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Harvest season is wrapping up, but that doesn't mean a gardener's work is done. Gayla Trail, gardening expert and author of You Grow Girl shares winterizing tips that will give you a head start on next year's garden.
The last tomato has been picked and just a few squash remain. For many gardeners across North America, the growing season is over and it's time to put away the trowels and watering cans until next year. In Toronto, Canada, Gayla Trail is preparing her rooftop container garden, in-ground community garden and small patch of perennials near her apartment building for ice, snow and frost. Trail, a full-time gardener, author and blogger, offers a few winterizing tips you may want to put into place before the first big freeze of the season.

Plant Perennials Now
Trail says you should hit up your local garden center before the first frost and buy perennials on clearance. "The stores have tons of sales on perennials that don't look very good, but they don't look very good just because it is the end of the season, not because there is anything wrong with them," Trail says. "If you plant them in the fall, they will have the whole fall and winter to acclimate and get rooted. And in the spring they will be bigger." Almost all perennials, including herb, flowers and grass, are likely to be on sale in the fall, Trail says.

Clean Up Your Vegetable Patch
Many people pull all of their annual vegetable plants out of the ground every fall, but Trail offers another suggestion. "I actually chop [the plants] off a couple of inches above the soil line, so I chop the main stem," she says. "The foliage part that is left, I either put into the compost bin or compost right on the spot. I leave the roots in the ground." Trail says leaving roots in the ground prevents erosion. When the roots decompose, they add nutrients to the soil, preparing the ground for spring planting.

Add Mulch or a Cover Crop
One of the best things you can do for your garden over the winter is to top it off with mulch or plant it with a cover crop, Trail says. "It's not the cold, it's not the snow—it's the melting and the thawing and the freezing again that causes problems for our plants," Trail says. Mulch decomposes over the winter, adding nutrients to the soil. It also keeps perennials protected from the elements, Trail says. For mulch, she uses straw on her vegetable garden and wood chips on her perennial garden. Trail says cover crops are perfect for a vegetable garden of annuals that has been pruned down for the winter."Winter rye is a really good [cover crop]," she says. "There are some mustards you can do this time of year, and red clover is good too because it is a legume and it is going to put nitrogen in the soil."

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Collect Bags of Leaves
Leaves are everywhere this time of the year, and Trail says they're a great resource for gardeners. "I collect all the leaves and put them into plastic bags and close them up and put them into a corner somewhere where I won't see them," she says. "After about a year, [the leaves] will decompose in the bag, and that is great mulch. It is nice and light."

Store and Protect Your Equipment
Hoses, watering cans and sprinklers should be drained of water and put into storage, Trail says. If they're not drained and left outside in the cold, Trail says the water in them will freeze, causing them to burst or crack. Terra-cotta pots should also be protected from the elements. "If you have somewhere outside where you can keep them, where they won't get any moisture on them, where they will be completely covered, then that is fine; they won't crack," she says.

Bring Some Plants Indoors
It's always nice to have something green in the house over the winter, and Trail says she usually digs up some of her hot pepper plants and grows them in containers on her windowsill. Also, Trail suggests digging up a thyme plant and bringing it indoors. "Grow it in a southern-facing window, because it does need the light, but thyme is very forgiving," she says. "If your windowsill gets too cold or really hot because of baseboard heating, thyme will still survive."

Reflect on What Worked and What Didn't
When it gets really cold and autumn is gone and the dark days of winter set in, Trail says you should start planning next year's garden. Evaluate what worked and what didn't in this year's garden and sketch out a plan for next year. You can even buy your seeds and start growing them indoors. Trail says she gets really desperate to garden during the winter, when her beloved plants are covered in snow, but she is comforted by this fact: "Plants don't really die. They're still alive underneath the snow. It is really an optimistic thing to remember," she says.

How are you preparing your garden for winter? Leave a comment below!

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