One task you should be thinking about in your fall garden is preparing your sustainable landscape now for spring planting. There are lots of different ways to prepare your garden dirt for spring planting from double digging to lasagna gardening. If you prepare your garden beds now then you can plant earlier in the spring, when the dirt is still too cold and wet to dig.
There are many good organic amendments you can add to your garden dirt now because the soil amendments will have time to rest over the winter and be ready to enrich your soil in the spring. Many organic soil amendments like compost or manure can chemically burn your plants if you add them to your while they are too fresh. Adding them to your dirt now will give them time to mellow before you plant.
What should you add to your soil now? Compost! If you don’t have compost from your own compost pile ready many cities now compost green-waste and allow residents to pick up the finished compost. If your city doesn’t do this you can buy compost from your local nursery.
One of my favorite soil amendments is old bedding from horse stables. Most stables have a huge pile of this stuff sitting around and are happy to let you truck it off for them. The bedding is a usually mix of horse manure and wood shavings which enriches and loosens your garden soil. It will contain some grass seeds that might germinate, but I have found that these are easily weeded in the spring when they are small. If you don’t want to risk it nurseries sell various types of animal manure that has been sterilized to kill any bacteria or seeds.
Again, this manure might still be chemically “hot” and burn your plants if you put it straight on your plantings. If the manure still has a strong yucky smell I would be cautious about where you put it. Finished compost and composted manure shouldn’t smell bad.
Another great thing to add to your garden dirt is leaves. You have to rake them off your lawn anyway, you might as well put them to good use. Composted leaves can be a great soil amendment. The trick is getting them to stay where you want them and not blow around. If you have a chipper you can put them through that and then spread them directly over your beds. You can also run over them with a lawn mower to break them up before spreading them. Some gardeners spread them as is on their beds, but I find that whole leaves tend to mat up over the winter making spring planting difficult. They also blow around causing you to have to rake them up again. Another option is to bag them up and allow them to decompose over the winter and then add them to your soil in the spring.
The final question in preparing your garden dirt for spring is whether to dig your amendments into the soil or mulch. Gardeners generally have strong opinions about this one way or another. I prefer to dig amendments into the soil of my vegetable beds once a year and then mulch. I also dig in lots of organic material like compost or manure when I first prepare a perennial bed or border. Many people advocate a no-dig method in order to reduce erosion and avoid disturbing soil ecosystem. No-dig can work, but it takes time (as in years) and I’m too impatient. I like to jump start my garden dirt! How about you? What are your favorite ways to prepare your soil for planting?