This was my first summer as an amateur urban gardener in Toronto. My tiny balcony garden consisted of potted tomato plants, lettuce, basil, and peppers (see photo). They are starting to die as the weather grows colder. What do I do with the dead plants? If I cover the soil, will it be fine to use again in the spring? If not, where do I get rid of it?
Any insight is greatly appreciated!
The tomato vines and pepper plants are warm weather crops and are finished for the season — they can go into your green bin, if your building is part of that program. Otherwise, they can be discarded.
The lettuce is a cold-weather crop, and if it hasn’t gone to seed it might continue to produce small leaves at the centre well into the cool weather. Give it a try. You might be able to keep it going a little longer by removing your pot from the balcony railing, where it’s exposed to wind, and placing it close to the building wall where it’s a little warmer. If you have the time and energy, covering it at night with newspapers or an old sheet will protect it from the colder night air. Once it’s well and truly frozen, the plant can be handled the same way as the tomato.
If your basil is still has leaves (basil is quite sensitive to cold), you can try bringing it indoors and keeping it going in your brightest window. Basil will also root from cuttings, as long as the stems aren’t not too woody. Take the green tips (4″/10 cm) and place in water in an opaque container — a mug or jug is fine. Once the cutting produces roots, plant it in a small pot and try to keep it going as long as you can, extending your harvest. Harvesting your leaves by pinching out the centre growing tips will encourage it to stay bushy and compact.
The soil is fine to use next year, although it’s best to remove the top few inches of soil in the pots where you planted your tomatoes and peppers to avoid soil-borne diseases. Or practice “rotation planting” by putting these nightshade- family plants (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers) in different pots each year. This can be more complicated in a balcony garden, due to lack of space. Any soil you remove from your nightshade pots can be used in pots for unrelated vegetables.
Hope you find this useful. Happy gardening.