Food and Recipes

Homemade Salted Butter Caramels: Pure Holiday Decadence

Photo by Amber Carlson

Salted butter caramels have officially replaced cookies as my holiday treat of choice. They are equal parts sweet and savory — and when done right, the end result is chewy, gooey, and utterly delectable.

The first caramels I experienced were the cheapo, store-bought kind that come in little plastic wrappers. I remember them being dried-out, crunchy, and basically flavorless, and in my kid brain I couldn’t work out why anyone liked these. For years, this was my conception of “what caramels were like”. 

My mind wasn’t changed until years later, when I tried handmade caramel for the first time. The difference was like night and day. These ones were bursting with flavor, much more complex and delicious than the ones I had tried so many years before. If only I had known!

In good caramel, the sweet, smoky flavor of toasted sugar is complimented by the richness of heavy cream. And butter — lots and lots of butter. Salt is essential for balancing the sweetness and making the candy feel less like a pure sugar bomb and more like the rich, scrumptious treat that it ought to be.

About This Recipe

The recipe I’ll share with you today is my own personal twist on a recipe by David Lebovitz. Years ago, when I first started making caramels, I followed his directions exactly and liked the flavor of the candies I got, but wanted them to be softer and chewier. So, over the years, I started making little tweaks and adjustments to perfect the texture and taste.

To make the most perfect, decadent, chewy caramels, I use extra cream and extra butter, and I don’t skimp on the salt. All of these are key ingredients for that rich, yummy flavor. And while many traditional caramel recipes will tell you to use corn syrup, I make mine with agave nectar. I think it keeps the candies a bit softer, and it also has a lower glycemic index than corn syrup, so I like to think it makes a “healthier” dessert. (How’s that for marketing?!)

If you’re new to the world of candy making, one thing you will want to invest in is a candy thermometer. Candy is a little finicky in that you need to cook it to just the right temperature in order to get the desired texture and firmness (I’ve got more info on this process below). A specialized thermometer can be fit onto the side of your pan and will tell you when your syrup is done cooking.

Apart from that, these caramels only require a few simple ingredients, and they’re super quick and easy to make — you can prep and cook the syrup in about 30 minutes — but remember that it’ll need an hour or so to cool down before you can cut it into pieces and eat it.

A Quick Primer on Candy Making

There are different “stages” that candy syrup will go through as it heats. 235-245°F is known as the “soft ball stage” because the syrup forms a soft “ball” when dropped into a glass of cold water. In my experience, the perfect temperature for caramel is about 240-245°F. So when the temperature reaches this range, I start drizzling my syrup into cold water and taste-testing it (which I’ll explain how to do in the recipe) to catch it right when the texture is perfect. 

I find that once the caramel heats up, the temperature starts to rise quickly, and just a minute or two can make the difference between a perfectly-cooked batch and hard, brittle candy. Again, personally, I’m not a fan of crunchy caramel. If you like yours that way, you could cook it until the “hard ball” stage (250-265°F). I like mine to stay nice and soft, though, so I don’t let it get over 245°F before pulling it off the stove. 

The point is that the longer you cook your candy, the less water content it will have and the more crunchy and brittle it will become. If anything, I would err on the side of cooking your candy a little softer than you think you should. That’s why I do the cold-water test instead of solely relying on temperature to tell me when the candy is finished. Remember, too, that your candy will firm up a bit more once it’s fully cooled and set.

Ingredients

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 25-30 mins (but needs an hour to cool before cutting and wrapping)

Makes about 40-50 candies

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 stick (8 TBs) butter, preferably salted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp. coarse salt, plus extra for finishing
  • ½ cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup granulated or cane sugar
  • Candy thermometer
  • Small baking dish or loaf pan (I use a 9” x 5” pan)
  • Foil for wrapping

How To Make

1. Lightly grease the baking dish or loaf pan, preferably with butter or ghee. Set aside for now.

Photo by Amber Carlson

2. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, vanilla and salt over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Photo by Amber Carlson

3. In a heavy, 4-quart (or larger) pot, combine the sugar and agave nectar. Warm over medium heat and stir to help the sugar melt evenly until all of it has dissolved.

Photo by Amber Carlson

4. Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the molten sugar blend; stir just until combined. The mixture will bubble and foam up at first (which is why you’ll need a big pot!), but it should settle down again after a minute or two.

Photo by Amber Carlson

5. Fit your candy thermometer onto the side of the pot and submerge the tip into your caramel syrup. Turn up the heat to medium and let it bubble and cook, stirring only as needed to keep the mixture from burning (over-stirring liquid sugar can cause it to crystallize, which is not what you want!).

Photo by Amber Carlson

6. Once the syrup reaches 240-245°F, drizzle a spoonful of it into a glass of cold water. Let cool for a few seconds, then do a taste test to check the texture. You want your syrup to hold its shape in the water, but still be quite soft and chewy when you bite into it. If it disintegrates as soon as it hits the water, it’s going to come out more like a caramel sauce that you’d put on a sundae.

Photo by Amber Carlson

7. As soon as you’re happy with the texture of your syrup, turn off your heat immediately and pour the molten caramel into your baking dish or pan. Leave the candy uncovered and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Photo by Amber Carlson

8. Once it’s cool enough to handle, pop the caramel out of its mold and onto a cutting board (you may need a spatula or knife to pry it out of the pan). You can see that mine is still soft and a little squishy — that means it’s perfect for eating!

Photo by Amber Carlson

Then, using a sharp knife, cut candy into small, bite-sized squares. Finish the caramels with a sprinkling of salt over the top.

Photo by Amber Carlson

9. Grab a pair of scissors and cut your foil into small squares (approximately 4”x4”). Use one square to wrap each piece of candy, twisting the ends to secure in place. Keep caramels in a mason jar or other sealed container to retain freshness and they should last for at least a couple of weeks — if you can keep them around that long!

Photo by Amber Carlson
Photo by Amber Carlson

10. Savor every bite of salty, buttery deliciousness. Share with friends and family (if they’re nice and you’re feeling generous). 


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Want to make something other than cookies for the holidays this year? Try these easy, delicious salted butter caramels. #holidaytreats #recipes #comfortfood #desserts

Health and Wellness, Self-improvement

Owning and Embracing Your Introverted Self

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My name is Amber, and I am an introvert. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not asocial or a recluse. I need human connection just like anyone else; I just don’t need as much of it as some people do.

I love and cherish my partner, friends, and family — and they’re easy to spend time around because I know them so well. But nine times out of ten, I would rather stay at home and do my own thing than go to a social gathering with a bunch of people I don’t know as well.

I have to admit I’m not really much for parties, concerts, or other noisy events with big crowds. I’ll go to one every now and then and enjoy myself for a bit, but as soon as I leave, I pretty much need to go home and retreat into my cave for a while before I can face the world again.

I’m not into a lot of the things that other people my age are into. I’d rather read, play music, or do art than have a rowdy night out on the town. I am so not a night owl, it’s not even funny. I am neither trendy nor hip, and the vast majority of pop culture references go right over my head.

And I’m completely okay with it.

I didn’t always love this part of myself, though. I grew up in a culture that rewards, encourages, and praises extroversion. Being loud and outgoing is valued over being quiet and reserved. Extroverts tend to dominate the social scene and the cultural conversation because, well, they talk more than we do. Our voices aren’t always heard over the commotion, even though we have plenty to say.

But in our silence lies our strength. There’s so much more to us introverts than meets the eye. I feel strongly that it’s time for us to stop seeing our introverted nature as a weakness and start owning and celebrating all of who we are. Being an introvert isn’t anything to hide or be ashamed of; it’s a gift.

Living in an Extroverted World

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The truth of the matter is that we live in a world that strongly caters to extroverted personality types. As a result, we’re often misunderstood by people who don’t share our tendencies. Author Susan Cain talks about the “extrovert ideal” that Western culture idolizes. In an interview with The Guardian, she says: 

“Western society is based on Greco-Roman ideals of the person that can speak well, a rhetorical ideal. We have always been to some extent a society that favors action over contemplation.”

How many of us can relate to this? We’re taught growing up that we need to be gregarious, confident, and “alpha” in order to succeed in life — all stereotypically extroverted traits.

But what if we’re not all of those things? Are we destined for a life of stunted growth and missed potential? Are we doomed to be overlooked and underestimated time and time again simply because we don’t always attract as much attention as the extroverts in our midst?

Hell no, we aren’t. 

We’re not broken, even if we learn to believe that we are from growing up in a society that holds up extroversion as the “ideal” personality. What is broken and deeply wrong is the societal messaging that tells us we’re not okay the way we are.

There’s nothing at all wrong with being outgoing and energetic — if that’s your natural orientation. But feeling constantly pressured and forced to act this way when it’s not who we truly are can make us feel ashamed of ourselves. It sends the message that there’s something wrong with us — even though nothing could be further from the truth.

If you identify as an introvert, I highly suggest you read Susan’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s full of research and deeply comforting wisdom about the unique gifts that introverts bring to the world. 

How Do You Know If You’re an Introvert?

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There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to be an introvert. Many people confuse introversion with shyness, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Although introverts can be shy, not all of us are. Moreover, not all shy people are introverts.

What’s the difference, then? Shyness is a mild form of social anxiety where you feel timid around others and worry about what they might think of you. Shy people don’t necessarily enjoy being alone; they just have a lot of fears around social interactions.

Being introverted does not mean you’re afraid of social situations; it means you draw more energy from being alone than you do from being around people. We introverts can enjoy socializing on our terms — I definitely do — but too much interaction drains our energy, and we have to spend time alone to “recharge”. We usually need and want a lower level of stimulation than our extroverted peers.

Also, introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. Most of us don’t neatly fall into one or the other category; instead, we have a mix of introverted and extroverted qualities, but usually lean one way or the other (except for ambiverts, who fall right in the middle).

If you’re not sure whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you could take a personality test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (there’s a free version online). Or, take a look at the following list of statements and ask yourself how many you identify with:

  • I truly enjoy my own company.
  • I can think more clearly when I’m by myself.
  • I am very aware of myself, my feelings, and my motivations.
  • Social situations usually leave me feeling drained.
  • I am easily overstimulated by big crowds, lots of noise, and commotion. 
  • Some people have said I am quiet.
  • I have a small but close-knit circle of friends.
  • I tend to think and consider my options before acting.
  • I value my independence and solitude.
  • I’m good at listening and offering advice to others.
  • I have little patience for small talk and casual conversation.
  • I am very observant of the world around me and notice things other people don’t.

Sound familiar? The more of these statements you can relate to, the more likely you are to be an introvert. And if that’s the case — welcome to the club, my friend. You’re in good company here.

The Gifts of Introversion

As introverts, we may be quieter and less “out there” than our extroverted peers. We may never be the life of the party, but our personality type brings a lot of unique gifts to this world. Here are just a few of them.

Creativity

Many introverts are unconventional thinkers with vivid imaginations. A lot of us enjoy thinking outside the box and finding new ways of looking at things. We are deeply connected with our inner selves and often long to express ourselves through creative outlets.

We may very well be artists, although not all of us are. Those of us who are artistically inclined might enjoy activities like drawing, painting, writing, or playing music.

Introspection

If you break down the word “introvert” into its Latin root words intro and vertere, the meaning is “to turn inwards”. Instead of turning outwards towards the world of people and things, introverts turn within. We spend a lot of time in a rich inner world that enables us to explore who we are, what we care about, and where we find meaning in life.

When we take it too far, we can become a bit detached from reality, living too much inside our own heads. But we have a strong capacity to self-reflect, and we make decisions with an awareness of ourselves and our values.

Compassion

Introverts’ self-awareness and sensitivity can provide us with keen insights into how people work. Often, we are empaths who soak up the emotional energy of people around us — which can be part of why it’s exhausting to spend too much time around others. We need to spend time alone to get back in touch with ourselves.

And yet, these same qualities give us the ability to understand and relate to others on a deep level. So when we do extend ourselves and invest in relationships with others, we have a strong ability to love and care for those people.

Thoughtfulness

Although some of us can be impulsive at times (like me!), introverts are usually known for thinking before they act. We tend to be contemplative and think about issues from multiple different angles. We often have a strong sense of right and wrong and well-thought-out philosophies on life that we love to discuss with others. 

Perceptiveness

We may not always share everything we observe, but we introverts take in a lot of information from our surroundings. We notice beauty in our surroundings and small details that other people might overlook. We’re usually observing rather than joining the fray, so we see patterns and dynamics between people that may be subtle. 

Finding Happiness as an Introvert

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In my opinion, the most essential part of living happily as an introvert is to accept that we are introverted. Being introverted (or extroverted) is an orientation towards the world, and it usually doesn’t change much over the course of a person’s life. We need extroverts in the world, for sure, but introverts bring balance to society and provide a different outlook on life. We are the yin to their yang.

So we have to find ways to trust ourselves. We must learn to believe that we are valuable, that we are okay, that we matter and that there’s a place for us in this world. Sometimes, we have to un-learn the societal messaging that we learned growing up. It can take time. But can we do it? Absolutely.

With greater knowledge of what it means to be an introvert, and awareness of the blessings that come with our personality type, we can feel more confident in ourselves. We can identify any negative or limiting beliefs we might have about introversion and start to question them. And most importantly, we can learn to embrace our many strengths and celebrate all of who we are.


How about you? Are you a proud introvert? I’d love to hear about your journey, wherever you’re at, in the comments below.

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Have you ever felt self-conscious about being an introvert? Learn about the many upsides of your personality and why they're worth celebrating. #self-improvement #self-care #health #wellness #personality #introversion #quiet
Health and Wellness, Mental Health, Self-Care

How to Stay Mentally Healthy During Winter

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As the daylight wanes and the weather starts to get chilly, many of us might be starting to feel the first pangs of sadness about the coming of winter. I know I am.

For me, it seems to start after the fall colors have faded and daylight savings time has ended. I find that my energy and motivation starts to dwindle, especially as night begins to fall earlier and earlier each evening. I usually fade fast once my daylight is gone, and I start to adopt the bedtime habits of a grandma. (8:00? Is that too early to go to bed?)

All joking aside, seasonal dips in mood and energy can really take a toll. Those of us who suffer from anxiety or depression might struggle a little extra with the coming of winter. Plus, we all tend to be less active and stay at home more during the winter anyway, and with the pandemic still raging, we might feel the effects of isolation even more acutely this year. 

I want to talk today about how we can prepare ourselves for this season — how we can take steps to love and care for ourselves now to stay resilient, adaptable, and able to handle the lows that may be coming in the months ahead.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If you struggle at this time of year, you’re far from alone. It’s common to feel a little under the weather as the winter approaches. But for people who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it’s more serious than a case of the “winter blues”. SAD is a form of cyclical depression that usually sets in during the fall and lingers through the winter. 

Somewhere around 5% of American adults experience SAD symptoms such as:

  • Feeling down or sad
  • A loss of interest even in favorite activities
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • A change in your sleep patterns
  • A low energy level
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt or low worth
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions

Although it usually starts to subside when spring rolls around, SAD can make you feel miserable for a few months. And if you’ve got underlying anxiety or depression to begin with, your symptoms could be more severe.

Winter and Isolation

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For a lot of us, winter also means that we don’t get out and about as much. This year, the pandemic will probably keep us at home even more often since it could be a challenge to safely spend time with friends and family. Feeling cooped up at home could lead to feeling lonely and isolated.

We’ve got some unique challenges ahead for the coming winter, but that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to feeling lousy until spring arrives. Here are some ways we can proactively bolster our mental health and keep ourselves well throughout the winter season.

Tips for Staying Well Throughout the Winter

Eat a balanced diet.

I know that eating healthy probably sounds like really obvious advice. We all know eating a balanced diet is good for our long-term health — but did you know the foods we eat can also have an enormous impact on how we feel day-to-day?

I should know. I’m a stress eater. I eat pretty decently most of the time, but I have a tendency to load up on junk food and sweets when I’m stressed or in a low mood. And in the moment, sugar does give a quick boost of feelgood chemicals. It activates reward centers in your brain and boosts levels of dopamine — the same neurotransmitter that cocaine releases in huge quantities.

The problem is, after the dopamine high wears off, your blood sugar plummets, and you wind up feeling more crappy than before. According to Healthline, eating a high-sugar diet increases the odds of mood disorders in men and women. Sugar is also addictive and can make you reliant on its fleeting mood-boosting effects.

You don’t have to swear off all sweet treats. But especially if you know you’re prone to anxiety, depression, or SAD, you might want to reduce your sugar intake this winter and opt for more nutrient-rich foods to support your mental health.

Make sleep a priority.

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Along with eating a nutritious diet, sleep is crucial for good mental health. Our bodies and brains need this time to regenerate, repair, and rest. Poor sleep not only leaves us feeling cranky and on-edge; it actually reduces our ability to manage stress. Studies have also shown that people with insomnia may have twice the risk of developing depression as people who sleep normally. 

Of course, stress and depression can also make sleep more challenging, which may create a vicious cycle. Practicing good sleep hygiene –such as sticking to a regular bedtime and unplugging electronics before winding down for the night — could help you develop healthy sleeping habits. Doing a little breathing work or mindful practice before you go to bed can calm your mind and set the stage for a good night’s rest.

If you’re struggling with getting adequate sleep, you may want to talk with your doctor. They might suggest taking supplements or even medications to aid with sleep. And a therapist can help you work through anxiety or other issues that are keeping you awake at night.

Ask your doctor about light therapy.

Light therapy is a recognized form of treatment for SAD. It involves sitting near a box that radiates a bright light, similar to the natural light you’d see outdoors. The extra light exposure is believed to alter brain chemicals that affect your mood and sleep patterns, which can alleviate some symptoms of depression.

Although it’s generally safe, it comes with some risks and possible side effects — so make sure to check with your doctor before beginning light therapy. 

Get creative.

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Expressing yourself through creativity is a marvelous antidote to anxiety, depression, and winter doldrums. Taking part in creative activities has known benefits for mental health, such as reducing depression and anxiety, increasing positivity, and possibly even boosting our immune system.

And creativity doesn’t only include artistic activities like drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument. Most of us are creative in some way. Think about what you enjoy doing or making, whether it’s cooking up new recipes in the kitchen, quilting, webpage design, or flower arranging. All of these hobbies have a creative component, and all of them can potentially boost our happiness. It’s about finding something that’s meaningful to you and making time to do it.

Even if you’re feeling a little blue, you might be surprised at how doing something creative can lift your spirits and brighten your day.

Connect with friends and family.

While it might be hard to gather with friends or family in-person right now, it’s vital to stay connected with the ones we love. If you don’t already have a video chat app such as Zoom, Google Duo, or Skype, I highly suggest you download one of these programs, sign up for an account, and learn how to use it before the winter comes. 

Having virtual chats with your favorite people can be almost as good as seeing them face-to-face, and you won’t even have to leave home to do it. Another huge upside of these apps is that you can use them to host (or attend) virtual gatherings — so you can see all of your nearest and dearest ones for the holidays without compromising anyone’s safety.

Stay active.

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Physical activity is one of the best stress-busters I know of. Even during some of the hardest times in my life, if I could get myself to work out, it always made a positive difference in how I felt. 

Exercise is extremely effective at reducing anxiety and depression — it releases endorphins, refocuses your mind on something new, and gives you confidence, all of which can give your mood a boost. When you’re in a funk, it can be hard to find the motivation to work out. But staying active can help you blow off steam, clear your mind, and arrive in a clearer, more peaceful headspace. 

And you don’t have to go to the gym to add some movement to your day. With all of the online options available these days, you can easily find online yoga routines, Zumba workouts, and fitness classes to do from the comfort of your own home. 

Create things to look forward to.

Many of us aren’t traveling or going out a lot right now. But if possible, start making plans for fun things you can do in the future — whether it’s this weekend, a few weeks from now, or a couple of months down the road. 

You could set dates to meet up — in-person or virtually — with your friends and family. Or think about the next road trip you’d like to take. Or plan a Netflix night with your sweetie to watch a new movie as soon as it comes out. Pick some things that get you excited about the future so that you can give yourself something to look forward to.

Distraction isn’t always bad.

I’m going to share something with you that my therapist told me once: sometimes, when you’re in a really bad place, one of the best things you can do is distract yourself

I’m generally a huge proponent of mindfulness and delving into difficult feelings to find what’s at the root of them. But if we’re starting to spiral out of control, focusing more on those feelings only magnifies them and makes them worse. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to distract yourself until you’ve calmed down. Turn on some music and sing at the top of your lungs. Watch an outrageous movie, or a few Youtube videos filled with adorable baby animals. If possible, resist the urge to self-medicate, no matter how tempting it may be.

Once you’re back to feeling calm, you could try some meditation or breathwork to gain some clarity on what you’re feeling. But if you’re not there yet, don’t force it.


What about you? What do you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Does wintertime get you down? Learn how to stay happy and well through the cold months and isolating at home. #health #wellness #anxiety #depression #SAD #mentalhealthmatters #winter

Gardening

8 Steps to Winterize Your Garden Beds

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Now that we’re well into the fall season, the weather is starting to feel more wintery — at least, it is where I am. As I write this, snow is lightly falling outside, blanketing the yard and the trees in velvety white.

For those of us who live in temperate climates, it’s safe to say that the gardening season is nearing its end for this year. We’ve spent months carefully cultivating our little patches of earth, and hopefully, we’ve been rewarded with a bounty of delicious home-grown foods. But now, with colder days approaching, it’s time to get our gardens ready for a long winter’s rest.

Why Winterize Your Garden Beds?

I’ll be honest; I never used to do anything to prepare my garden for winter. Around late August or early September, I usually lose steam for gardening; I get lazy about tending to my plants and I start to just let the little guys fend for themselves. When things start to wither, I let them go. And in the past, I never bothered with clearing out all the gnarled dead branches and leaves — I figured I’d just let nature take its course.

But I’ve learned that taking just a few simple steps to get the garden ready for winter can help ensure a better growing season next year. For one thing, clearing out all dead plant material creates a clean slate for next year, allows you to amend your soil if needed, and helps remove diseases and pests from your garden. If the plants were happy and healthy, they can also make good compost.

Amending your soil now with nutrients and organic matter gives them a chance to settle into the soil so that it’ll be ready for planting come spring. A layer of mulch will insulate your perennials, protect your garden beds, and keep weeds under control when the weather turns warm again. Now’s a great time to plant any spring-flowering bulbs, and there are even some cold-weather crops you can plant for late fall and early winter harvests.

How to Prepare Your Garden Beds for Winter

Winterizing your garden beds is fairly simple and doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. Simply follow these eight steps and your garden will be winter-ready.

1. Harvest any leftover fruit, veggies, herbs, and seeds.

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If there’s anything left to harvest from your garden, now’s the time to go collect it. By this point in the season, there may not be much left, but make sure to harvest anything you might use. Produce can be frozen, canned, pickled, or made into preserves for a longer shelf life. Flowers and herbs can be bundled and hung up to dry.

One of my favorite parts of harvesting is gathering seeds for next year — it’s fun, easy, and saves you from needing to buy more seeds. It’s simple to harvest seeds from fruits and veggies like tomatoes, zucchinis, melons, peppers, and pumpkins. However, you can also gather seeds from herbs, flowers, and many other plants. All it takes is a little research to find where the plant stores its seeds — some have pods or capsules along their stems, while others store seeds at the base of their flowers.

Photo by Amber Carlson

To harvest seeds from a plant, let it go to seed and then wait for the seedheads or pods to completely ripen — then, you can extract the seeds and store them in labeled envelopes or baggies. A note here: if you’re in doubt about whether your seeds are ripe, wait a little longer! Harvesting too soon can give you immature seeds that won’t sprout. I like to wait until the plant has completed its life cycle and has started to dry out.

2. Move non-hardy plants inside.

If you want to keep some of your non-hardy plant babies alive through the winter, you can move them indoors to a place where they’ll get the light they need and be sheltered from the cold. Potted plants are the easiest to move, but you may also be able to dig up plants from the ground or garden beds and transplant them inside.

For this method to be successful, the plant does need to be fairly small; bigger ones have more developed root systems and are much harder to move. Some species also don’t like having their roots disturbed, period, and can die from transplant shock. I suggest doing research on the plant you intend to move to maximize your chances of a successful transplant.

3. Clear out all weeds and dead vegetation.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Removing all dead plant material from the garden is an essential step in getting your garden ready for winter. I’d say that if you were pressed for time and could only do one of these eight steps, it should be this one. The biggest risk with leaving dead plants in place is that it can allow insects, molds, and diseases to linger in your garden over the winter and re-infest next year’s plants. Bad news!

Start removing annuals from your garden as they begin to die off for the season. While you’re at it, pull any remaining weeds (roots and all) so they don’t come back with a vengeance in the spring. Healthy plant matter can be composted or discarded, but any disease or pest-infested material should be thrown in the trash or burned.

4. Cut back perennials as necessary.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Since perennial plants come back year after year, you don’t want to pull the roots from the ground — unless you want to remove the plant, that is. The above-ground parts of the plant (stems, leaves, and flowers) die back for the winter, while the roots or bulbs beneath the ground survive and send out fresh shoots the following spring.

Certain perennials can benefit from being trimmed to the ground once hard frosts have started to kill the leaves and stems. Bee balm, phlox, and hosta should all be trimmed since they can carry mildews and pest eggs. Other herbs and flowers do well with trimming, but certain types (especially evergreen perennials) should be left alone. 

If you’re unsure about specific plants in your garden, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has more information on which perennials should and shouldn’t be trimmed.

5. Amend your soil as needed.

Photo by Amber Carlson

Now that you’ve cleared old plants out of your garden, you may want to take the opportunity to beef up your soil. If you had a stellar growing season and all of your plants stayed happy until the end, you might not need to worry about this step, but if you suspect that your soil quality is lacking, now’s a good time to make some adjustments.

You can buy kits to test pH, moisture, sunlight, and levels of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in your soil — or you can have your local nursery or gardening extension service test it for you. Once you have the results, you can add compost, manure, fertilizers, minerals, and other ingredients to balance out and enrich the composition of your soil.

If you’d rather not mess with testing or your soil’s not in need of a massive overhaul, you can’t go wrong with mixing some good-quality compost into your beds. Compost adds nutrients, boosts beneficial microbes, and improves soil texture for healthier plants.

6. Plant cold-weather veggies and bulbs.

Tulip bulbs. Photo by Amber Carlson

Once you’re happy with your soil, it’s time to plant any cold-weather crops you’d like to grow. Even in temperate zones like mine — and I live in hardiness zone 6A — it’s not too late to plant leafy greens like spinach and kale, or veggies like carrots, garlic, and onions. While they may not survive the whole winter, you may still get a good harvest or two out of them.

Fall is also the time of year to plant any spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, or crocus — they need the cold of winter followed by spring warmth to snap out of their dormancy and grow. I planted some tulips and grape hyacinths in my front bed and I can’t wait to see how they turn out next year!

7. Cover up your soil and perennial plants.

Put your garden beds to rest by tucking them under a blanket of mulch. Photo by Amber Carlson

With most of the hard work done, you can now cover your soil and perennial plants with mulch to put them to bed for the winter. Mulching protects your soil from erosion, helps it retain nutrients, and controls weed growth — and some mulches have the added benefit of enriching your soil.

You can use traditional mulches such as wood chips or straw, but one excellent (and free) alternative is to mulch with fallen leaves in your yard. All you have to do is run your lawn mower over piles of dry, crunchy leaves — the blades will chop the leaves down into a rich organic mulch that will break down and turn into compost for next year’s garden.

Whatever mulch you choose, layer it on top of any garden beds you’re done using for the season. Adding compost on top of and around perennial plants can give them some insulation and help them come back more vigorously in the spring.

Some gardeners opt to plant cover crops, such as winter rye, that can help build your soil while serving the same purposes as a mulch. Or, if nothing else, you can cover your garden beds with plastic, cardboard, or old carpet.

8. Reflect and make notes on the growing season.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

At this point, all that’s left to do is look back on the growing season you had this year. What worked well? What didn’t work? If you have a garden journal — or if you’d like to start one — make notes on what you observed this year, how well your various plants grew, and what you might do differently next season. 

Part of what makes gardening so fun and rewarding is trying different things, learning from experience, and becoming a more knowledgeable gardener each year. Keeping detailed notes can help you remember what you did in the past so that you can make your next growing season even better.

That’s it — you and your garden beds are now ready for winter! With these simple steps done, you can rest easy knowing that your garden will be ready and waiting for you in the spring. May you enjoy the remainder of this beautiful fall season and have a safe, peaceful winter.


Do you have any other fall gardening tips and tricks to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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Ready to prepare your garden for winter? Here are eight simple steps to make your life easier next spring. #gardening #gardenplanning #gardentipd