Preparing Your Vegetable Garden for Winter | Step by Step

There’s always a little bit of sadness when the cold of winter comes around and makes us hang up our full-time gardening hats. The good news is that there’s still some gardening to be done at this great time of year — embrace season eating! Re-focus your efforts on herbs, the new crops that will come next spring, and preparing your vegetable garden for winter.

Preparing your Vegetable Garden For Winter

When will winter affect my garden?

It depends on what you’re growing and where you are! Vegetables generally fall into two categories: tender or summer plants and cold-hardy plants. Each category of vegetable responds differently to the weather outside.

Additionally, temperature is key here. Little to nothing will grow in subzero conditions, while warmer climates may be able to grow all winter long.

Impact of Winter Conditions on Warm-Season Herbs & Veggies

Warm-season and tender crops will need an “end of season plan” as soon as temps start consistently dropping below 50° F. Enjoy the last taste of summer, harvesting until the last minute, and check out your winter grow options on Match to successfully transition their garden.

Plants you’ll want to transition include basil, parsley, fennel, tomato, pepper, pea, bean, and squash. These plants need to be harvested before frost damage occurs — they will not survive a frost.

If you need to harvest early, ripen your vegetables by leaving them in a sunny place inside. Once ripe, store in the refrigerator.

Then, pull up your warm-season plant and compost. Replant with winter veggies or leave your grow bag outdoors until a few weeks before the last frost, when you can begin planning your spring garden.

Impact of Winter Conditions on Cold-Hardy Herbs & Veggies

Cold-hardy plants are plants that can grow through at least some frost — if not throughout the entire winter. Sage, rosemary, beets, some lettuces, and swiss chard are some popular examples of cold-hardy plants.

Temperature matters here too. Cold-hardy plants like the cold. Most can handle a light frost but can’t survive a hard freeze.

Each vegetable reacts differently to the cold. Make sure that you know how to care for your specific plant as it gets colder. See the table below for general knowledge on how to prepare a specific vegetable for winter.

Vegetable Warm-Season or Cold-Hardy Action below 50° Action after Frost Action As Soil Freezes
Root veggies (carrots, beets, parsnips) Cold-Hardy None Respond; leave to mature and harvest when ripe Dig up and harvest immediately
Leafy Greens (kale, arugula, etc.) Cold-Hardy None Responds well; leave to mature and harvest when ripe Complete harvest, dig up, and compost
Cabbage/Swiss Chard Cold-Hardy None Tolerates; Begin completing harvest Dig up and compost.
Lettuce Cold-Hardy Begin and complete harvesting Won’t survive; dig up and compost x
Tomatoes/Peppers Warm-Season Complete harvest Won’t survive; dig up and compost x
Bean/Pea Varietals Warm-Season Complete harvest Won’t survive; dig up and compost x
SquashesWarm-Season Complete harvestWon’t survive; dig up and compost x

Basil Warm-Season Bring indoors to extend harvest! Won’t survive; complete harvest, dig up and compost x
Parsley Cold-Hardy None Withstands light frost; cover on cold nights Complete harvest; Dig up and compost
Oregano Cold-Hardy None Tolerates; mulch to help survive the winter Perennial —comes back in spring!
Rosemary Cold-Hardy None Tolerates; Cover well or bring inside to survive winter Perennial —comes back in spring!
Chives Cold-Hardy None Bring indoors to a sunny spot and water thoroughly. Perennial —comes back in spring!
Sage Cold-Hardy None None (very hardy!) Perennial —comes back in spring!

Depending on whether you’re growing in a container garden or a plot, follow these steps to prepare your vegetable garden for winter.

Preparing Vegetable Garden for Winter

Preparing Container Vegetable Gardens for Winter

Container gardens are often ideal for making it through winter. If you play it right, you can even garden indoors and have fresh harvests throughout the winter — especially of herbs.

Here are the steps you’ll need when winter comes.

If frost lasts less than 3 days:

Cool crop veggies, like beets and carrots, often will be stronger and taste sweeter if exposed to light frost.

Step 1: Move your container garden to the sunny side of your home where it will have the most access to the sun during the cold time. Additionally, try and protect your garden from the wind. You can use other plants or the side of your home to guard your garden.

Step 2: Add mulch to the top of the soil to help retain heat and moisture during the colder months. This will help prevent the soil from freezing. (When the soil freezes, your plant can no longer grow!)

Step 3: If you live in an apartment or condo, bring your garden inside for the frost duration. Place on a waterproof mat to protect your floors!.

For areas where frost lasts longer than three days:

Step 1: Harvest the leaves you want to use now before the next freeze, cutting back as much as 2/3 of the stem. Preserve extra herbs by drying or freezing, so you have organic seasoning all season long.

Step 2: If you’re growing perennials, leave your MoGrow bag, including the plants, outside throughout the winter to let nature do what it does best! Put your bag out of sight (or wherever makes sense outside), and don’t worry about watering it. Many plants like herbs benefit from dying back in the winter. Often, they bounce back in the Spring stronger than before.

Nature is unpredictable, particularly after a harsh winter, so reach out to Grow Pro to get you growing again!

Step 3: If growing an annual plant, remove the plant and put in your compost pile bin. Leave the soil and grow bag outside for the winter. A week before the last frost of the season, you can replant seasonal herbs and veggies in your MoGrow with a garden Refresh.

Preparing Vegetable Garden Plots for Winter

Preparing Vegetable Garden For Winter

Preparing garden beds for winter is a little more complicated than a container garden. It requires more steps because you need to prepare the soil for next year. While it may seem tedious at the end of fall, preparing your vegetable garden soil for winter will make your spring gardens ready for a more successful growth (and a smoother process).

Step 1: Clean Up

First, clean out all annual plants. Don’t rush — you want to get as much out of your garden as possible with last-minute harvests. Once you’re sure your plant is done for the season, uproot and compost it.

By cleaning up plants, you prevent the build-up of diseases and pests in the soil. Avoid putting diseased or infested plants in the compost bin.

Step 2: Add Amendments

Adding amendments now allows the organic materials to break down in the soil, creating a richer soil with more nutrients. Compost, organic worm castings, and slowrelease fertilizer can be added at the end of fall.

When adding fertilizer, be sure to use organic fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers will actually break down the soil in an unhealthy way and destroy soil health.

You can also add coffee grounds, pine needles, leaves, and grass clippings straight to the soil without composting. These will act as compost.

Step 3: Till & Mulch

After you add your amendments, till them into the soil. Tilling soil at the end of fall saves you time in early spring — especially because soil is often too wet in the spring to till and use a spade.

Once you till, you need to mulch immediately to keep the soil from eroding. Use straw, pine needles, and grass clippings to add a layer over the top. This will hold in moisture, prevent weeds from growing in, and reduce soil erosion.

Step 4: Cover Crops

Cover crops are an optional, but highly effective way to keep your garden soil healthy throughout the winter. Plant buckwheat, rye, legumes, or sorghum. They help reduce soil erosion, keep pests away, and keep the soil full of nutrients throughout the season.

Child Watering Gardenuity Container Garden
Preparing your vegetable Garden for Winter