Let’s talk about preparing your lawn, trees, shrubs, and vegetable or flower garden for winter, and how best to improve your soil during this time of year.
Much of this Country seems to be clay soil, so first let’s find out how to improve problem clay soils. These procedures also apply to other types of soil, but may not be so important if you have loamy or sandy soil.
I don’t often dwell on amending your soil, because it is not essential for growing a good garden if you feed and water properly. However, it can be a good idea, so long as you use clean, weed, seed, bug, and disease-free materials.
Weed-free grass clippings are good soil amendments when they’re available IF the homeowner has not used “Weed & Feed” on the lawn, as are finely ground-up pine needles. And this time of the year you can also use your leaves. Mulch pine needles and leaves as fine as possible with a chipper/shredder or mulching mower, and then turn 3 or 4 inches of them into your soil-beds. Just don’t use walnut leaves, as the sap is toxic to your vegetables, especially tomatoes. This procedure will improve your soil tilth, and doing it in the fall gives the organic material plenty of time to de-compose before spring planting.
What else should you be doing now to get your yard ready for winter and give growing things a head start for spring? The Mittleider Method – as taught in his gardening books available at www.growfood.com – teaches the importance of and the best methods of weeding and feeding your garden. A final weeding is a very good idea for starters. Left alone, some weeds will over-winter and come back strong as soon as the snow leaves your ground and before you can get into the garden. That’s why farmers plant winter wheat, and gardeners plant things like garlic – so they have a head start in the spring. Don’t give your weeds that advantage!
The next thing to do is to clean up and remove all organic materials from the garden area! Clean, disease-free plant residue should be turned into the soil along with your leaves, and you should remove everything else, so as not to provide a place for bugs to winter-over.
If you can find a “slow-release” 16-16-16 or similar NPK mix, use that to make a batch of Weekly Feed, and use that to put on perennials in the fall. This way it is available to lawn, plants, and trees as they first stir in late winter and early spring. This is also a good time to apply calcium, which is “the foundation of a good feeding program,” and an essential nutrient almost as important as nitrogen. How is this best done? Calcium does not move very far in the soil, so it’s best to work it into the plants’ root zone in the soil. However, what about the majority of your yard, that doesn’t get turned over every fall?
With lawn, trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials such as raspberries and asparagus, it is usually impractical to dig things up every year like a vegetable garden. Therefore, sometimes the question is asked “Would it be advantageous to aerate first, or use a root feeder or something similar to get Pre-Plant minerals more into the root zone?”
Many people feel this is important, and there may be some advantage to aerating your lawn or around your shrubs and trees before applying your fall slow-release fertilizer and calcium. However Dr. Mittleider says it is not necessary and he doesn’t do it, and we have never aerated our yard and get along just fine. Therefore, I recommend you spread the materials evenly on the soil surface, scratch them in with a rake or hoe, and either water them in thoroughly or, if you have already turned off your outside water for the winter, let the melting snow take them down into the root zone of your plants.
Do these things now and your garden can be a thing of beauty even in the winter!