Beth Ringer and her crew at the Youth Farm and Market Project in Frogtown have already torn up most of the plants in their two community gardens in the St. Paul neighborhood.
But the kids and workers in the program aren't done with gardens yet. Instead, they've entered a new phase in the gardening cycle. They've prepared for winter by covering the garden beds with a blend of straw and leaves. And they're making plans.
"We first reflect on what went well and what was challenging in the garden over the last growing season," Ringer said. "We think about what kinds of crops we want next year then we put in a seed order."
Julie Weisenhorn, director of the master gardener program at University of Minnesota Extension, said gardeners can help prepare their gardens and lawns to thrive next year by taking a few small steps:
• Clean up all the dead plants. Particularly with vegetables and annuals, it's important to clean those up before winter because they can sometimes carry pathogens into the spring. It's also much easier to clean up now.
• You can harvest some root vegetables like carrots until the soil is no longer workable. Hardy plants like collard greens and kale can also continue to be harvested. Those vegetables tend to sweeten as the weather gets colder.
• Plants like strawberries that go dormant should be covered with clean straw or leaves to help insulate them. Gardeners can also pile leaves around plants like roses to protect them.
• Gardeners might want to put about four feet of rodent fencing around young or thin-barked trees like apple trees.
• If you're mowing up leaves, they make a great protective mulch that minimizes the wild fluctuation in soil temperatures. The leaves can be mixed into the soil in the spring to help enrich the soil.
• Ensure that all rain barrels are emptied and stowed away somewhere where they won't be damaged by the cold.
• Lawns could probably use one more mow, mostly to mulch up fallen leaves, which will help enrich the lawn.
• Plants that have been brought inside for the winter should be checked for any signs of insect infestation. Plants should be placed in the sunniest window in the house.
• Overwatering is the biggest killer of many houseplants. Plants that are inside shouldn't be watered on a schedule, but gardeners should touch the soil in the pot to see whether it needs moisture.
• Winter is a great time to plan for next year's garden. Some gardeners even keep notes on what worked in their yard and what failed miserably to help plot out next year's harvests.