Preparing the Garden for Winter | Clay County Master Gardeners

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By: Karen Yesnosky
Based on “Grow Great Vegetables – North Carolina” by Ira Wallace
This time of year is the most comfortable (weather wise) to work in the garden. It’s the time to clean up beds, mulch winter greens, and put on protective coverings against rapidly changing temperatures to come. All soils need replenishing, and fall is the ideal time to work on the fertility and soil health. October is a good time to get a soil test if you haven’t already done so (see Tyler at Extension office). A recent soil test will let you know how to amend your soil, and which areas need the most attention.
Wait until spring to apply water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizers that break down quickly. Plants cannot absorb them well in cold temps.
Clean up crop debris, from soil surface as well as trellises, fences or other structures.
Spread slow-working amendments. Apply dolomitic lime and other slow-release minerals like rock phosphate or bone meal as needed. They’ll have time to break down and be incorporated into the soil so they will be available when your plants need them in the spring.
Mulch! Apply 4-6 inches of organic mulch to any areas where you won’t be planting a cover crop. You can also layer black-and-white newspaper or cardboard underneath the mulch as an even stronger barrier against the weeds. This also helps prevent erosion and soil compaction.
Autumn leaves are one of the very best sources of organic matter for your garden. Leaves are packed with trace minerals that trees draw up from deep in the soil. They lighten clay soil and feed earthworms and beneficial microbes. They’re a fabulous source of carbon to balance the nitrogen in your compost pile. And they insulate tender plants from the cold. Shred raked leaves however you can—shredder, drive over piles with the lawnmower, crush while in a large trash bag, or use string trimmer. Those shredded leaves can be put directly as mulch for blueberry plants or added to compost. For other items, leave in a pile to let them age first before applying to plants.
Cover Crops based on soil needs:
Nitrogen Fixers:  Crimson and beseem clover; Hairy vetch; Soybean and cowpeas; Winter peas
Soil Builders and Subsoil Looseners:  Winter rye (cereal rye); Ryegrass; Oats; Sorghum-susan grass hybrid