Issue: November 2003

Clean the Garden and Fortify Soil Before Winter

Late fall is time to weed out garden debris and rejuvenate soil for the next growing season.

Pull up and shred old corn stalks, tomato plants, weeds and mulches so that insects and diseases won't have a place to survive the winter. Use shredded materials for compost, because heat from the composting process will kill most weed seeds and diseases. Cold weather will also kill most insects.

Toss old asparagus foliage into the compost pile as well. Then, dress the asparagus bed with a two-inch layer of cow manure to protect crowns and build up soil nutrients.

Also, remove old foliage from crops like Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and turnips, but leave the roots in the ground for storage. In extremely cold areas, mulch with straw to keep the soil from freezing. To harvest, pull back straw and dig with a garden fork. Remove only the roots that are needed.

Jerusalem artichoke is a perennial, sunflower-like plant that makes an excellent ornamental for an edible landscape. It also protects other plants from wind. However, harvest all tubers so they don't become weeds.

The knobby, egg-sized tubers of Jerusalem artichoke have a uniquely nut-like flavor and can be cooked like a potato. The flesh is completely starchless, because it stores carbohydrates as inulin, making it particularly good for a diabetic menu.

Use a layer of cow or horse manure to build up soil. Apply at a rate of 25 pounds per 100 square feet and incorporate it with a rototiller to prevent nitrogen from leaking into the air as ammonia.

As manure decomposes, it will slowly release nutrients for plant uptake during the spring and summer. Manure provides micronutrients like iron and zinc, which are missing from most commercial, granular fertilizers.

Manure also helps soil structure by improving air movement in clay soils while increasing water-holding capacity of sandy soils. Manure attracts earthworms that help aerate soil. Worm-manure is also a rich source of nutrients.

Add manure to the compost pile as well. The manure will help microorganisms breakdown woody plant materials in the compost.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on:
KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays,
KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays,
and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)