NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 16, 2013

Getting the garden ready for winter

Tim's Tips
Tim Lamprey

---- — The leaves of the maple trees have begun to change color and unfortunately they have also begun to fall off the trees. I guess this means that fall has really begun!

Sunday night came pretty close to a frost at our house. Some of you may have had a frost. Either way, the warm weather vegetable crops and the annual flower beds will soon be a thing of the past. When the time comes to clean up your gardens, you want to be sure that any diseased plants are not left in the garden. This also goes for any diseased parts of the plant. Think of things like diseased tomatoes or zucchini. Any diseased plants or vegetables left on the soil will be a source for re-infection of your plants in 2014. Once you have everything cleaned up, add some lime and some compost to your soil. Work these into the soil. The lime will help to neutralize any acidity in the soil. The compost will help to increase the organic matter in the soil.

Once you have the garden cleaned up and ready for winter, there is one more thing that you need to do. Unless we get any early snow to cover the soil, the sun will dry the soil and the wind will strip off some of the soil and that soil will blow away. There is a way for preventing this from happening. What you need to do is to apply what is known as a cover crop.

A cover crop is, as the name implies, a crop that is planted to cover the soil. In New England, the most commonly used cover crop is winter rye. Winter rye is purchased as a seed. The seed is spread over the entire surface of the garden. You can lightly rake it into the soil. If you can apply some water after the seed is down, all the better. Once the winter rye begins to grow, you will seed thick blades of what will look like grass. The winter rye will continue to grow even in the cold weather. The blades of rye will thicken up and a massive root system will develop in the soil. All of this growth will help to hold the soil in place by preventing the wind and the sun from doing their damage. In the spring, you will till the winter rye into the soil. This will add additional organic matter to your soil. The blades of rye will also add lots of nutrients into the soil. Think of it as free fertilizer come the spring! We carry winter rye seed in our store.

Earlier in the column, I spoke about the leaves falling off the trees. If you can, try to get those leaves off the lawn as soon as possible. Many years, we get a rainy November and then you are trying to deal with cleaning up soaking wet leaves. Leaves can be turned into beneficial compost if you have a place to set up a compost pile. To speed up the composting process, you can add a compost activator to the leaves as you pile up the leaves in your composting area. Add some lime to the pile of leaves each time you get about 6 inches of leaves piled up. This will help to offset the acidity that is in the leaves. Come the spring, you should have some great compost to add to your gardens.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. His website is www.Harborgardens.com.