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Bringing your Garden Down after the season

By Ron Tanner, DIKCG

For those of us that love spring  and summer gardening it’s kind of sad to realize, but the spring/summer growing season is about to come to an end.  The cooler temperatures should be upon us pretty soon, and so will the frost (see some frost dates at the end of this article). So if you are not going to   plant a fall garden, and even if you are, here are some steps you can take to close your garden down after the growing season.  These tips work whether you have a raised bed garden, or plant directly in your improved soil.

1. Pull your vegetables

First of all be prepared to pull all of your vegetables that can no longer thrive in the colder weather.  These include tomatoes, peppers, squash, watermelons, peas, and beans.  Tomato and pepper plants should probably be disposed of, but not composted, because they tend to carry more diseases.  The other plants can be put into your compost pile.

 

2. Remove weeds

Next remove all weeds from your garden that you may have missed during the growing season.  Hopefully these weeds will not germinate as easily the next season. 

 

3. Remove materials from garden

Get rid of any materials from your garden that will not biodegrade into the soil.

 

4. Turn garden soil over

Turn your soil over so that any insect eggs that may have been deposited will be disposed to the colder temperatures thus preventing them from hatching and turning into garden pests when the weather warms. You can then add a layer of compost to your open soil to help with soil enrichment for the next growing season and to keep it in place when inclement weather hits.

5. Plant Cover crops

Here is one of my favorites: Plant cover crops such as rye or hairy thatch.  Cover crops do two things: First of all, they help prevent weeds from growing so rampantly during the next growing season, and second, and most importantly, cover crops provide nitrogen to your soil.  This is called nitrogen fixing. Nitrogen fixing works like this:

 

Nitrogen for plants is an essential part of your garden and is abundant in the world as a gas, but is not abundant in the soil.   Because most plants cannot use nitrogen as a gas, you must add Nitrogen to the soil.  You can help add naturally occurring nitrogen to your soil for you plants to use by using Nitrogen Fixing plants. These plants work with bacteria called Rhizobium to pull the nitrogen from the air. This common bacterium, Rhizobium infects some plants such as legumes. These plants then help the bacterial draw Nitrogen from the air. The bacterium converts this nitrogen gas and then stores it in the roots of the plant. When these plants die and you turn them over into your soil, the nitrogen that has been store in the plant nodules is returned to the soil.  Planting cover crops that fix nitrogen can add nitrogen to your soil.  These crops include annual rye and hairy vetch.  Cover crops should generally be planted from mid August to late September, but if you are planting a winter garden, you can plant cover crops between your rows.

6. Cover your garden

If you have weeds that have grown hopelessly out of control, you can try covering them with a black plastic and leaving it in place over the winter.  This process may kill many of the weeds and prevent them from re germinating in the spring.

 

If you take these steps, your next growing season should be all the more productive.

Frost dates for our area taken from the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  Always keep in mind that because of varying climatic conditions, these dates should be used as a guide only, and not as a certainty.

 

Dates are normal averages for a light freeze; local weather and topography may cause considerable variations. The possibility of frost occurring after the spring dates and before the fall dates is 50 percent. The classification of freeze temperatures is usually based on their effect on plants. Light freeze: 29° to 32°—tender plants killed. Moderate freeze: 25° to 28°—widely destructive to most vegetation. Severe freeze: 24° and colder—heavy damage to most plants