Winterizing Your Garden

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The leaves are down and winter is coming, as we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, remember our Christmas tree growers will be working the very next day with their chainsaws a buzzing, and their balers and loaders a rumbling. Many of these trees will be shipped to box stores and retail lots throughout the United States. Choose and cut operations will be up early preparing, setting up their stands, baking cookies, making wreaths and heating up hot apple cider as families and loyal customers come searching for their perfect Christmas tree. While Christmas tree growers are bustling at this time of year, not so for home gardeners. Fall is the perfect time for farmers and gardeners alike to clean-up and put one’s gardens and fields to bed.

The following are a few helpful activities to consider this Thanksgiving season.

Fall Garden Clean-up:  Leaf blow and rake this year’s lawn and garden litter. Old vines and stems provide overwintering sites for insects and diseases. Discard foliage from diseased plants while placing other foliage along with raked leaves to your compost pile. If lacking a ground cover, add or layer your leaves in your garden. Layering leaves or “sheet composting,” enables the leaves to rot quickly making it easy to work into the soil next spring, preventing soil erosion and creating a happy environment for worms and soil microbes.

Fall Cover Crops:  Cover crops are a great way to improve soil structure, protect your soil from erosion and so much more. The best time to sow is from mid-August through the end of September. Winter wheat and annual rye are most commonly used. While gardeners have plots in varying types of ground covers, many are still nursing their cool season leafy green vegetables and root crops utilizing season extension techniques such as hotbeds, cold frames, and low tunnels.

Fall cultivation:  While tilling the soil is the norm for most gardeners, some do so in the fall. Finding a “dry window” to cultivate can be elusive in our rainy springs! Fall tilling helps to eliminate overwintering pests by disturbing the life cycle of insects (both unwanted and wanted), exposing those underground grubs, pupae, and eggs to the sun, birds and freezing temperatures. After adding soil amendments such as leaves, compost, lime and or manure; fall tilling incorporates these items into the soil in addition to aerating and assisting in soil drainage.

Fall a Time for Tool Care:  After having a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal with loved ones, take time to tend to your lawn and garden tools. Clean off the dirt with a wire brush, apply oil (e.g., vegetable oil) to help keep them from rusting, and store them in the garden shed. Remember to drain and store your hoses, watering cans and sprinklers before damage occurs from the cold temperatures. Add a gas treatment or drain gasoline from lawn mowers, and tillers to prevent water from condensing in the gas tanks over winter.

Fall Saving Seeds Planting & Digging up Tender Bulbs:  Remember to save seeds from your favorite non-hybrid plants and while you’re at it November is a great time to plant bulbs for next year while digging up tender bulbs such as cannas and gladiolus.

Fall Soil Testing:  Take advantage of N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ free analysis from their lab in Raleigh before the fee of $4 begins on December 1, 2018. If you find out now that your soil needs lime and fertilizer, you can apply the suggested amendments this fall with the added benefit of winter to work their way into the soil.