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Prep Your Gardens for Winter

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 4, 2015

Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Prep Your Gardens for Winter
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/4/15) — It may be November already and most of us have seen snowflakes, but there is still some time to get your gardens ready for winter. Minnesota winters can be unpredictable from a lot of cold temperatures and snow, to more mild temperatures and very little snow, but it is best to prepare your gardens regardless of the predictions.

If you haven’t already done so it is time to clean out your vegetable gardens. As you harvest the last of the root crops, removing vegetation and actually raking the soil can be beneficial. Raking can expose unwanted grubs and pupae to the sun, birds, and freezing temperatures. In addition removing vegetation can help reduce both weeds and disease. Composting your plant material is always recommended unless that plant material was diseased or it is weeds that may have already set seed.  In that case it is best to destroy the material. Most home gardeners compost piles do not reach temperatures necessary to kill off disease or seeds.

Once your perennials have been killed off by a hard frost or freezing temperatures gardeners can cut them down for the season. With a clean, sharp tool cut down flowers stalks and heads, and the vegetation to approximately three inches. Desirable seed heads for both birds and aesthetics can be left up such as sedum, coneflower, or some of the many different species of ornamental grasses. However, diseased material caused by powdery mildew, leaf spots, or other diseases should be discarded; do not include this material in your compost pile.

Healthy plant material can be left for the winter to help catch snow which will provide better insulation.  Personal preference or time commitment sometimes dictates whether a gardener takes care of most clean up in the fall or prefers to wait till spring.  However if there was disease or pests it is best to take care of it now so they don’t overwinter and cause problems again next year.

Conflicting predictions about the upcoming winter leave gardeners wondering if it will be a mild winter or one that causes damage or even death to our plants. Therefore it is best to be cautious and prep your gardens. Even mild, brown winters can leave our plants unprotected.  If Mother Nature doesn’t provide us with a nice snow insulation layer, gardeners need to do it instead with mulch.  Mulch can consist of straw, hay, whole or shredded leaves, evergreen boughs, or pine needles. This helps regulate the soil temperature to not fluctuate so much throughout mild winters or in spring which can cause damage to plants.

One more task you can take care of this fall is to have your soil tested. If you haven’t had a soil test completed in the last few years, you will find it beneficial. The test will indicate what your nutrient levels are at and give you recommendations for application rates.  Soil testing can be done through the University of Minnesota, contact your local Extension office or visit for more information.



Beth Berlin
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 255-6169
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