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Prepare your spring garden this fall
Yard & Garden
By B. Rosie Lerner
Consumer Horticulturist, Purdue Extension

If you’re not quite ready to hang up your gardening tools just because of a few killing frosts, fall is a great time to get your soil ready for next year’s planting.

Removing this year’s plant debris is a good, general sanitation practice. Plant refuse makes a great place for insects and disease to overwinter. Why not turn that refuse into valuable compost? A properly constructed compost pile should create temperatures high enough to destroy insects, diseases and most weed seeds. Once the compost has decomposed (hopefully by spring), it can be worked into the soil to add organic matter and some nutrients. Or, perhaps your earlier composting efforts have now yielded some of that black gold?

Tilling and incorporating organic matter during fall avoids the rush of garden activities and often waterlogged soil in spring. Adding organic matter will help improve soil drainage and water-holding capacity, and loosen up heavy soils. Materials such as dry tree leaves, grass clippings, manure or summer mulch should be well decomposed by spring, if plowed under in fall.

Work these materials into the top 5-7 inches of soil with a rototiller or shovel. However, garden sites that are prone to erosion by wind or water over winter should not be turned until spring.

Fall is a great time to collect soil samples for testing in order to keep current on your garden’s nutrient status. Testing in fall allows plenty of time to receive your results and act on recommendations. There are a number of private laboratories that offer soil-testing services.

The test results and recommendations will only be as good as the soil samples that you send in. Make sure your samples are representative of your garden. Small cores of soil 6-8 inches deep should be taken from several spots throughout the garden and then mixed together. A total of 1-2 cups of this mixed soil should then be submitted for testing.

If you need information on where to send your soil sample for testing, visit Purdue University’s agronomy department website for a list of certified soil testing labs.

This farm news was published in the Nov. 8, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.