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It's clean-up time in the garden

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
Now is the time to clean up and remove spent garden debris. It’s important to do this now since vegetable and floral debris harbor fungal diseases and over-wintering immature insects.
Unfortunately, many home gardeners leave their spent gardening debris until the next planting season. This practice is tempting for burned out gardeners, but it can cause serious problems, especially for those who will plant in the same location next season.
Deep plowing declining and spent garden debris reduces disease and insect problems by smothering fungal spores and insects that over-winter in stems and roots. Exposing roots to freezing temperatures also plays an important role in reduction of plant pests, including nematodes.
Plant a cover crop as soon as the soil is workable. Cover crops such as rye grain, wheat, crimson clover or oats reduce erosion and supply much-needed organic matter when plowed under as green manures in late winter or early spring.
These crops produce an abundance of biomass that improves the tilth or workability to the soil. This is especially important for gardeners with tight clay soils. Research has also proven that planting a cover crop has the ability to reduce certain weed populations. For example, wheat cover crop reduces broadleaf weed populations in early spring plantings.
With cooler weather just around the corner, take time to construct a compost bin for spent garden materials and leaves. Composting recycles spent vegetation, converting it into beneficial organic matter. Composting is a process that requires soil and fertilizer or manure to accelerate the composting process. Compost is a natural source of nutrients and also helps loosen tight clay soils. This Web site www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/pdf/ag-467.pdf has detailed information on building and maintaining a home compost bin.
Now is a great time to have your soil tested. Home gardeners need to have their soil analyzed every two to three years. Soil sampling saves time and reduces unnecessary nutrients into the environment as well as dollars in producing ornamental and edible crops.
Soil testing boxes and forms are available from Cooperative Extension, located at the Agriculture Center on Old Concord Road in Salisbury. These samples are sent by homeowners for testing to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture in Raleigh.
Reports will arrive in a few weeks and now are available online at the N.C. Department of Agriculture Web site, www.ncagr.com. Take a few moments and test your soil now because the closer to spring planting, the longer it takes to receive and implement the results.
Darrell Blackwelder, 704-216-8970
http://www.rowanmastergardener.com
http://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu
http://rowanhorticulture.blogspot.com/

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