Winter may be just around the corner, but that doesn't mean you can't start planning your garden for next spring. In fact, doing a few tasks in the fall to prepare your soil can lead to a more successful crop in the spring, and it can also lighten your workload come spring.
The first step to preparing your soil for next spring’s garden is to remove any debris from the area. Start with the non-plant materials like stakes, tomato cages, or other support systems. Then focus on any leftover plant materials. This includes remnants from this year’s harvest, sticks, rocks, and any weeds that have have cropped up. The easiest way to do this is with a tiller, garden fork, or shovel. Turn and loosen the soil, being sure to get under any established root systems. After tilling, pick through the garden to remove any debris. If you have a shredder handy, you can run plant debris through this to create mulch; however, don’t toss in weeds or any plants that are blighted or diseased as these can carry over into next year’s garden.
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Add Organic Matter
Once you’ve gotten the debris out of the way, give the garden another run through with the tiller to break up any remaining dirt clods. Dig deep to allow as much oxygen as possible into the soil. Bring in your organic matter and other amendments to help condition the soil; this includes compost, manure, chopped leaves and grass clippings. Turn the soil and organic matter together so it is evenly mixed, and be generous with these additions. These amendments will increase oxygen in the soil, supply nutrients, and promote microbial activity and better drainage. Adding these soil amendments in the fall also gives them ample time to biologically activate, which leads to better garden health.
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Plant a Cover Crop
Planting a cover crop that will safely overwinter in your garden can help protect the soil and nutrients within. There are several choices for cover crops, but some of the most popular include winter rye, Austrian winter peas, vetch, crimson clover, fava beans and annual grasses.
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These crops will establish roots systems that will secure and protect the soil from winter moisture, and they’ll also add their own nutrients. At the end of winter when spring planting is just a few weeks away, turn over the cover crop to prepare for planting. Doing this, as well making sure any grass doesn’t go to seed, will ensure that there aren’t any springtime cover crop pop-ups.
10 Winter Prep Tips for Your Lawn and Garden
It may be depressing to think about, but with winter creeping up, it's time to prepare your lawn and garden for the coming cold season. Taking a few steps to prepare for the first frost and the cold months ahead can lead to a healthier yard and garden, with thriving plant life and pops of greenery and color. Winterizing can also reduce your workload in the spring, so you can spend more time outside simply enjoying Mother Nature. Follow this advice to best prepare your lawn for the winter season.
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Tip 1 - Rake
This quintessential fall activity is an important task for lawn and garden winter (related article) preparation. Removing fallen leaves and other debris from your yard will allow sunlight and moisture to reach grass roots to keep them healthy. If you leave piles on the lawn, it can kill the grass underneath and create unsightly brown spots.
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Tip 2 - Don’t Prune
Many people mistakenly assume that hard pruning should be done in the fall. Pruning is actually an activity that promotes plant growth. There’s no reason to do prune when you’re heading into the dormant season. If you do need to prune, go easy on it, or consult a local greenhouse or garden center to find out if a particular plant needs to be cut back.
Tip 3 - Cut Back Perennials
Now is the time to cut back and clean out perennials. These plants frequently have dead areas, so remove them to improve appearance and reduce unwanted moisture. After the first frost, you can cut back perennials to the soil for a tidier look.
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Tip 4 - Toss Annuals
You loved them all summer, but now is the time to get rid of your annual plants. These include any annuals you have planted in pots, hanging baskets, or flowerbeds. Unless you plan on bringing them indoors, these plants won’t survive the winter, so clear them out now before they become an eyesore or start harboring diseases.
Tip 5 - Mulch
Grab some mulch and use it to cover vulnerable areas like flowerbeds, gardens, and the bases of young trees. The mulch will act as a protectant, insulating the soil and protecting any plants within it reach. When you’re mulching around trees, be sure to mound it away from the trunk, shaping it more like a donut rather than a volcano.
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Tip 6 - Cover Tender Plants
Mulch isn’t the only option for protecting plants. If you have plants that are especially tender, consider covering them with a burlap sack for added protection.
Tip 7 - Plant Spring Bulbs
Even though it’s turning cold, you can still look forward to spring by planting a variety of bulbs, like colorful daffodils and tulips. It’s best to plant bulbs about six weeks before the first hard frost so they can form roots and properly establish.
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Tip 8 - Aerate and Winterize the Grass
Aerating your lawn will open up the soil, allowing more oxygen and water to access the roots, which ultimately results in healthier grass. After aerating, you should also add a high quality winterizing lawn food that will provide root strengthening nutrients during the cold months.
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Tip 9 – Compost
Composting is not only good for the planet, but it is also good for your garden and flower bed. You can compost just about any organic material. Use the raked leaves, cut perennials and uprooted annuals you’ve just accumulated. If you have a shredder, put them through it for more manageable compost. It’s okay if you don’t. Mix it together and use it later as soil conditioner.
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Tip 10 - Tend the Garden
Get your garden ready for winter by pulling up harvested plants and removing debris like weeds, sticks and rocks. Till the soil and add amendments such as compost, grass clippings or cut leaves. Cover with hay or plant a crop cover, such as winter rye or crimson clover, to protect the soil and provide more nutrients.
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