the soil is a major part of preparing your garden for a successful next year. With cold weather fast approaching, it's time to winterize your garden with these 5 easy steps.


seeds on dirt at cedarwood coop

Dig up the rest of your carrots and pull up the beets. Harvest your cold crops like spinach and peas, and grab the last few tomatoes from the vine. But don't eat every last one, you need some for saving seeds!

For fruits such as cucumber, tomatoes, husk cherries and strawberries, break open the fruit flesh on a few and remove the seeds for next year. Make sure you dry them thoroughly on a paper plate or paper towel, turning regularly to prevent mold. Once dried, label a paper envelope, drop the seeds in and store in a cool dark place.

For flowers, snap off the dead heads of some of your favorites and pinch between your fingers over an opened paper envelope. The seeds will drop right in and should already be dried; ready for storage. Label.

Saving seeds is a very rewarding practice. You now have the power to grow your own food year after year without having to rely on seed companies. Just as wonderful is the money it saves from not having to buy new seeds every year.

With that said, if there was a variety of fruit or vegetable that you did not enjoy from the last year, don't save the seeds of course. Make sure you pull up the plant by the root and discard any remnants of the plant in the trash or compost bin. You do not want the seeds developing from a fruit that dropped once springtime hits so removing every piece is a must.


garden tools

Not only does removing dying plants improve the look of your garden, but it's also healthy for it. Some plants can carry disease, pests or fungus through the freezing weather. These plants need to be removed completely to prevent the spread of disease come springtime.

Healthy vegetation can be cut back, loosely chopped up with a shovel and turned into the dirt. The slow decomposing of this green material will provide nutrients to next year's crop. Some also recommend treating your soil with lime and other natural fertilizers at this time. Soil testing should be done before any treatments to determine what to use to provide balance.

Next, any annual plants, such as marigolds, that need to be grown by seed the following year should be removed making sure to pull the root up.

Finally, clean and lubricate all garden tools that need it. Wait until they dry completely -- to prevent mold or rust -- and store in your home for the winter. This is also a great time to purchase any tools you wished you had this past season as many stores offer sales of garden supplies in the fall.


compost and mulch for a cedarwood garden

Similar to turning in healthy vegetation, adding a thin layer of compost and mulch is a great way to infuse nutrients into the soil. It also breaks up problem areas that may be dense with sand or clay. This also helps to suffocate weeds and balance the ph of your soil.

Adding too thick of a layer, however, can actually insulate your garden, preventing the much needed freeze which kills off many pests and diseases.


leaves on ground in park forest illinois

Leaves are a great natural ground cover that help feed the soil and protect it from erosion. Just as with the compost and mulch, a thin layer can be beneficial, but a thick layer can prevent freezing.

Now, because our housing cooperative requires that leaves be cleaned up from yards regularly, don't go crazy with this recommendation. Continue to remove leaves from your yard and grab just a small handful to cover your garden area. This will feed your soil and keep you within the guidelines set forth by the coop. A win/win for all!


hand taking notes

A lot of time passes between fall and spring. Enough that you may forget what worked for your garden and what didn't. Our recommendation...keep a garden journal to note how everything went while it's still fresh in your mind.

This is a great way to track your learning year after year and it's fun to look back on years down the road. Start by drawing your current garden layout. Label which plants grew where. Reflect on which plants did great and why as well as which ones did not and why.

Write down what location you believe certain plants would benefit more than another. Then, sketch a basic layout for next year with all these considerations in mind. Year after year, you are bound to improve greatly!

If you need some help about what to write, here's a few questions to get your thoughts rolling:

♦ Was your layout appropriate considering height, expansion, vine structure and pathways?

♦ Did certain plants do great in certain areas?

♦ Did certain plants do awful in certain areas?

♦ Did a certain plant prefer more water than you expected or less water?

♦ Did that new fertilizer you found at your hardware store work well or not?

♦ Did you even like the new variety of tomato you grew or would you prefer trying a different one?

♦ Did a plant get eaten by critters/pests/disease?

♦ Did a vine overtake a walkway? Does it need a trellis next year?

The better notes you take this fall, the better prepared you are for next years crop. Now...go get your garden prepped!


At Cedarwood Co-op, we love seeing people express themselves through gardens. We even offer a flower rebate program in the spring to encourage our members to plant and care for their gardens.

While winter tends to be a bit blah in the yard department, spring is right around the corner! Before you know it we'll be at it again! Thanks for reading.

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