Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 13, 2011. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Amend soil in the fall to be ready for spring
Fall is the perfect time to start on your garden and landscape for next year. Amending the soil with quality, organic material is one of the best gifts you can give your garden soil.
There are quite a few options for gardeners when it comes to soil amendments. In Mississippi, many gardeners use cottonseed meal as an organic source of nutrients. It has a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium analysis of 6-2-1 and is a good source of trace nutrients.
But beyond its value as a fertilizer, cottonseed meal also boosts the organic matter in garden soils. Raw or fresh cottonseed meal has a lot of green and brown plant materials and is best added to the garden after it has been composted.
Vermicompost, commonly called worm castings, is another material that has created much interest. Many gardeners know that having earthworms in the garden keeps the soil aerated and loose. Earthworms are also great at breaking down organic matter and making nutrients available for plant use.
Vermicompost is the product of earthworms kept in bins, where they efficiently break down organic wastes. The result can be called “black gold.” I’m an avid worm rancher and have several worm bins producing vermicompost for use in my garden and landscape.
Vermicompost is so rich that you don’t add it in the same quantities as a normal composted material. Research has shown that amending garden soil with small quantities of vermicompost produces very healthy soil.
Vermicompost is often marketed as a fertilizer, and it does have some limited nutrition available. Its greater value comes from intangible factors that benefit overall soil health. And having healthy soil is the first step to having a healthy garden.
When you are finished with your morning cup of coffee, be sure to take those coffee grounds out to the garden. Used coffees grounds add organic matter to garden soil. Coffee grounds can also inhibit seed germination when used as topdressing. That makes used coffee grounds a great way to control weeds in the garden.
You would have to drink a lot of coffee to treat the entire garden. If you like coffee, but not in that kind of quantity, there are options. Many coffee shops will give away spent grounds as a way to recycle.
In Mississippi, we have a large quantity of agricultural organic wastes, better known as manure. Manure is a good source of plant nutrients, as it is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. But when used fresh, it’s considered “hot” and can harm plant roots. It also may spread harmful bacteria.
The general recommendation is to use composted manure for the garden. However, you can apply fresh material directly to the garden at least 90 days before planting, as this will allow the manure to become stabilized and beneficial for plant growth. Fall is the perfect time to apply fresh manure in preparation for planting next spring.
So regardless of the source of organic matter you choose to work with, now is the time to start. The weather beginning to cool is the perfect time to do something nice for your garden soil.