Putting compose down in the fall??

lakeeriebethOctober 8, 2010

It certainly would be easier to put compost on my flower garden after I put my garden to bed - when I don't have to deal with annuals, seedlings, and sprouting perennials. But I'm concerned that my plants will get the wrong idea and think that it's spring and begin to grow just in time to get zapped by winter. Is autumn an okay time for compost?

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Autumn is absolutely excellent for adding a layer of soil improvements. It will be further decomposed by the snow and rain and in the spring you are ready to plant right through it.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 11:22AM
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Ditto!! I do a lot of it now and it saves a lot of work in the spring. Your gardens will be better for it as all the nutients will be available to them in the spring. Right now they will use it to grow great root systems.

I often heard of the "plants will get the wrong idea and think that it's spring" syndrome but have found it to be false after mulching my gardens with compost in the fall for the last few years. It has made a positive difference. :O)

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 11:30AM
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I don't put compost down in the fall because by spring it will be gone and the heavy winter rains will have leached alot of the goodness away. Additionally, it will encourage wood lice, millipedes, slugs and symphylans that are active year round. In my opinion, compost in the soil has a limited time-span of usefulness. So why start the clock ticking before you have to. Our winters are very wet and mild and my soil is somewhat sandy. If I put that compost out on the soil in fall, I figure I'm wasting alot of its utility. I even put a plastic sheet over the compost pile to keep it from leaching over the winter.
I have tried it both ways, I will never compost in the Fall again.

Disclaimer: I live in zone 8 with heavy winter rains, mild winter temperatures, sandy soil, and many soil-dwelling arthropods. You're local conditions are likely much different.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 1:24PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I'm in zone 6b on the SE coast of MA and I always put compost down in the fall, along with lots of oak leaves and pine needles. Snow cover is erratic here and the fierce winter winds can really dessicate any exposed plants. Some kind of mulch is essential and compost adds nutrients to the mulch.

In the spring I just have to be careful to remove some of it before the bulbs have to stretch too far. The top few inches then go back into the compost pile.


    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 2:34PM
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Thanks for all your replies. I live on the edge of Lake Erie in Canada. My soil is mainly clay, and the winter winds are fierce, hopefully tamed by the snow cover. If I can still get compost, I think I'll try it!! Thanks again.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 6:15PM
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Spreading compost now is a good idea,even though some people that do not understand soil processes think it is gone by spring. The concept of not putting compost on a garden in the fall comes from "conventional" gardeners who have induced late growth in plants by spreading fertilizers which are very soluble and are picked up by the plants easily which can stimulate growth. The nutrients in compost are not very soluble, readily available to plants since they need to be worked on by the Soil Food Web to become available to plants. That Soil Food Web will work on incorporating your compost into your soil (why it appears to disappear) and your plants will uptake some nutrients which are stored in the roots for use when growth starts in the spring. The nutrients in your compost that are not very soluble and need the activity of the Soil Food Web to become available to your plants will be there to help with growth in the spring, if applied in the fall, but if you wait until spring those nutrients will not be available to the plants until late in the growing seaon.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 7:51AM
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Nice post, kimmesr,and as my compost is ready in the fall, quite a lot of it, that's when I spread it. Garden by garden or barrow by barrow, what I call "rehabbing" and then I hope to be ready to plant in the spring without further ado except for perhaps forking a little.

Compost and manure, just keep it coming, that's my idea. There's never too much.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 1:58PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I think it is definitely a good idea. The only problem where I am at is the winds are strong and snow cover is erratic so I worry that all of the compost will blow away. It is kind of a catch-22 as the areas with younger plants definitely need more compost but they do not have the size to help keep the compost in place.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 2:15PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

I think fall is the best time it give the soil a chance to mellow for spring and you can plant a cover crop into the compost and early spring veggies are ready to plant that way If I wait till spring the ground is to soft and it takes a long time for a 20 yard pile of compost to thaw Also its one of those things that is nice to get out of the way when it isn't so hectic around here
Just put some on today

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 7:27PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I'm just making my compost now (stealing the neighbors' leaves etc!)and I'm a fairly lazy composter, so I spread mine in early spring, about a month before planting time.
If I have extra leaves, I will dump those on beds that I won't be using over the winter. Helps keep the weeds down.
I do now have a leaf sucker that chops them up (free at a garage sale!), so I might cover any bare beds with leaves this year!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 11:01PM
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Weather, climate, soil type and many other factors all come into play when adding materials to soils. Up here, people often add compost and other organics to their gardens in the fall. It gives the soil organisms time to begin digestion of the material in the fall and gives a head start in the spring as well. If one wanted to apply in the spring, they would have to wait for the soil to thaw (frost can go down several feet up here) and dry out some before applying anything in the spring. It can be done but fall seems to be better around here.


    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 11:37PM
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Are you ever able to plant a cover crop up there, or is that not possible with your harsh winters? I've had people tell me I should plant a cover crop, but we start snowing here on holloween, and don't see ground where the garden is until late march.

Just curious


    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 2:53AM
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It is possible depending on what the last crop was. Late harvested crops may make a cover crop impractical with killing frost as early as mid-September.

Most people I know do not use cover crops in their gardens, our growing season is just too short and the expense is just not worth it. The most successful gardeners till something in (can be compost, manure or just shredded leaf/grass mix) during the fall and then till again before planting in the spring. With the ground freezing solid over the winter, most of the material applied in the fall is still mostly available in the soil come spring.

How deep our frost goes depends on how early the snow comes. Some years we get a lot of deep cold before permanent snow and that can send the frost down pretty deep. Exposed dark soil in the spring helps to warm the soil faster so black is good up here.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 3:22AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Are you talking about finished compost? I have a large bin that I start passively collecting leaves in the fall, then start adding grass clippings and plant material to from spring until fall of the next year. Before the leaves fall again, I empty the bin of the unfinished contents and spread it as a mulch in my beds, around perennials and shrubs. I add the top, most recent layers when I am creating a bed using the lasagna method. As I get to the bottom of the pile and it is almost finished or fully finished compost, I add some of that to the Asparagus bed and the other vegetable beds. Then the bin is empty and ready to start all over again.

So, I guess I'm wondering if I am approaching this in the most ideal way, for my situation, with a passive compost pile?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 6:55AM
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Prairiemoon, I guess both of us do "passive" composting -- otherwise known as "let it rot."

If you like your system it's the best way -- sounds good to me. I add a half year to your time table, one year Jan,. 1 to Dec. 31 to collect and compost and half a year to mellow. So mine goes thru the summer and is more useable throughout, though I never turn it.

Like you, I don't call the top layers "compost," I just fork them into the adjacent working compost bin. That stuff gets more time. But using it as mulch would work, makes me think of all those rose bushes.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 10:57AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks phebe, I have left it longer some years. I guess laying it down in the fall seems like it has from October to April in the beds and that ends up being that extra 6 months to break down further in place. Also I suppose, shoveling it and moving it adds air to it and speeds up the finishing more than if I left it alone in the bin.

This fall we're extending a perennial bed and layering, fresh leaves and grass clippings, cardboard, newspaper and 3 wheelbarrels of that top layer from the compost bin right on top of the grass. I will try to plant it in the spring. We had a lot of worms the last time we did that.

Thanks for the reminder about rose bushes. I'll have to pay particular attention they get their fair share.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 11:36AM
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