Ann Wright: Early winter gardening |

Ann Wright: Early winter gardening

Fall cleanup is essential to help prevent disease and control pests. Cutting some remaining flowers in the raised beds, like marigolds and dahlia will look nice in an arrangement.
Submitted photo

With welcome rain and snow in the foothills, there seems so much to do that wasn’t done during the past several dry weeks!

My checklist of things to get done soon is ever growing. At the top of the list: clean up and cover up.

Fall cleanup is essential to help prevent disease and control pests. In my garden, cleanup includes harvesting remaining tomatoes (yes – I still have some cherry and paste tomatoes ripening) and cutting some remaining flowers in the raised beds. The marigolds and dahlia will look nice in an arrangement. Spent pepper, tomato and herbs plants will be cut to the ground and composted. Dry fallen fruit and leaves will be composted, with the exception of any diseased foliage. Some weeding will be done once the rains further soften the soil.


A cover crop has been planted to help compete with next season’s weeds as well as providing a layer of “green manure.” Cover crops will also help prevent soil erosion and increase organic matter in the soil. Winter blend cover crop seed is widely available — winter vetch, peas and clover are examples of cover crop seed which may be found in some seed mixes. Now is the time to cut back perennials (flowers that return every year in the garden). Cut back dry stems to soil level to clean up the dead wood and remove the pest eggs and disease spores that may have lingered on the plants. Also cut off diseased foliage from evergreen plants and shrubs.

Preparation of garden beds for winter includes covering bare soil with mulch – leaves, pine needles, straw, whatever is available. Covering planting beds helps protect tender plants and helps prevent leaching of important nutrients. A layer of compost or dry manure with a straw layer to cover it will continue to decompose slowly over the winter to enrich your soil, attract earthworms, and feed the beneficial microbes needed for healthy spring crops.

This is also a good time to prepare soil for future planting of bare-root trees and plants such as berries, fruit trees or roses, which are largely available in January and February. A good soaking will make work easier – dig, weed and amend the soil if needed to prepare for plantings later this winter.


Cleanup also applies to garden tools. When getting ready to put tools away, use a wire brush, putty knife or steel wool to remove clumps of dirt and mud adhered to the tool. Sap is easily removed with turpentine or tar remover. Wash the tools with the hose and allow them to dry thoroughly. If rust is visible, clean it off! Use steel wool or a wire bush – rust is tough on tools! Next, oil metal parts to protect them from moisture. A coating of machine oil is fine, but vegetable oil is just as effective and less toxic. A few drops of 3-in-one multipurpose oil to the pivot of shears and loppers will keep them working smoothly. For tools with wood handles, sand lightly with sandpaper to remove rough spots and splinters then wipe the wood with linseed oil.

As the holiday season is upon us, the Master Gardeners of Nevada County want to thank all of you who attended our workshops and events, and for your great questions submitted to the hotline. Your suggestions helps us plan future workshops and your participation at events is what makes us tick!

Public workshops will resume early February, so watch our website at for the 2020 workshop list which will be posted soon.

We can be reached at the hotline, 530-273-0919 or find us on Facebook or the website.

Have a very happy, safe holiday season.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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