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Do fall chores now for spring garden later

By Krissy Slagle
University of Georgia

Just because you have eaten all the cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini you can stand doesn't mean it's time to give up on your garden. If you aren’t planting a fall vegetable garden, make sure you do a few things now to ensure your garden plot will be ready in the spring.

First, pull up all weeds and spent vegetable plants. Remove them from the area and dispose of them. Don't add this waste to your compost pile.

As the weather cools, it's likely that your compost pile will, too. It may not get hot enough to destroy weed seeds, diseases or insect eggs. If you've used mulch in your garden and had disease or insect problems, remove the mulch to prevent infestations next year.

Sample Soil

Next, take a soil sample to see what the nutrient levels are in your garden. Depending on the soil type, nutrients like phosphorus don't leach very much from year to year. Soil test tell you just the right type and amount of fertilizer and amendments your soil needs. Considering the current cost of fertilizer, that can save you a lot of money.

To get a good soil sample, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension experts suggest taking a small amount of soil from about 10 random locations within the garden. Using a trowel, collect a sample from up to 6 inches deep.

Avoid using tools or buckets that have been used for mixing or applying lime or fertilizer as this can affect your results. Mix the random samples together in a clean bucket and remove any thatch, plant roots or mulch.

Pour 1 to 2 cups of this mixed sample into a soil sample bag. These sample bags are available at your local UGA Extension office.

Transport soil in a clean, paper, lunch-type sack and transfer it to an official sample bag at the Extension office. The fee for basic soil testing is usually less than $10 and the information you learn will save you money in the long run.

The soil sample report will show the amount of fertilizer and lime you'll need based on your sample and the crops you plan to grow.

If you aren't going to plant in your garden this fall, you'll likely only need to add lime now. Adding lime in the fall gives the soil pH time to react and adjust. You can wait to add the recommended fertilizer in the spring when your vegetables can use it.

Once your garden is clean, put away garden tools and hoses, relax and wait for spring.

(Krissy Slagle is a state Extension program assistant with the University of Georgia Master Gardener Program.)

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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