Ok, so maybe it’s not quite fall yet in your area, but fall is right around the corner: school is starting soon, vacations are wrapping up, garden harvests may be getting thinner, lawns are showing signs of stress, spring and summer flowers are staring to wane, and so on…
Q: So, what can we do to keep some color around, finish the lawn/growing season strong, and set ourselves up for successful gardening next year?
A: (Re)build the soil using organic compost!
Landscape: Color your world
Keep some beautiful color in your landscape! Garden centers should have an influx of fall plants for your planting pleasure. Might I recommend the typical Chrysanthemums and Pansies and dare you to consider less commonly known varieties like Turtleheads, Toad Lilies, Sedums, Japanese Anemone, and Goldenrod. Cover your beds with an inch or two of compost before planting – and/or fill the bottom third of the hole you dug when transplanting new plants – to ease the shock of transplanting and get the new plants off to a great start! High quality, organic compost, which is full of root-loving nutrients, moisture-holding organic matter, and beneficial microbes, will help feed these plants through the end of the year and into next year!
Lawns: Feed your turf
As temperatures are high and rainfalls decrease, lawns may start to show signs of stress by growing slower, thinning out, turning yellow or brown, and getting crunchy. The soil below can also show signs of hardness and cracking. Prevent these symptoms from even occurring by improving your lawn’s soil. As rainfall amounts and frequencies decrease, it can be helpful to have soil that can absorb and hold moisture (like a sponge or reservoir) when it does rain so that moisture is available for plants when it isn’t raining as much. Organic matter – which is a component of mature compost – is a great holder of moisture and nutrients. Increasing the organic matter percentage of 1 acre of land will increase the water-holding capacity of that acre by 16,500 gallons. Clay soils can cause water to run-off. Sandy soils allow water to escape. But rich, loamy soils from compost will hold water in place for when plants need it. Mature, quality compost also provides nutrients to turf slowly – over a multi-year period of time! (See our upcoming blog post on turf maintenance for more details.) 1 to 2 bags of compost per 1,000 square feet of lawn annually can make a difference; and over applying will only help your lawn – no concern of burning like soluble synthetic fertilizers.
Gardens: Fall Cover Cropping
Cover cropping is the concept of growing plants mainly for the benefit of the soil. Cover crops are reservoirs for important plant nutrients and micronutrients. Cover crops help with soil structure, weed reduction, and the proliferation of beneficial soil microbes. Some common cover crops include clover, oats, peas, winter rye, ryegrass, and winter wheat. These can be planted in the fall in the Midwest and cut down before flowering/seeding by hand or with a trimmer or mower. Working these crops back into the soil returns nutrients for future vegetables grown in that garden. Increased organic matter and improved soil structure are also benefits of using cover crops.
Put Your Garden to Bed for the Winter
A late fall option to improve your spring gardening success is to ‘put your garden to bed’ before winter. Introducing compost and minerals in fall (with or without cover crops) is a great way to introduce organic matter, microbes, and slow-release fertility into your beds. Doing this in spring instead will still work, but incorporating in fall gives the compost, nutrients and microbes more time and opportunity to infiltrate the existing soil without unnecessarily tilling or turning the soil (which can breakup fungal strands already existent in the soil).
Organic compost may not be a silver bullet, but it is a versatile soil amendment for nearly all of your growing environments.