In winter, the snow covers the soil, causing its temperature to drop to 7°C. As a result, all the biological activities in your garden soil slow down since the microbes present in the soil hibernate throughout winter. So, it’s reasonable to expect nothing much from your garden soil during this time.
The good news is you could improve your garden soil over the winter, but only after a soil test to determine the garden soil’s composition. After the soil test, you will know what your garden soil has and lacks in nutrients. You will then excellently improve the soil over this cold season of the year.
This article will go through the steps for improving your garden soil over the winter. If you’re looking to build up your garden in nutrients, doing it over the winter will be ideal so that your garden is ready by spring. And this article will cover how to build up your soil. So, be sure to read on for more information.
Table of Contents
Clean Up the Garden
The first step you want to take is to remove the dead plants from the garden. Your garden will have dead plants left after the growing season has ended. So, you might want to pull out all the remaining dead plants from the garden.
If the roots and vines run too deep, you will need to dig out the dead plants and place them in a compost pile. If you suspect the plants were diseased, you might want to burn them and add the ash to the compost pile. If your garden still has dead or rotten fruits lying around, you will also need to add them to the same compost pile.
Improve the Soil Using Green Manure
After you’ve cleared the garden and removed your working tools, you will begin planting cover crops to improve the soil. The cover crops will add nutrients, especially nitrogen, into the soil, thus improving soil fertility. For this reason, cover crops are known as green manure.
Be sure to plant winter cover crops in your garden soil since they are cold-hardy to survive winter. Winter wheat is an excellent example of a winter cover crop to grow. It breaks up compacted garden soil and is, therefore, excellent for soil amendment. Also, winter cover crops improve the organic matter in the soil since they develop substantial root systems.
Once your winter crop has grown, you can mow it close to the ground and plow it under the soil to incorporate the winter crop into the soil for green manure. But if you live in a colder region, the winter temperature will kill the winter cover crops in due time, and you will not have to plow the crops under the soil the hard way. Other winter crops to grow include Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, and hairy vetch.
Use Winter Mulch
It is incredible how leaves that are free for the raking could improve your garden soil in winter. Fall leaves make excellent mulching material, but other mulching materials such as wood chips work just fine. Besides, wood chips are popular mulching materials for improving garden soils that you’ve improved for seasons.
Mulching is a beneficial soil amendment activity since it regulates the soil’s moisture content. Add mulching materials to your garden beds as you wait for spring to transplant the seedlings into the garden. Besides regulating moisture content in the soil, mulching also reduces weed growth and protects the microbes in your garden soil.
When laying mulching materials, you might want to start laying down green leaves first and then add the brown leaves as a top layer. Therefore, winter mulching is an ideal method for improving your garden soil.
Test the Garden Soil and Make Adjustments
You can always conduct a soil test to know what your garden soil has and lacks in nutrients. Once you have this data, you can make adjustments. The soil test will inform you about your soil pH level and nutrients. If the pH level is too low, it shows that the soil is acidic. And you will have to add lime water or calcium carbonate to the soil to raise the pH a bit. But if the soil pH is too high, add sulfur to lower it a bit.
If you’re planning to add sulfur or lime water to the garden soil, do it early enough for the chemicals to react and achieve the result you want. Also, you will have to test the soil again before adding sulfur or calcium carbonate since you risk overdoing it.
When it comes to adjusting the nutrients in your soil, you should note that the vegetables need three nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. As such, be sure to add these nutrients to your garden soil.
You have the option to use a traditional fertilizer that contains the three nutrients (NPK) or use organic fertilizer to boost the soil’s nutrients. You can also use various soil amendment materials to increase nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels in the garden soil.
Wood ash is a good source of phosphorus and potassium. Therefore, you can use it to improve your soil in winter for the following early spring growing season. What’s more, you can also mix the wood ash into the finished compost pile and apply the whole mixture into the soil.
Ground Oyster Shells
Shells are rich in calcium, and they will add plenty of calcium into the soil. Eggshells also work fine, but you will need to grind them first. You should grind the shells to obtain finer particles if you want faster results. By adding ground eggshells to the soil in winter, the soil will have enough time to absorb all the calcium it can for your plants to use in the next growing season.
You might need to buy a bone meal from your local store. It is a good source of calcium and phosphorus and will excellently improve the soil by the next growing season.
It is a good source of nitrogen. Once you’ve added it to the garden soil, you can be sure that your plants will benefit from nitrogen in the next growing season. Like a bone meal, you will have to buy this one at a local store.
Wood ash, eggshells, bone meal, and blood meal are organic materials that you can use to improve the soil in winter. In addition to these materials, you can also use Epsom salt to boost the soil’s magnesium and sulfur level. And be sure to add Dolomitic lime if you want to add more calcium and magnesium to your garden soil.
Plant Winter Weeds
You can prepare your vegetable gardens in time during winter so that they are ready by early spring. To do so, you might also need to consider planting winter weeds in your garden. That’s because winter weeds protect your vegetable gardens from erosion.
Plants winter weeds such as henbit and chickweed to prevent the garden soil from erosion. With their substantial roots that improve soil organic matter content, you can be sure the soil will be sufficiently compact to prevent erosion.
Other winter weeds to grow include dandelions and bittercress for excellent soil drainage. Besides, winter weeds make good winter cover crops that regulate the moisture content of the soil. And this makes them suitable for improving the soil for the next garden season.
Incorporate Compost into The Soil
The compost adds valuable nutrients to the soil while also helping you recycle kitchen and yard waste. As such, compost piles comprise only organic materials. Besides enriching the soil with beneficial soil nutrients, compost also improves soil drainage.
It also ensures your vegetable garden plants don’t have rotten roots besides making sure your plants don’t need much water. Therefore, compost is beneficial to the garden soil. You can use organic materials such as fruits, grass, and straw. But you will ensure that each layer of compost has one organic material type.
You could incorporate manure into the compost pile to ensure your garden soil will have nitrogen for the plants. However, you will need to add fully decomposed manure to the compost pile for that extra nitrogen for the plants.
You can improve the garden soil in winter in preparation for the next garden season. Planting cover crops and adding compost to your garden are some of the methods to use. What’s more, you can use the wood ash from your fireplace to replenish some vital minerals in the soil.
Fortunately, this article has gone through some of the steps for improving the soil in winter. Improving your garden soil might now be more straightforward than before. With the correct soil test procedure, you will know what your soil lacks and make the necessary adjustment. Take the time to improve your garden soil in winter before the growing season begins.