Now that temperatures are falling and many of our summer crops are going dormant for the year, some gardeners have asked, "What is the best way to prepare my garden for the next growing season?" Accomplished Capitolo Community Garden member Joe DeLeo offers some advice that will not only prepare your bed for the coming planting season but also help control the growth of weeds and cut down on the need for watering in the hottest summer months.
"Don't worry about pulling weeds out of your bed and throwing them away," DeLeo said. "You are just taking nutrient out of the soil. Cover the surface of your soil, weeds and all, with a layer of cardboard.
DeLeo said the cardboard you use should have little or no printing on it. The less ink the better. Once the surface of your bed is covered with cardboard put a layer of shredded wood mulch on top of it. You can get up to 30 gallons of mulch for free from the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center. DeLeo recommends getting the finely shredded wood mulch, NOT the wood chips that we use on the garden pathways. Spread the mulch evenly over the surface of the cardboard, completely covering it.
Over winter, the mulch will hold moisture from winter rains and snows on the cardboard, breaking it down in the soil. Come spring, rake the mulch back from the surface of your bed, like a blanket, turn the soil, mixing the decayed cardboard and weeds back into the dirt, and plant. Then spread the mulch back over the surface of your bed, DeLeo said.
The mulch suppresses the growth of weeds, holds moisture in the soil so you don't need to water as much, and eventually breaks down to make your plot's soils more fertile. Win, win, win.
-- Jane A. Hill