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Refill nature’s soil cupboard

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mulchThe fact that it’s still dark outside at 7 a.m. now is Mother Nature’s way of telling us our perennial plants are bedding down for a long winter’s rest.  Above ground our Darlings look, well, dead, but until the ground gets cold below deck the roots are still at work stocking up on gases like oxygen and nitrogen, and dissolved nutrients that get plants through the cold– that is, IF the stuff is in your soil.  Soil gets compacted and depleted after a rip roaring growing season so now’s the time to think about replenishing the cupboard.

Don’t bag those fallen leaves and put them out at the curb on trash day because that stuff, called leaf mold, is garden gold!  Dig a trench down the middle of an empty garden bed, add plenty of water then a layer of leaves, more water, then a layer of soil, more water, and do it again until the bed looks like a mound.

Don’t be afraid to dig little holes for leaf mold between perennials.  Just dig gingerly so you don’t tear up roots.

Over the winter this leafy, moldy “lasagna” will turn to compost that will hold oxygen and water, and keep nutrients from leaching down into the subsoil where plant feeder roots don’t have much growth.  Grass cuttings and pine needles work too, but need to be used in thin layers lest they form an impermeable barrier against water.  The worms will come up into the damp goo to eat, drink and be merry then leave castings under your layer of mulch.

Mulch?  Ah yes, that’s a layer of stuff like wood chips that lays on the surface of the garden, and in the winter keeps the ground warm, and in the summer keeps it cool.  The roots love hanging out under a blanket of organic mulch.  Of course it decomposes into topsoil so the “blanket” becomes thinner over time.  County roads departments can point you in the direction of cheap-to-free wood chips OR you can call the Denton County Master Gardener Association help desk at 940-349-2892 to locate mulch (among other things).

A word to the wise, during decomposition wood leaches nitrogen out of the surrounding soil, so keep it on top of the ground.  After the stuff breaks down is the time to work it into the garden.

If you want to serve up some gourmet soil food, go to the nearest feed store and buy a bag of agricultural molasses, and maybe a bag of diatomaceous earth.  And if you want to really impress the soil animals, go to the grocery store and get a couple of bags of cornmeal (the operative word is corn-MEAL which my friend Frank will tell you is not dry corn fed to deer).  Mix up a bucket of this stuff, add to the soil then give it another good drink then start thinking about the holidays!

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