Preparing Your Garden Soil for Winter

1) How deep do the roots go? 
If you find that your roots do not go very deep, this can indicate that you have very hard soil. In this case, I would suggest that you till the soil to loosen up at least the top foot of soil. This will allow your plants to easily grow deeper roots and consistently pull up water from lower in the soil. If your soil is relatively loose, then it is also possible that the soil’s acidity is high or that insects have been feeding on the roots.Illustration showing how plant roots grow underground.

2) How far do the roots spread horizontally?
Roots should extend approximately the same width underground as the plant extends above ground. If you have lots of horizontal growth, it could indicate once again that roots are having trouble growing downward.
Once you have removed all of the deal annual plants, make sure to also clean up your perennials as much as possible so that you do not have to do it in the spring. Next, take some of the leaves that you have raked up and place them nicely on your soil making sure to cover the entire surface area. Smaller leaves are better because over time, they will degrade into mineral nutrients and the worms that live in the soil can also feast on them to eventually provide you with great fertilizer. The majority of this takes place before the soil freezes so be sure not to leave your preparation to the last minute.

In addition to spreading leaves around the soil, adding compost or well-rotted manure is also a great way to return some of the nutrients to the soil. Your plants that grew during the summer have been using nutrients the entire time and the winter is your chance to replenish those nutrients as much as possible.

We have only discussed some soil preparation basics, but perennials, trees and shrubs should also all be protected. For more information, you can take a look at Canadian Gardening’s list of 16 essential fall garden tasksthese instructions for preparing your garden for the off-season, and Keith Reid’s book, Improving Your Soil.