After a big harvest of winter
squash, prepare the vegetable
garden for winter. See more
pictures of vegetable gardens.
As you finish harvesting crops and rows of garden space become available, it's a good idea to plant a cover crop, or green manure, as part of your preparation for the following year. This is a crop that you don't intend to harvest. It's simply to provide protection for the soil underneath. When you prepare for your spring planting, you dig the whole crop into the soil. A cover crop will keep your precious topsoil from blowing or washing away, and tilling it into the soil in the spring will provide valuable organic matter to enrich the soil.
The cover crop will also shade the soil, preventing many cool-season weeds from germinating. It's not necessary to plant the whole cover crop at one time to cover the entire garden; you can plant in each area of the garden as space becomes available.
Cover crops are not exclusively used over the winter. If you have a space in the garden that will be vacant for several weeks between plantings, a summer cover of buckwheat makes an ideal green manure. The buckwheat germinates quickly and covers the soil, preventing summer weeds from germinating. It's hollow-stemmed and easy to turn into the soil when you plant your next vegetable.
Vegetable Garden Cover Crop Types
|Variety||Season to Grow
||Amount of Seed/ 1000 Sq. Ft. |
||1 to 2 lbs. |
||3 to 5 lbs.|
||3/4 to 11/2 lbs.|
||1 to 2 lbs.|
||2 to 3 lbs.|
||2 to 5 oz.|
||3 to 4 lbs.|
As an alternative to planting a cover crop, you can prepare the vegetable soil ahead of time. Tilling your soil in the fall can save you a great deal of time and help you get an earlier start in the spring because the soil is often too wet in early spring to use a spade or a rototiller. If you do till your soil in the fall, make sure to cover it with mulch to keep it from blowing away and to prevent massive winter weed germination. Consider soil preparation for the area of your garden where you plan to grow next season's cool-season vegetables.
If you're growing perennial vegetables, fall is the time to prepare them for winter survival. Remove old stems and foliage that have been killed back by frost to prevent the spread of disease organisms and insects that winter on old debris.
In cold climates, perennial vegetables should be protected with a blanket of mulch to prevent root damage from extreme cold temperatures. In mild climates, a coating of mulch will protect plants from the alternating freeze-and-thaw and prevent plants from heaving from the soil.
Want more information about vegetable gardens? Try:
- Caring for a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to stake, weed, mulch, water, and control pests in a vegetable garden.
- Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
- Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
- Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.
- Garden Care: Explore how to care for all types of gardens.