Winterize Your Garden, Lawn and Landscapes for Fertile Spring Growing
- October 12, 2017
- By Farmer Craig Witt, Full Circle Owner, Soil Enthusiast
- Categories: Healthy Living, Sustainability
In this article, we’re going to examine the best practices for “winterizing” your garden, lawns and landscapes. Taking minimal efforts before winter sets in can pay off with big results come spring. Winterizing your growing areas is about providing nutrients to the soil and protecting it from harsh temperatures, wind, snow and the winter’s dry frigid air.
While you may be preparing your soil for bed, it’s not as if the soil will be asleep and inactive the entire winter. Healthy soils are alive and active all winter, deep beneath the surface. There’s an army of microbes in the ground that continue doing Mother Nature’s work even in the chilly months while little or nothing may be growing above ground. By supplying trace nutrients to your growing areas late in the fall, you’re allowing the microbes to sustain themselves through the winter, which means your soil will remain lively and be plant-ready come spring. Nevada soils crave specific minerals and nutrients, as Nevada soil ecology is much different than in other parts of the country. An all-natural soil amendment, like Full Circle’s BOOST, comes packed with mineral packages that provide food and sustenance to the hard-working microbes. The BOOST mineral and nutrient package is extensive, including premium compost, gypsum, limestone, soft rock phosphate, magnesium sulfate, manganese sulfate, molasses, trace rock powder minerals, humates, mycorrhizae, liquid fish, sulfur, vermicompost, compost tea, kelp, feather meal, iron sulfate, shrimp meal and yucca powder.
For gardens, lawns and landscapes, adding nutrients is simple: top your soil with ¼ inch of BOOST (or similar nutrient-rich soil amendment) and water in. No digging or tilling necessary. Providing nutrients in mid-to-late fall will make your soil flush with fast-release organic matter, allowing active microbes to eat nutritious food all winter and create a rich environment your spring plants will love.
PROTECT Your Soil
With all the activity happening below the soil, you’ll need a layer of protection to keep the microbe-nutrient dance going. We recommend two options: planting a cover crop, or placing a layer of mulch. When considering which option is best for you, the rule of thumb is that gardens get mulch and large grow plots get cover crops. Your lawns are perfectly fine with neither because your grass will hibernate and remain on the surface, acting as a nice cover itself. You wouldn’t want to mow through wood chips next season if you used mulch in an effort to protect your lawn.
Some gardeners choose to plant a cover crop and till the biomass into the soil come spring. If you’re doing this and it’s working for you, we say keep it up! For the most part, only large-scale farmers use cover crops while gardeners simply spread a protective blanket of mulch over their fertile soil. To continue feeding your garden’s soil through the winter, we recommend a composted mulch, like Full Circle’s PROTECT. Composted mulches provide slow-release organic matter that will break down slowly and feed your soil throughout the winter months. Mulch is a great insulator and protector of extreme temperatures (cold and warm) that suppress the microbial activity down in the soil. As an added benefit, mulch helps retain soil moisture so everything below stays alive and hydrated throughout the winter. You’ll be pleased in the spring when you feel the soil beneath the mulch and find a rich, fertile environment ready for incoming plants.
Cover crops work similarly to mulch. Farmers have long used cover crops on expansive fields to keep nutrients from escaping, replenish nutrients, protect the soil from harsh winds and temperatures and improve soil tilth (which is the quality and range of pore size found in the soil). Outside of protecting the fertile soil below, cover crops that can survive the winter months are very effective because they push the energy of the sun into the soil through the roots (take some time to research “nitrogen fixation” to learn about free nitrogen fertilization through cover crops). Popular cover crops include:
- Cereal rye fall – Reduces nitrate leaching, grows well in acidic soils, grows faster than wheat, root system promotes drainage in compact soils.
- Cereal wheat winter – Doesn’t grow as fast as rye, but can be planted late, provides substantial biomass.
- Vetch, hairy – Protects against soil erosion, improves soil tilth (again, the quantity and range of pore sizes in the soil).
- Clover berseem – Produces considerable biomass, grows quickly, short roots that won’t reach the deeper nutrient banks your spring plants will use.
- Clover alsike – Grows where other clovers won’t; it’s known for its ability to grow well in marginal soils.
- Ryegrass annual gulf – Dense growth provides excellent soil protection, works well with compact soil, reduces nitrogen loss.
In large grow plots, farmers choose to terminate the cover crops come spring and then either remove the biomass or till it into the soil, based on what they’re planting and what they used as their cover crop.
Worms and Spores
It’s a common misconception that everything dies in the winter, when there’s actually quite the party going on beneath the soil. Besides the active microbes mentioned earlier, we also have to consider two other groups of friends: earthworms and mycorrhizae spores. Gardeners already know and love the first group, earthworms. A layer of soil protecting on the surface is imperative in helping sustain the activity of the earthworms all winter long. You want to keep the soil temperatures above freezing to keep our worm buddies active in the soil and doing their own composting. The second group of friends you want at your soil party – mycorrhizae spores – are somewhat less understood, but are certainly invited. These spores are among the most valuable organisms in fertile soil. These fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, helping create connective chains of filament that reach farther than the roots themselves ever could. These connective chains help plants better mine for nutrients beneath the soil. In exchange, the roots provide the fungi with the tasty glucose they crave. It’s a win-win. However, in soils that are unprotected throughout the winter, these spores cannot survive and be ready in abundance come spring. If you do not have or do not know if your soil has mycorrhizal fungi in it, do not worry because mycorrhizae spores are added to Full Circle’s BOOST. You will get amazing mychorrhizae in every application.
What About My Perennials?
We talked lawns, gardens and large farm plots, but what about the trees and shrubs you want to provide with the same winter care? The idea is the same: BOOST the soil around your trees and shrubs with nutrients in mid fall and make sure you’ve placed a level of protection for the soil they grow in with some composted mulch. Perennial plants are clever buggers. They translocate nutrients from their branches and stems down into their roots for winter storage. This activity keeps their branches and stems from freezing in the winter. It also recharges the soil so the plants can grow again in the spring. You can help keep nutrients flowing all winter long with the same practices used to BOOST and PROTECT your garden soil.
See, soil works somewhat like a battery. It exerts itself in the summer months, providing energy to the plants above. Then, in the winter, it needs to recharge. Help recharge your soil and have it spring-ready by following the simple steps covered in this article. If you’ve never taken the steps to “winterize” your growing areas, you’re going to be thrilled with the results when you again get your hands dirty come spring.
Want to see Farmer Craig winterize a garden bed on a windy, snowing fall day last year? Head over to www.FullCircleCompost.com/winterize-soil-for-plant-happy-spring/.