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Cover Crops Protect Soil In Winter And Help Control Weeds

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Cover crops like hairy vetch can add nutrients to your garden soil during the winter months.

Fall is a great time of year to plant cover crops to protect the soil over the winter. Come spring, you will have done your garden a favor and given it a head start, as the cover crops can add organic matter and help control weeds.

You're probably familiar with seeing larger farms using cover crops like winter wheat during fall and winter (or perhaps you're a farmer yourself!). Folks with small gardens can get the same benefit out of planting cover crops, too!

You can plant cover crops and incorporate these "green manures" back into the soil without digging. Some cover crops to consider are hairy vetch, winter rye or winter wheat. They'll grow in the fall, add nutrients  in the winter and then come April, begin growing again.

If you're not in the market for sowing oats or wheat or rye, you'll need to cut them back. Using this method is more work-intensive because in order to ensure these cover crops don't take over your garden space, you'll have to mow it and turn it under.

Another option involves a bit less work: Grow a cover crop that will die over the winter, like oats. The benefit is that this crop will still hold the soil in place and nourish the soil, too.

Q: I started a raised bed vegetable garden this year (like so many suddenly finding themselves working from home!). We put down groundcloth and mulch around the boxes, and have a mix of 50/50 soil and compost. As the summer has gone on, the beds have become more and more infested with horsetail fern. Any advice? — Susanna, in Landgrove

Horse tail is really a pernicious weed, indeed! You can keep it under control by planning to clean out your beds this fall. Make sure soil is moist, then dig way down to get to the roots and pull it out.

You can also extend the groundcloth around the bed and put mulch on top of it.

Q: I would like to ask Charlie about a plant I can smell right now that is a wonderful fragrance. It smells more like food than like a flower. I smelled it last year at this time in the Hannaford parking lot in Rutland. And I was just in the same parking lot a few days ago and I smelled it again! There were some winter berry trees nearby, but they didn’t seem to have any smell at all. Can you tell me? — Josie, in Sudbury

This could be a variety of things, perhaps fragrant flowers, trees and landscape plants that are often used around areas such as parking lots! Some that come to mind are rosa rugosa as it does have a fragrant flower. What you're smelling could also be maturing crabapple trees. Then again, it could be flowering tobacco and some other plants.

A thin grey line.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a messageor get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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