In the world of edibles, rest is an essential element of a thriving garden. Just like humans, the garden can get a good winter sleep that rejuvenates and enlivens a spring garden. The converse is also true, poor soil preparation leads to a fitful draining winter sleep that leaves the soil depleted. Some simple things can “tuck you garden in to rest” and insure a successful spring.
The fist step to a good rest, is tidying up the garden. Before doing any of the below suggestions, it is essential you pull dead, dying and diseased plants and compost them. Once the clean up is complete, it’s time to protect the soil. If you have an empty bed this time of year, there are lots of ways to do just this. Below are three of our favorites.
Shameless plug: if you don’t have time to get to these things yourself. We still have some openings in our winter clean up schedule and would love to help. Check out our Maintenance page for more information.
October is a time of many fallen leaves. Leaf mulch can be a wonderful way to tuck your garden in if you are not planning on growing anything in the winter. Simply place a 3-5 inch layer of leaves over an empty bed and you have soil protection. Throughout the winter the leaves will prevent weeds from getting in and prevent water from leaching the soil. Additionally the leaves attract red-wiggler worms and can decompose into the soil. You can turn them into the soil or simply remove them and put them into your hot or passive composting system for amazing soil down the road. If you would like to use leaves around existing plants. it is recommended that you shred them first.
Many other things can be used as mulch around perennial and annual plants. Hay, pine needles, compost, wood chips and more are great options for winter mulch. There is much to know on this topic. One article we found helpful is here.
According to Wikipedia: “A cover crop is a crop planted primarily to manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem (Lu et al. 2000).” Cover crops are hard working, easy to grow, disease suppressing, soil building powerhouses of the agricultural world. For our backyard-gardener we choose a clover, vetch and rye mix. These legumes and grasses work together to balance the soil, lock in nutrients and provide great protection for your beds.
Sew a thick amount of crop 6-8 weeks before the first frost. Planting should grow up to cover entire bed like a chia pet or a blanket. Come spring, clip or mow down cover crop and turn greens into the soil. Wait 1-3 weeks, then plant. The nutrients from the green grasses and legumes will infuse your soil with good organic matter, turning will aerate soil and you will have fresh compost from the green clippings to feed the new plants.
A couple of caveats: once planted cover crops stay put through the winter. When the spring comes they grow quickly. You must turn them into the soil before they blossom, or else they can become frustrating weeds. Secondly, cover crops should grow higher than two inches to properly protect beds through winter rains.
Garlic + Straw:
Garlic is fun and easy to grow over the winter. Plant garlic 6-8 weeks before the first frost date (In Seattle it is November 25). Simply break the head apart, then plant each clove about a thumb deep and about a fist apart. Heavy mulching with straw is recommended. This will protect the soil and the plant. Harvest in July. Do not plant garlic in the same place every year as there are some pests and molds that can form. With the straw mulch, your garlic and your soil will have an amazing winter rest.
Friendly reminder: if you don’t have time to get to these things yourself. We still have some openings in our winter clean up schedule and would LOVE to help. Check out our Maintenance page for more information.