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Nov. 12, 2009 Volume 31, No. 12

Gardens are now at ground zero

It’s not too soon to start thinking about next year’s garden. “A good garden starts with good soil,” says horticulturist David Trinklein, associate professor of plant science. “Fall is an ideal time to work on garden soil improvement.”

In both new and established gardens, one of the best ways to improve soil structure and productivity is to add organic matter during fall plowing, he says. Ideal garden soils contain about 5 percent organic matter, but amounts as low as 1 percent to 2 percent are typical in Missouri.

Inexpensive sources of organic matter include compost, well-rotted manure and leaf mold. Peat moss is excellent but can be expensive, Trinklein says. Adding up to 4 inches of organic matter on a yearly basis to garden soil is a best-management practice, he said. Thorough incorporation to a depth of 6 inches gives maximum results.

If soil tests indicate the need, fall also is an ideal time to add lime or phosphorous, which react slowly and will not leach out of the soil during winter, he said. Planting cover crops such as wheat, rye or vetch is another way to build good garden soil. Cover crops decompose into the soil in the early spring before the planting season arrives.