Gardens, like gorgeous gals everywhere, need their beauty rest. In North Texas the winter naptime arrives in December when the last annuals wilt, and perennials snooze below the dirt.
Gardeners perform six chores before they say “nighty-night” to their darlings then turn out the lights until spring.
• Clean up debris and trash.
• Pull out the annuals’ old growth, and throw all diseased plants in the trash bin headed for the dump.
• Cut up healthy old growth. Let the stuff wilt in the sun, and dry in the wind until it turns to straw then clip it up, and work the material back into the soil. I use hedge clippers and a garden fork for this chore.
• Amend the soil by working in goodies like diatomaceous earth (D.E.), agricultural molasses, grocery store cornmeal, twigs, leaves, grass clippings, rotted herbivore manures, and kitchen vegetable scraps. Feed stores carry D.E. and molasses. You might have to scout around for manures.
A word to the wise: fresh manures stink, rotted manures do not. I know that’s hard to believe, but it is true. Never put fresh manure in the garden. The stuff contains ammonia that kills everything it touches.
• Lay 4-6” of mulch over root crops like carrots, onions, and garlic. They have sweet winter dreams under nature’s brown blanket which decomposes to a thin tillable layer by springtime.
• If you know your soil is high acid sweeten it up with lawn lime or ammonium sulfate in the amount of 1 pound per 1,000 square feet. A thousand square feet is about the size of a pair of two-car garages; that’s a lot of garden so calculate before you apply.
Here’s the theory behind these chores. (1) Old growth is free “organic” fertilizer. The price is right! It decomposes and enriches the soil during the naptime months. “Organic” means old growth contains the element carbon which soil microorganisms and plants use to make sugars for energy. (2) Hedge clippers are giant scissors that cut a lot of stuff at once. (3) Root crops stay in the ground until you need them. The garden is a natural root cellar. Mulch traps heat from the ground, and absorbs atmospheric heat. And last, but not least, (4) microorganisms break down soil amendments and “inorganic” particles (rocks and clays) so plant roots can slurp in the nutrients then later feed us in the form of irresistible vegetables and fruits.
Oh, and don’t forget to give the garden a drink now and then if the winter is a dry one.