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Don't abandon a garden -- get it ready for winter

By William Terry Kelley
University of Georgia

Gardening may have been more work than reward during this long, hot summer. So now you're ready to hang up the hoe and spade for the winter. But don't quit just yet. Some fall maintenance will help you avoid problems next spring.

First, make some good notes before you forget this season. Take note of varieties that performed particularly well or not so well. Make a map of areas in the garden that have problem weeds. Identify them if you can. Note any areas that have stayed too wet or areas that didn't produce well.

Fall is the ideal time to take a sample for nematodes, too. They'll be at their highest populations while the weather is still hot and vegetation is still growing. Mark your calendar to take a soil test within the next two months, too, so you'll have time to apply any needed lime well before spring planting.

Clean up

Once you've updated your records, remove any trellises you've put up in the garden. Remove any string or plant debris, and knock off any excess soil. Store them in a dry place to help preserve the life of the trellis materials.

If you have irrigation in your garden, situate them for winter, too. Remove hoses, sprinklers, drip tape, etc. Store these out of the elements for the winter, after you remove any excess soil or plant debris.

Repair, sharpen and lightly oil garden implements before storage, too.

Now that you have all the obstacles out of the way, it's a good idea to run a rotary mower across the garden to chop up any plant debris that remains. This allows plant debris to dry down faster and keeps weeds from going to seed before frost. Applying a burn-down herbicide a few days before mowing is even better.

Cover crop

Use the fall to add organic matter like grass clippings, manure and leaves that have been composted. Then bury the organic matter and debris by turning the land and planting a cover crop for the winter. This will help prevent soil erosion. It can build up the soil when you turn under the cover crop in the spring. A grain such as rye or wheat works well for this.

Finally, don't forget to order your seed catalogs by the end of the year and begin planning next year's garden. Getting your seed ordered early in the year will better your chances of getting the varieties you want.

Have a cozy winter. Spring's just around the corner, and garden fever will be getting your blood pumping to get out and play in the soil again.

(Terry Kelley is a Cooperative Extension vegetable horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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