CYA (Cover Your Actinomycetes*)

*Actinomycete–filamentous bacteria that give healthy soil its characteristic “earthy” smell.

I just got around to covering my empty vegetable beds to safeguard my soil. Quite often I miss the late summer/early fall window to put out cover crop seed and have it germinate and fill in thickly.  Sometimes its because I have a few straggling veggies I’m waiting to harvest through September (this year was a good tomato year, for instance).  Other years I’m busy with other things, and certain years it’s not a bad idea to give my tendonitis a rest from the late winter effort of turning under or chopping back a cover crop.

landscape weed barrier used to cover vegetable bed for winter

It’s not too late to get out and do the same for your bare soil, regardless of what your fair weather intentions were.  What do you have in the garage or shed? You can use tarps or rolls of plastic you might already have.  If you like free and repurposed items, ask your local lumber yard if they’ll give you some of the “lumber wrap” that their product is delivered in to save it from the landfill. 

When talking about the cons of using a landscape weed barrier fabric in a class I gave a few weeks ago, my friend Laura suggested a good use for it was to cover bare soil for the winter. Her comment reminded me that I had a roll of landscape weed barrier fabric that I was given by a neighbor who moved into a condo with no garden.  It worked perfectly to cover the surface of my raised bed.

I overlapped pieces of the fabric to cover the bed completely, securing the layers to the ground with a landscape staple.  I placed a small square of repurposed thick plastic or nylon under each staple to prevent tearing from heavy wind.  Staples, as well as flat rocks in the centers and around the edges should help keep it secured until its time to plant my late winter crop.

Landscape staple with nylon underneath where two layers overlap

Benefits of covering your soil over the winter:

–Maintain soil fertility by preventing the leaching of nitrogen in particular

–Protect soil texture by preventing the erosion and compaction that occurs from heavy rain

–Covered soil will warm up faster in late winter/spring, the better for seed germination

–Keep new weed seeds from blowing in and existing seed bank of cool season weeds from sprouting

More information about building and protecting healthy soil:

WSU Extension Publications|Cover Crops for Home Gardens West of the Cascades (Home Garden Series)

WSU Extension Publications|A Home Gardener’s Guide to Soils and Fertilizers (Home Garden Series)

About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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