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Fall Bed Preparation Aids Spring Gardens
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Gardeners discouraged by drought this year can improve their chances next season by working in their gardens this fall.
Mississippi State University gardening specialists recommended mulching, fall bed preparation, soil testing, cover crops and continued watering to prepare gardens now for next spring.
Dr. David Nagel, vegetable specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said ground covers and advance bed preparation can make a difference in next spring's garden success.
"The ideal time for planting cover crops is past, but you can still plant vetch, wheat or rye ñ not ryegrass -- although you will not get as good a cover," Nagel said. "Since it's so dry, you may not want to plant any cover crops at all since you certainly don't want to have to water these crops."
Drought set Mississippi fields and gardens back and greatly reduced yields and beauty. With drought conditions in most areas since July, the state has a water deficit of at least 6 inches. To meet this deficit, land needs 27,000 gallons per acre to supply one inch of water.
With or without a cover crop, Nagel recommended adding organic matter and building beds now.
"It is better to till in the organic matter and prepare the bed in the fall," Nagel said. "In the spring you won't need to loosen the soil to plant. While the added organic matter will not decompose until it's wet, the dormant microorganisms in the soil will become active when it rains."
Raised beds warm up quicker in the spring than does flat ground and also dry faster in Mississippi's normally wet spring. Fall beds are not seed beds and need not be leveled off until prior to spring planting. Weeds will grow when it rains, but these will help prevent soil from washing away. Spray weeds with a herbicide in the spring or till them while preparing the seed bed, but deep tillage will not be needed.
"Now is a good time to soil test to determine if you need to adjust the soil pH," Nagel said. "By liming now, the reaction will be complete by the time the crop is planted next spring."
Norman Winter, Extension horticulturist, said the fall is also the time to plant winter- and spring-blooming bulbs.
"Plant daffodils and narcissus of all kinds in the landscape now," Winter said. "A really good idea is to interplant these bulbs with pansies or violas. These beds of flowers are growing and looking good now, and by late winter or spring when the bulbs emerge, you will have blossoms towering over these lower plants."
Winter said gardeners have very little time left to plant snapdragons, ornamental kale and cabbage. Winter recommended red giant mustard, a large plant with edible red and green leaves. Small leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or larger ones cooked down like other greens.
With the continuing drought, Winter said it is important to keep watering newly planted trees and shrubs.
"It's still warm and we're way behind on water, so it's really important to keep watering," he said. "You don't want plants to go into a really cold spell needing water."
Winter recommended adding pine straw or shredded leaves to any beds without flowers that will lie dormant all winter. Don't till under, just let them cover the ground as a mulch.
"Leaves and straw are very good organic matter for gardens that goes to waste if you bag them up and throw them away," Winter said.
Winter's final advice was for roses. With weather still in the 70s and 80s, many roses are still growing and still susceptible to black spot. Winter said to continue any fungicidal programs until the roses stop growing as the weather turns cold.