What to do with the winter garden

(By Karen Boness). Summer is gone once again. Tomato plants are putting forth their last good wave of luscious fruit. The basil insists on bolting, and is turning woody. Pumpkins are being harvested for cooking and carving.

Last April it was easy to get excited about the summer garden. But the winter garden doesn’t typically generate such enthusiasm. We are starting to get distracted by the holiday season. And many of us are tired from our hot season garden endeavors. We want to rest. Sometimes we simply don’t know what to do with a winter garden.

As I see it you have four choices when it comes to the winter garden. First, you can do nothing. Let the summer garden plants wither and rot. It won’t look very pretty but you can clean up the mess next spring. The decomposing plants will add organic matter to the soil.

A second choice is to sheet mulch the veggie garden. Sheet mulching is an excellent way to suppress weeds, protect the soil from harsh winter rains and to build up organic matter. A simple sheet mulch can be installed by putting down an inch or two of compost, covering the compost with a ¼” thick layer of newspaper, wetting the newspaper, and covering that with 2-4” of straw. Wet the straw thoroughly and let it sit. Most of the sheet mulch should decompose over the winter. Move aside any remaining straw in the spring when you are ready to plant.

A third choice is to plant cover crops. You don’t need to irrigate them as they will grow with the winter rains. Some options are fava beans and sweet clover to add nitrogen to the soil. You can also plant mustard, which has a deep tap root and can break up compacted soil. Cut down the fava and clover plants just after they start to bloom to get the maximum benefit. Either turn them under or compost the rest of the plant.

Finally, you can plant a full-on winter/cool season garden. Some good choices among many are broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, chard, kale, and peas.

Karen Boness is a Sonoma based landscape designer, certified arborist and licensed landscape contractor #974035. Her business is Wild Willow Landscape Design. 707.481.8561. Wildwillowdesign.com

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