Plant and animal existence depends on healthy, functioning soils but humans too often treat it like dirt. We can improve soil health in gardens and on farms by:
- limiting soil disturbance (tillage)
- planting a diversity of plant species
- keeping soil covered throughout the year
These practices reduce erosion and nutrient run-off, build organic matter, and increase carbon storage in soils which helps mitigate the effects of climate change.
A thick layer of leaves (preferably run over with a mulching mower) is a terrific winter cover for small vegetable and flower beds. Bags of leaves from your yard or from neighbors’ yards are plentiful this time of year and allow us to sustainably recycle nutrients.
Try a Living Cover This Fall
We’ve had a number of relatively warm falls in recent years and can expect a continuing lengthening of the growing season as a result of global warming. We are past the recommended best date for sowing winter cover crops in Maryland. However, if you live in Central or Southern Maryland or on the Eastern Shore I think you can risk sowing winter rye or winter wheat with a legume, either crimson clover or hairy vetch, through the end of October. The soil and air temperatures should remain sufficiently high for germination and root establishment.
Planting cover crops in September is preferable because the root systems have more time to grow and pull up nutrients from fertilizers and organic matter in the soil that might otherwise be lost through leaching and run-off.
More specific information on growing cover crops:
By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist