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How to Improve Your Garden Soil Quality Over the Winter
After you’ve cleaned up the beds and put the hose and most of your tools away for the season, you may think that there’s nothing else you can do to set your garden up for success in the spring. But that’s not the case.
The plants may get all of the attention, but the soil in your garden is what’s really important. And fortunately, there are things you can do to help it along during the colder months. In an article for Family Handyman, Maria Webster provides a few ways to improve your soil over the winter. Here are some to consider.
Plant a cover crop
As the name suggests, cover crops can be planted to protect the soil in your garden over the winter. “Over time, a cover crop regimen will increase soil organic matter, leading to improvements in soil structure, stability, and increased moisture and nutrient holding capacity for plant growth,” the USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service report.
Spread a layer of mulch
Though you may think of mulch as something used in landscaping to prevent the growth of weeds (and it is), it can also act like a cozy winter blanket for your garden soil, Webster says. Specifically, she recommends using organic mulch like bark, wood chips, straw, grass clippings, rice, and other seed hulls. “In addition to providing protection, they put nutrients back into the soil as they biodegrade, ultimately creating more organic materials for the microbes to feed on,” she writes.
Another use for compost
Of all these options, Webster says that compost is the best thing for your soil in the winter (and the rest of the year, too). Here’s why:
Good soil is alive and teeming with microorganisms that establish complex symbiotic relationships with the root systems of everything you plant. They become key to each other’s ability to thrive. These microorganisms need to eat, and there’s no better food to feed them than compost.
If you’re not composting already, you’re in luck: Lifehacker has a bunch of articles on how to do it (both indoors and outdoors).
For those who are composting outside, Webster says that it’s important to remember that the colder temperatures slow down the decomposition process, so chop your “browns” and “greens” into smaller bits to help them break down faster.
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