There are many things gardeners can do to improve the next gardening season while preparing a garden for winter. For example, the gardens’ size can be adjusted, and the soil can be analyzed. Information about protecting trees and improving lawns and houseplants is also provided.
In fall, when gardening chores are winding down, it’s a good idea to button up your garden for winter. There are many things you can do, from improving the soil to fixing equipment, that will give you a better gardening season in 1993. Here are some fall chores you can do to make yours the best garden in the neighborhood.
In the Garden
Was your gardening effort too large or too small for you and your family? If it was too large, plan now to cut its size down. A garden plot 50 ft. x 50 ft. (that’s 2500 sq. ft.) is enough for a small family, but if you have a larger family, say five or more, then you’ll need a space 50 ft. x 100 ft., or even larger, especially if you want to have vegetables to can or freeze, besides all the fresh ones you want to eat. If your food bill hurts your pocketbook, you can save money by growing more.
An acid test can tell you if you need to apply lime this fall. You can buy a simple soil test kit or have your extension agent do it for a small fee. Don’t get bogged down on a “complete soil analysis”–this can be a waste of time and money. To us, the “acid test” is the most important. Soil sweetness or sourness is measured by a pH yardstick. A pH of 7 means the soil is neutral, neither sweet nor sour. A soil with a pH below 7 is acid or sour, and one with a pH above 7 is alkaline or sweet. If your soil runs a bit acid (5.6 or so) it’s good for almost everything. If your garden or lawn is producing well, you don’t need a test. Carrots and beets are good indicators…if they grow well, you don’t need lime. Lime is a good way to raise the pH of your soil and and acid-forming fertilizer containing aluminum sulfate or ammonium sulfate can help lower your soil’s pH.
Lime or fertilizer can be added now so fall rains and snow can work it into the root zone by spring. Lime will stretch your fertilizer dollars because it works as a team with “plant foods” to produce better plants. Ask the employees at your garden center about fertilizers.
If you burn wood in the fireplace, save the wood ashes for the lawn and garden. They are a good substitute for lime and are just as effective. You can overdo them, so be sure to test the soil each fall to see if the soil is acid or alkaline. If you have acid-loving plants around the home, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, blueberries, training arbutus, trilliums, and most lilies, do not use wood ashes or lime on them. Lime alkaline soil) causes these plants to become chlorotic (yellowed) and die.
A fair rule of thumb: if no lime has been added during the past four years, you can add about 50 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. for a rough and ready treatment.
If you spent a lot of time fighting a clay soil, fall’s a good time to tame it. Remember, a clay soil is heavy because it has finer particles in it than a sandy or light soil. By loosening it up, you can make a clay soil “breathe” so it will be well aerated and more productive. To loosen up a tight clay soil, you can use various homemade soil conditioners such as lawn clippings, leaves, garbage, compost, coal and wood ashes, sawdust, peatmoss, woodchips, or any other organic matter. Humus opens the clay and encourages earthworms to be more active helpers. The earthworms in a single acre may pass more than 10 tons of dry earth through their bodies annually. They mix organic matter thoroughly with the subsoil in the process. Lime also has a loosening effect on a heavy clay soil, coagulating the fine particles into larger ones, allowing air and water to pass freely. There is little or no danger in applying too much limestone (or wood ash) to heavy soils because it breaks down slowly and the clay has a buffer effect, preventing the calcium in limestone from making the soil alkaline, even when large quantities are used.
If your soil was too sandy and allowed water to drain out fast, you can do something about it now. Fortunately, practices that help loosen up a heavy soil will also tighten a sandy soil. The correct way to handle a sandy soil is to add organic matter in any form, since it acts like a blotter, holding moisture and nutrients.