The long winter dirt nap

This year the dahlias in the front garden looked so much better than the ones in the back garden. The difference wasn’t the amount of sun. It was the dirt. Or soil, as the fancy gardeners call it.

I didn’t realize just how bad the dirt was until we dug the bulbs out this week to set them down for their winter nap. The back garden is full of roots from a nearby maple tree, it’s dry and obviously doesn’t have nutrients.

That’s when last week’s conversation with Penn State master gardener Margaret Baughman hit home. Margaret said you can’t just let your soil go over winter. She layers leaves, compost and newspaper to keep weeds down. “Leaves have a lot of good nutrients in them,” she said.

If you don’t do something, weeds can and WILL spring up. Weeds eat up the nutrients in the soil and then the plants won’t produce as much.

Did you know you can keep your compost working right through winter? Just throw an old rug on it,” Margaret says. The center will stay warm. If it’s warm, it will keep breaking down.

Margaret works with small farmers to grow ground covers at this time of the year. They keep the soil loose and the weeds down, another perfect combination from a woman who lived with a fire escape outside her New York City apartment. Before she moved to Saylorsburg she said, “I never put a thing in the ground.”

We all have to start somewhere. Some of us just progress more slowly than others. That’s why we need master gardeners.

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