AUBURN, Alabama– Trees are losing their leaves, brisk temperatures continue to drop and holiday decorations are popping up around town. Winter is coming quickly, but for home gardeners that does not mean it is time to head indoors.
There are several best practices for home gardens during winter. Planting cover crops, keeping your garden clean and mulching are just a few of these practices. “Right now is a good time to plant a cover crop if you’re not going to plant vegetables in the fall,” said Mallory Kelley, horticulturist and regional Extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
“A lot of them [cover crops] are legumes, so they add nitrogen to the soil, which helps boost your crop when you plant for the spring, helps with erosion and adds organic matter to the soil, which is good when you plant in the spring,” said Kelley.
Examples of cover crops in Alabama include lupin, crimson clover, hairy vetch and a number of other legumes. A more extensive list can be found on the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website. If you are not going to plant a cover crop, Kelley recommends keeping your garden clear of old crops and weeds. Sanitation practices are effective in boosting the success of a vegetable garden.
Disease is another large concern for gardeners. “If you have a big problem with diseases, you may also want to think about soil solarization in the wintertime,” said Kelley. Soil solarization is the process of essentially cooking the top layer of the soil, which will kill the weeds, seeds and diseases that exist there. This prepares the soil for the upcoming spring and allows for fresh crops to be planted.
Another way to prepare the soil for the spring is mulching. “If there’s anything you can do to help suppress weeds, add organic matter, equalize moisture levels and retain moisture, it’s mulch. I’d say that it is the key to any garden. Mulch is your best friend,” said Kelley.
Further tips for late winter and early spring include planting trap crops and adjusting the pH balance of the soil. A trap crop, such as a sunflower or a sorghum, attracts pests away from the edible crops. This allows the gardener to spray the trap crop to kill pests without spraying the edible crops. Lime can be added to adjust the pH balance of the soil. Lime can be added any time of year, including winter.
Cover crops, sanitation, soil solarization, mulching and more can be effective techniques for a winter garden. Using these tactics will lead to healthier soil, which will lead to healthier crops in the spring.