Last Updated on August 16, 2023 by Real Men Sow
Harvest is now complete, and you can sit back and wait for the new season to begin in the spring. But wait! The season has been rough on your soil, though. It will require some attention as temperatures drop and soil activity slows down. Soil protection during winter is important to prepare your soil for spring.
There is only one way you can protect your soil, and that is to cover it.
Soil Protection Pointers During Winter
Find Out Your Soil Type
You can skip points two and three if you know your soil type. If not, it is a good idea to first find out. Different soils have different problems. Clay soil that is dense will drain slowly in winter and become compacted and waterlogged. Sandy soil can become crumbly, making it more susceptible to soil erosion.
Your soil can be either clay, silt or sandy, chalky, or loam. You can also test it using a kit available at any Garden Center. Ask the neighbor on your allotment, or in the garden next to you for the soil type. You can also check it yourself. Take a handful of soil and mix it.
- Sandy – it will falls to pieces,
- Clay – it will clump together like plasticine
- Loam – somewhere between the two above
Plant Green Manure
A perfect garden or allotment will have no winter soil. If you have pulled all your summer vegetables and have empty beds, green manure might be a good option. Green manures can be grasses, legumes, or grains. They are essentially a cover crop to keep your bed from being exposed to winter’s harsh weather. These plants can be quickly grown and will only grow in winter to protect the soil from erosion. You can simply dig the plants in again when you’re ready to use your bed. They are able to retain and recycle plant nutrients, as well as add organic matter to your soil.
Two Main Sorts Of Green Manure:
- Winter-Kill crops – Sowed in late summer or autumn, then they are killed off by frost. The plant matter then decays over the winter in time for planting your Spring veg.
- Cover crops – these survive winter and start growing in the spring, the crop then needs to be killed by hand.
Mulch Around Your Plants for Soil Protection
Mulch is a good choice if you have soil between plants but not empty beds. It protects the soil from erosion caused by water and harsh winds. It can also be used to suppress weeds.
Mulches can be made from straw, manure or compost and include leaves, straw, compost, manure, leaf, wood chips, wood ash, sawdust, and wood ash. Spread them on the soil around your plants to create a layer of 5-10cm (2″)-4″.
Earthworms love organic mulches. The earthworms will eat your organic mulch in return for the food. Your plant roots will be able to access air and water through their tunnels. A couple of weeks prior to planting, remove any mulch left. This will allow the sun to heat the soil and make it ready for planting.
Let Mother Nature Provide The Cover
First, it is a good idea to leave the roots from previous years’ plants intact. After you have harvested your annual crops, provided that the plant is in good health (take care as some diseases can survive in the soil), just remove the stem and leave the root there for winter. It will provide food for the soil microbes and support the structure.
Second, don’t be afraid to ignore weeds. Winter weeds like dandelions can cover your soil and help keep it in place.
This has its advantages and drawbacks. Winter weeds can be a problem as they break down your soil. Additionally, teasels are a great place to overwinter beneficial insects. However, weeds can quickly take over your thoughts (and make you look unpopular with your neighbor the gardener). This is why you need to be careful if you decide on this type of cover.
Cover Vacant Beds
Cover any beds that are likely to remain empty during winter with compost or manure and cover them with an old blanket.
Your soil will be healthier as the manure has a chance to rot before any plants are planted in spring. This stage is the best time to cover your soil. It will prevent compaction from heavy rains and preserve your soil’s structure.
In the past, gardeners used carpets made from natural materials to cover the soil. We no longer recommend this because most plants are now treated with chemicals that keep them from catching fire and keep bugs away. Cover it with whatever you like, then in spring, take it off, let it rest for a few days, and then, dig in the nutrient-rich compost to improve the soil structure.
Soil Protection Takeaway
Soil is a living thing, and like all living things, it needs protection. You, as a gardener are ultimately responsible for your garden’s soil protection during winter. You should not just throw some straws or leaves on top and leave them at that. Invest in bags of soil (or sand) and cover your bed keeping in mind that you need to be there with your tools again in spring to take off this protection once the frosty weather breaks.