By Chris Hicks, County Director – UT Extension Smith County
Grocery store shelves being empty in March certainly got the attention of consumers and led to more gardening than usual this summer. By now many of these gardens are seeing production wind down as weeds, diseases, and insects have taken their toll. Before the first killing frost arrives and summer gardening officially ends, there are a few things that can be done to make your chances of gardening success better next year.
Once you are tired of “picking and putting up” your produce, remove stakes and trellises and mow or weed-eat the area to prevent as many weeds from going to seed as possible. If you had problems with disease, removing the diseased crop debris from the garden will help reduce inoculum for next year. Keep in mind that some diseases can remain on stakes and trellis systems as well.
Turning the garden as deeply as possible will bury many of the weed seeds and hopefully prevent them from germinating next year. This is also a good opportunity to incorporate lime, phosphorus, and potassium if your soil test recommends them.
Gather all your tools and clean them well. Remove soil and clean with warm soapy water or even a 10 percent bleach solution to sterilize. Cleaning will lengthen the life of the tool and also prevent disease from soil or debris from being spread to crops next year. Wooden and metal parts of tools can be oiled for protection by using a boiled linseed oil.
It is a good idea to “cover” your garden during the winter by planting a cover crop. Cover crops prevent erosion and improve soil structure by adding organic matter to the soil which alleviates compaction. They also increase infiltration of water and reduce erosion, decrease weed growth, and some even provide nitrogen after they die. Options to consider for cover crops include grains such as wheat, cereal rye, and oats, as well as legumes such as peas and clover.
Spending some time this fall cleaning up the garden and preparing for next season will increase your chances of gardening success next summer. For more gardening information, check out uthort.com or call the University of Tennessee Extension office at 615-735-2900.