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Your Garden: Denise Ruttan

Putting your garden to bed for the winter

November 19, 2013

The glistening cold of the Willamette Valley's first frost has ushered in the right time to clean up the garden.

"Speaking for me, I'm celebrating the break from vegetable gardening that winter provides — it's time to clean up and look ahead," said Weston Miller, horticulturist for the Oregon State University Extension Service. "As an avid vegetable gardener, I am anticipating applying what I've learned in the garden for next year's crops."

Whether you're celebrating or mourning, here's Miller's checklist of tasks to put your garden "to bed" for the season. Weather conditions will change dramatically over the next few weeks, he advised, so the earlier the better for these chores.

• If you still have ripe tomatoes or peppers, harvest them now before the next hard frost. Ripen mature green tomatoes off the vine by wrapping them individually in newspaper.

• Move dead plants to the compost pile or cut up disease-free plants and lay them on the ground as mulch. Diseased plants should be discarded off-site.

• Perform a soil test. Dig 15 or so small holes in a random pattern in your yard about 8 inches deep. Make sure the area you're digging is free of organic matter such as weeds. Shave a slice of soil from the side of the hole and put this into a clean bucket. Mix the many samples of soil from the plot together and put a cup or two in a plastic bag to send to a laboratory.

• Add lime to the soil. Test your soil first to know how much is best. Among many benefits for soil, lime supplies calcium and magnesium and neutralizes soil acidity. In the absence of a soil test, 5-10 pounds of lime per 100 square feet applied now will break down and help your vegetables grow well next season.

• After liming, layer mulch comprised of autumn leaves on the soil of your vegetable garden beds and around your ornamental shrubs. You can also cover the soil with two layers of burlap coffee sacks, which serve the same function as leaves. The leaves or burlap sacks can be removed in the spring for early crops.

• You can leave some winter weeds in the soil to act as cover crops, but remove them before they go to seed next spring. Some winter weeds, such as chickweed and bittercress, make for an edible "weed cuisine." But Miller strongly cautions not to eat wild plants unless you can firmly identify them.

• Prune roses to 2½ feet or so to keep them from toppling over in winter winds. Do a final pruning in late winter.

• Harvest fall-planted kale, lettuce, endive and chicory. Carrots, beets and parsnips should all be harvested and stored. If left in the ground, they can help pests such as the carrot rust fly become established in your garden.

• Clean, sharpen and store tools. Coat handles with linseed oil to weatherproof tools.

• Be ready to cover any cold tender perennials with row cover or a plant blanket to protect your valued plants.

For more information, download the following publications from OSU Extension:

• Laboratories Serving Oregon for Soil, Water, Plant Tissue and Feed Analysis: http://bit.ly/OSU_SoilLabs.

• Soil Test Interpretation Guide: http://bit.ly/OSU_SoilInterpretation.

• A Guide to Collecting Soil Samples for Farms and Gardens: http://bit.ly/OSU_SoilSampleGuide.

• Mulching Woody Ornamentals with Organic Materials: http://bit.ly/OSU_MulchLandscapes.

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