Put the garden to bed




With the first frosts not too far away, it can be very tempting to forget about the garden until next spring. But if you’re willing to spend some time cleaning up garden debris and protecting your plants and soil, it will be worth it. When next spring arrives, you’ll be ready to plant sooner, your soil will be healthier, and your pest and disease problems will be minimal.

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

Rotting crops become a place for pests and pathogens to overwinter. Remove finished and diseased plants. Cut any non-diseased plants into small pieces and add them to your compost pile. Make sure to add “brown” material (cut or fallen leaves) to your compost pile and cover. It is just as important to clean the weeds, because the pests also like to overwinter there. If you have fruit trees, be sure to clean up all the dead and rotten fruit. Don’t forget your perennials; pluck and compost dead leaves and flowers.

Soil shaping: Cultivating, digging, or plowing your soil in the fall improves aeration and drainage, allowing the roots to spread more evenly. It can also destroy pests that overwinter in the soil or expose them to birds and other predators. The incorporation of organic matter makes it possible to start the natural cycles which enrich the soil. Earthworms and microorganisms break down organic matter into forms that plants can use. As it decomposes, humus is created. Examples of organic matter are: straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves, compost, remaining summer mulch, and composted manure. The soil should be dry enough to crumble easily in your hand. If the soil is hard and dry, water it thoroughly. Wait two to three days and check the humidity again before returning.

Modifications: Organic amendments 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 nourish both the plants and the soil. Mulching: Applying organic mulch stops soil compaction from heavy rains and erosion from wind and rain. Mulch helps absorb the impact of raindrops, which can destroy soil structure, especially with fine textured soils. The force of the raindrops compacts the soil, bringing the particles together, forming a virtually sealed surface. The rain then runs off the soil surface, carrying soil particles with it. Most people don’t realize how much land is wasted until it is too late. Now that you’ve planted your garden, sit back, relax, get some seed catalogs and enjoy winter!

For more information, please see these references; Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Answers from Rodale’s Garden, Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs, ed. 1995, The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, new 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 Master Gardener at the University of California Tuolumne County Cooperative Extension with over 30 years of experience growing vegetables.

Master gardeners at 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 complete our easy to use problem questionnaire


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