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Preparing the garden for a cold winter

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With winter on its way, it’s time to prepare summer gardens for the cold months ahead.

Winterizing gardens reduces springtime work and can also protect gardens from insects and disease. 

Investing time now can improve the health of the soil bed and make next year’s gardening easier, ensuring a successful harvest.

Harvesting and storing vegetables

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, tender vegetables, including tomatoes, zucchini, beans and pumpkins, do not tolerate cold temperatures and should be harvested before the first frost. Plant and crop debris should also be removed. 

If plants are diseased, individuals should burn or discard of them in the trash. Do not leave infected plants near the garden or in compost piles.

Conversely, hardy vegetables can tolerate a hard frost and can be left in the ground. For example, Brussels sprouts can stay in the ground, just bury the plants up to their tops in hay or leaves in late fall and harvest the spouts as needed throughout the winter.

Semi-hardy vegetables, such as cabbage and root crops, can tolerate a light frost but benefit from protection, like a cold-frame or floating row cover. These veggies must be harvested before a severe frost occurs.

Catherine Boeckmann, editor of the, digital creator for the Old Farmer’s Almanac and master gardener with Purdue University Extension, states, “Make sure any vegetables harvested are cured and stored properly. Many crops can also be stored by canning and pickling, and herbs can be dried or frozen in various ways.”

Controlling weeds 

When it comes to controlling weeds and protecting soil beds, University of Wyoming (UW) Extension offers a few important tips.

“Fall is an optimum time to kill weeds and keep them under control,” UW Extension Educator Brian Sebade explains in a Fall 2019 Barnyards and Backyards publication. “Weedy annual plants should be pulled or removed before they have time to shed their seeds, as seeds left from weeds create more work for following years.”

Fall is an ideal time to manage weeds as they are still growing strong and have large root systems with storage roots, allowing plants to sustain through the winter.

“After the first frost of the year, weeds will start to take nutrients from their leaves down to their roots. Using chemicals on weeds during this time works well to help kill them early. Annual weeds can be mowed down, but perennial weeds should be sprayed,” Sebade states. 

“Remove unwanted seeds, diseased vegetables and weeds from the garden, then disc up small plants and any unharvested vegetables, leaving them in the garden to recycle back into the soil adds nutrients,” he adds.

Fall soil prep

Fall is a prime time to add organic matter to the garden. Adding organic matter, like manure, compost, leaves, hay and/or grass clippings, to the soil. 

“If compost is unavailable, a 50 percent grass and 50 percent dead leaf mixture placed on top will benefit most beds. It will not completely decompose during winter but will help protect the soil surface, provide food for beneficial soil organisms and will provide a small amount of extra organic matter to the soil,” Sebade notes. 

“One to three inches of compost is the minimum recommended amount of matter to ‘blanket’ a garden and help keep nutrients in,” he adds.

The UW educators also share mulching is a good way to keep soil warm while seeds and spring bulbs germinate. Mulching can also add nutrients and organic matter to the soil which can be tilled in lightly or left on top to be tilled come spring.

Another option to maintain soil nutrients is to utilize fall leaves. Using leaves will protect soil and conserve water, while also reducing weeding time. Plus, leaves may blow away more easily than other organic matter.

Adding one to two inches of manure or other compost on top of the garden is another option to amend soil, and in the spring, the soil can be gently worked before planting.

UW Extension notes for most of Wyoming, fall cleanup occurs from late September through early November, depending on the local climate.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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