Gardening for Life!

Putting Your Garden to Bed at the End of the Season

What to do at the end of the gardening season:



  • Plant garlic in October before the ground freezes but after the weather has cooled. Here is a link to more tips on how to grow garlic.
  • Plant spring bulbs.
  • Cut off Swiss chard and it will come back in year 2.  Collect seeds in the 2nd year because it is a biennial plant.
  • Leave root vegetable (including parsnips) in the ground untilthe first hard frost.
  • Chop up carrot tops, pea plants and Swiss chard harmed by hail with garden shears and then dig them into the soil.
  • Leave some plant matter in the soil in order to prevent erosion. Sunflowers, corn, chives and other perennials add winter interest to a garden.
Cover Crops
  • Plant fall rye as a cover crop.  It helps restore nutrients to the soil and also helps control soil erosion.  Sow it sparingly as in 1 handful of seed in a 4 ft x 8 ft garden bed. (One pound of fall rye seed will provide cover crop for 46 garden beds.)  Spread the fall rye seed on top of the soil, let it sporut and come up in spring.  Then turn the green shoots under when 4 they are 4 inches tall.  
  • If you sow too much fall rye and in the spring you have a matted thatch of plant roots then chop it up heavily and dig it in.
  • Sources of fall rye seeds include West Coast Seeds, Seedy Saturday vendors, UFA Grain Store in Airdrie (ask if the fall rye is genetically modified) and Incredigrow in Calgary.  Most regular garden centres tend not to have fall rye in stock.
  • Be very careful of using Red Clover as a cover crop because it is a perennial.
  • Preserve your soil integrity and soil structure and add compost in both fall and spring. In the fall you can add partially rotted compost material and it will have decomposed by springtime. In springtime only add finished, finely textured compost to your garden bed.
  • Place a layer of compost on your garden and dig it in slightly.  If you do not dig it in, the sun and wind will kill off the helpful bacteria.  
  • Put your vegetable and fruit peelings into a blender with water and puree the mixture and pour it over the garden bed in the fall so that it composts over the winter season.
  • In springtime spray compost tea over your garden bed. In addition you can take the youngest, earliest weeds (that have not gone to seeds) and add water.  Let it soak (it will smell bad because you are making weed water) and then pour the water off it into the area between rows of seeds. 
  • Rol-Land Farms in Crossfield ofters mushroom substrate to gardeners. This improves the texture of soil to lighten it but it is not nutrient-rich.  It is best to add it in the fall so that it can mellow over the winter.


Row Covers
  • Row covers help prevent soil erosion during a warm winter and also deters magpies, moths and the carrot rust fly.
Ground Covers
  • Place a layer of straw (not hay!) on the ground or 2 inches of leaves or a coconut coir straw mat and put a lattice on top to keep the ground covers from being blown away by wind.
  • Never use hay to cover your garden.  Hay is full of seeds.  You can tell them apart because straw is flatter, has no leaves and is flatter.  Hay grass tends to be round. 
  • Do not use straw bales from Stampede time because they have been treated with fire retardant chemicals.
  • Buy straw at UFA Store in Airdrie or try Fairplay Stores, Cobblestone or Spruce it Up Garden Centres.
  • When you are a Calgary Horticultural Society member you can use the online forum to locate garden supplies and plant materials being given away.


Rotate Crops

Give soil a 3 year rest after growing potatoes.

Year 1: Legumes

Year 2: Leafy crops

Year 3: Roots and Bulbs

Years 4: Fruit

Include in your community garden landscape design more than vegetables.  Find places for fruit shrubs and floral perennials for winter visual interest.




  • There is debate amongst community gardeners regarding how to maintain soil integrity and winter visual interest and the urban preference to have community garden beds be completely cleared of all vegetation during the winter season.  The choices made really depend on the garden's location.  In some cases the garden area is used for winter sports or due to residential complaints about looking at the garden in winter. In other circumstances a second blooming of raspberries is welcomed by the community.
  • There are teaching opportunities to showcase year round what is happening in a community garden and to celebrate nature during all seasons.  In other situations, not clearing your garden bed by October can get you kicked out of the community garden.  
  • One universally attractive winter interest item is to create ice inukshuks by freezing containers of water and balancing the ice shapes made by the containers on top of one another.  Beet juice can be used to dye some of the water pink for color interest. When a warm Chinook wind comes during the winter, the ice inukshuks melt giving needed moisture to the soil.