Prepare Garden Soil Now for Next Spring

fall garden soilQuestion: I read recently that it is better to till your vegetable garden and annual flower beds in the fall rather than waiting until next spring. What do you recommend?

Answer: Soil tilling and preparation can be done in the fall or spring. However, there are some advantages to fall preparation. By tilling or spading under left over vegetable and flower plants in the fall, they will break down into humus which will improve the soil structure for next year. They break down faster if chopped into small pieces and mixed with the soil and its micro-organisms. Leaves can be added before spading or tilling to further enrich the soil. I usually have more time for soil preparation in the fall than in the spring. Alternately, left over plants and leaves can be composted and added to the soil before tilling next spring. I mulch my flower beds with bark dust (Soil Pep) and vegetables with grass clippings during the summer. These get mixed in when I till, whether it is fall or spring.

I have some flower beds which I never till or spade. The soil has been improved for years by adding organic matter such as bark dust. I have planted fall bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. After they are through blooming in the spring, I plant annual flowers between the bulbs. They soon hide the left over bulb leaves as they grow. As the bulb leaves turn brown, I remove them. I have even planted bulbs in a bed covered with ajuga ground cover. The yellow daffodils blend very well with the bronze foliage of the ajuga. The blue ajuga flowers pop up shortly after the daffodils are through blooming.

Raised vegetable beds may not need spading or tilling. Since you do not walk on the soil it does not get compacted. I recommend putting the larger left over plants in a compost pile or bin and using a hoe to chop in smaller pieces, leaves, and left over mulch.

Fall is an excellent time to add sulfur to the soil before tilling, spading or hoeing. I add 2 to 3 pounds (4 to 6 cups) of sulfur per 100 square feet. This seems like a lot, but it takes a lot to have a big impact on our alkaline soil. I use about half to a fourth as much on lawns or other areas where plants are actively growing.

If you decide to put your left over plants and leaves in a compost pile, be sure to sprinkle some ammonium sulfate or lawn fertilizer as you add layers. The nitrogen in the fertilizer will stimulate micro-organism activity. I also like to sprinkle a little soil to inoculate the compost with micro-organisms. Compost should be turned periodically to introduce air into the bottom of the pile. The looser and better aerated compost is, the faster it turns into humus.

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