The best way to prepare your soil for winter ready to plant in spring or to protect plants in the ground is with aged manures, compost and mulch. Rake back old mulch and layer aged cow manure and then compost 2 inches thick on the surface of the soil. Cover the mix with mulch and water in well.
This article will explore the top 10 things you can add to your soil to prepare it for winter, to protect soil bacteria and worms and help your plants to survive the cold.
For all you need to know about preparing your soil for winter, check out this article.
Top 10 ingredients to prepare soil for winter
Here are my top 10 ingredients to add to soil to prepare it for winter and protect your plants.
1. Aged cow manure
Aged cow manure is a fantastic addition to your winter soil. It is high in carbon and organic matter so can help to protect plant roots, worms and soil bacteria. Aged cow manure is a mild fertilizer that will gradually break down over winter to feed established plants or will return nutrients to the soil after summer vegetables have finished.
To add aged cow manure to soil in winter, rake back any old mulch to expose the soil surface. Sprinkle aged cow manure up to 1 inch thick on the surface and gently rake it through. If there are no plants in the soil you can dig it through with a garden fork.
If you are sprinkling aged cow manure on the soil around established trees including citrus do not disturb the soil. Simply sprinkle the cow manure on the surface around the base of the plant and the nutrients will be watered in.
Compost is a fantastic way to insulate the soil over cold winter. Compost is high in organic matter which will help with soil drainage but will also protect the soil bacteria and create a blanket to regulate soil temperature.
Compost can be mixed into the soil to improve drainage and feed soil bacteria or mixed into the soil to improve water holding capacity. Mix compost into soil after you have removed old tomato plants or layer it onto bare soil in flower beds.
Don’t worry if you don’t have compost made at home, you can buy it in bags at hardware stores or garden centers.
3. Seaweed solution
Adding seaweed solution to your soil during winter will help to strengthen plant roots. Seaweed is a soil conditioner and root tonic which helps to improve the balance of soil bacteria, support root growth and strengthen plant stems.
Seaweed solution can be mixed into a watering can with water and applied to the soil even if there are no plants in it. Treat the soil well and it will be ready to plant out in spring.
4. Fish emulsion
Fish emulsion is the perfect addition to your soil in winter. Fish emulsion is a mild fertilizer that will gently feed soil bacteria, plants and worms without adding any nutrients in high amounts.
Most plants will slow their growth during the cold weather of winter so they do not need any strong fertilizers. Fish emulsion will gently add nutrients to the soil while helping to build it while the plants are slow growing.
5. Bark mulch
Mulching soil over winter with bark mulch is a great way to protect it and the plants when the weather is cold. After you have layered cow manure and compost, finish the soil with a 2-3 inch layer of bark mulch.
Bark mulch will help to prevent winter weeds, regulate soil temperatures and protect plant roots. Bark mulch is perfect for citrus trees including lemons, limes and oranges as well as Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary and parley and flower beds.
6. Worm castings
Worm castings are a great way to improve soil for the cold of winter. Worm castings are the bits left over after worms have digested vegetable scraps in your worm farm. It looks like soil, is high in nutrients and organic matter.
Worm castings are a gentle fertilizer but work well to improve the soil bacterial balance and water holding capacity of your soil. Add a small amount of worm castings to your soil by sprinkling it on the surface and raking it in.
Worm castings can also be dug into the soil in new garden beds or mixed into vegetable gardens in fall or winter.
7. Winter flowering annuals
Adding winter flowering annuals to your garden is a great way to protect your soil and to add some color. Adding winter flowering annuals like violas will help to protect the soil over winter. It will help to prevent soil run off during heavy rain and create a green cover crop that can be removed in spring.
Watering soil in winter sounds like a strange idea but in low rainfall areas it is important. Some get very low rainfall during cold winter and soil can dry out. Check the soil and add water using the sprayer nozzle on your hose every 4 weeks.
Dry soil can kill plants and soil bacteria so it is important to keep it moist. In the cold weather the soil will stay wet for longer so you will need to water less often than in spring and summer but don’t forget to check.
9. Sugar cane mulch
Sugar cane mulch is a great way to protect newly planted fruit trees and soil in winter. Sugar cane mulch is a light mulch which breaks down quickly but can be laid thickly in winter to protect plant roots.
I used a thick layer of sugar cane mulch under a newly planted mango tree over winter. This kept it happy in the cold weather and it was ready to add new growth in spring.
10. Leaf mold
Leaf mold is the perfect soil conditioner that can be added in winter. Leaf mold or leaf compost is made from fall leaves which can be raked up and left to break down. Simply rake up fall leaves, place them in a wire cage at least 3 feet wide or in a compost bag and you will have leaf mold by the next winter.
Simply leave it in a spot out of the way to break down and dig it through your soil in winter. This will add nutrients, organic matter and improve the soil’s water holding capacity.
Preparing soil for winter | Summary
Prepare your soil for winter by adding organic matter, aged manures and mulch. Make sure you do this underneath established trees, perennial flowers and vegetable gardens. If you are preparing new soil, you can mix compost, worm castings and aged cow manure through. Cover it with mulch and water it all in well. Your soil will be ready to grow new plants in spring or protect established plants.