Putting the Garden to Bed

If the first frost isn’t too far away, it can be very tempting to forget about the garden until next spring. But when you’re willing to spend some time cleaning up garden waste and protecting your plants and soil, it will be well worth the effort. When next spring comes you will be ready to plant sooner, your soil will be healthier, and your pest and disease problems will be minimal.

Tidy up the garden: To remove insect eggs or pathogens from garden tools, rinse the tools in a 10 percent bleach solution (1 part household bleach to 9 parts water). Dry completely before storage.

Decaying plants become a place for pests and pathogens to spend the winter. Remove finished and diseased plants. Chop up any non-diseased plants into smaller pieces and add them to your compost heap. Make sure to add “brown” material (chopped, fallen leaves) to your compost heap and cover it. Weed removal is just as important, as pests like to hibernate there too. If you have fruit trees, remove any dead and rotting fruit. Don’t forget your perennials; Remove dead leaves and flowers and compost.

Bringing the floor into shape: Cultivating, digging, or plowing your soil in the fall will improve ventilation and drainage, which will allow the roots to spread more evenly. It can also destroy pests that hibernate in the ground or expose them to birds and other predators. The incorporation of organic matter helps set the natural cycles in motion that enrich the soil. Earthworms and microorganisms break down organic material into forms that can be used by plants. When it is broken down, humus is created. Examples of organic material include: straw, clippings, shredded leaves, compost, remaining summer mulch, and composted manure. The soil should be dry enough that it crumbles easily in your hand. When the soil is hard and dry, pour it deeply. Wait two to three days and check the moisture level again before turning it.

Changes: Organic additives are made from natural plant or animal materials or from powdered minerals or rocks. They release their nutrients slowly as they are broken down by microorganisms. They feed both plants and soil. Mulching: Applying organic mulch prevents soil compaction from heavy rainfall and erosion from wind and rain. Mulch helps to absorb the impact of raindrops, which can destroy the soil structure, especially in finely structured soils. The force of raindrops compacts the soil by moving the particles closer together, creating a practically sealed surface. Rain then runs off the top of the soil and carries soil particles with it. Most people only realize how much soil is being lost until it is too late. Now that you’ve got your yard to bed, sit back, relax, get some seed catalogs, and enjoy the winter!

See these references for more information; Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale’s Garden Answers, Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs, Ed. 1995, The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Revised Edition, Ed. 1978, Garden Way Publishing, The Big Book of Gardening Skills, Ed. 1993, Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, Vermont, USDA Natural Resources Tip Sheet – Backyard Conservation “Mulching,” April 1999, and University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Publication 8059, Vegetable Garden Basics.

Lisa Page is a Cooperative Extension Gardener from the University of California in Tuolumne County with over 30 years experience growing vegetables.

Master Gardeners from the University of California Cooperative Extension can answer gardening questions. In Tuolumne County, call (209) 533-2912 and in Calaveras County call (209) 754-2880. You can fill out our user-friendly problem questionnaire


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