KC Gardens

Fall garden soil prep

Fall leaves

Tip of the Week

This past weekend I had a chance to do one of my favorite fall activities, prepare the garden soil. I think turning fresh soil in the fall must be next to heaven for a gardener. Fall soil preparation gives one a jump-start on spring planting, as soil is then ready, except for a small amount of raking.

Spading or tilling the soil in the fall allows for the winter conditions of freezing and thawing to naturally breakdown the soil into tiny particles. This crumbly state is desirable for spring planting.

Soil is often damp or wet in the spring, which makes deep spading more difficult. Tilling soil in the spring that is too wet will makes clods. Clods are extremely difficult to break down into that crumbly state ideal for planting. Wet soil tilled in the fall will still break apart over the winter leaving a nice texture for planting. As a rule of thumb, soil should never be worked while it is wet. It destroys some of the physical properties.

Fall tilling also allows for the addition of organic matter such as compost or other materials. I like to take freshly raked leaves and directly apply them to the soil. This is an easy way to use up a lot of this fall bounty in the garden. Normally a 2 to 4 inch layer of shredded leaves can be composted naturally into the soil over the winter. Spread the leaves over the garden area and spade into the soil as deeply as possible, 6 inches or more is best. A small addition of fertilizer may help decompose thick oak leaves quicker.

As the leaves break down they supply the needed organic matter for our heavy clay soils. It is almost impossible to get too much organic matter in our soils. Organic matter is like magic. Soils with a healthy amount are easy to till and naturally break apart. High organic matter soils also retain moisture while providing good aeration. This combination of properties is often what is lacking in the average garden soil.

Fall tillage is also a good time to take a soil test. Additions of phosphorus and potassium can be worked into the soil, as well as materials to adjust the soil pH. If these nutrients are not worked into the soil they provide little benefit.

To take a soil test, collect small samples about 6 inches deep from around the garden. Mix these random samples together. One to 2 cups are needed for the actual test. Bring the sample your local county Extension office for analysis. There is a small fee for the test at some area county Extension offices including Johnson, which is offering one free per Johnson County address.

Enjoy the autumn days with the leaves swirling around your feet and the cool nip in the air. There is not a better feeling or smell than having freshly turned soil awaiting the next bounty.

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