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In a way winter is the real spring – the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.

— Edna O’Brien, author

The garden may look bare and dreary in winter, but winter is nature’s time to rest and renew. Nurture nature with these seven tips to protect plants and enrich soil overwinter.

1Plant a cover crop
Bare ground is vulnerable to harsh winter weather. Planting a cover crop in your vacant garden improves soil health overwinter.

Rye is the most winter-hardy of all cereal grains. It germinates at temperatures as low as 33 F. Once established, winter rye tolerates temperatures as low as -30 F. Use a higher seeding rate when planting rye during cool weather.

In spring, till the rye into the soil to add nitrogen, phosphorous, potash and trace minerals.

2Apply a 4-inch to 6-inch thick layer of mulch
Mulch protects and insulates soil. It helps maintain ground temperature overwinter. Keeping ground temperature consistent is critical to plant health. A warm wave of weather can prompt plants out of dormancy prematurely. A cold snap back kills new growth, causing permanent damage to plants.

Wood chips are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of mulch. But straw, leaves and yard waste are also effective mulches to apply overwinter.

3Guard the ground with ground covers
Frost heaving occurs when a thick layer of ice forms underground and then thaws, pushing up perennial rootstock and displacing soil. Frost heaving does not damage soil, but it can harm plants. Ground covers help guard against frost heaving by regulating ground temperature and moisture.

Repurpose old blankets, fabric remnants and empty feed sacks as ground…