By LISA PREJEAN
10:46 AM EDT, October 3, 2011
Although Anne Courtemanche calls herself a "lazy gardener," her yard reveals that she is quite the opposite.
Twelve 55-gallon barrels that serve as reservoirs to catch rainwater sit beside the Hagerstown home she shares with her husband, Bob.
Flower beds contain native plants that support area wildlife.
A garden out back provides a bountiful harvest of assorted fruits and vegetables.
Former Baltimore residents, the Courtemanches initially became interested in the Master Gardener program when they moved to Hagerstown.
"This is a different climate. It's Zone 6 here, and Zone 7 in Baltimore. Here the soil is clay and rock. We didn't know how to deal with it," Anne said. "We started (the Master Gardener program) with the idea of having a vegetable garden."
Master Gardeners learn their craft in a 40-hour instructional program offered through the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland.
Anne and Bob completed the training and are now committee chairs for the Master Gardener plant clinics in Washington County.
Local Master Gardeners said even though the harvest season is nearing its end, there is still much to do to prepare for winter.
Add a vegetable garden
Planning to add a vegetable garden to your yard? Decide now where you would like that garden to be. The spot should be sunny, close to a water source and have good drainage.
After selecting a spot, cover the grass with a thick layer of wet newspaper and mulch made of grass clippings and leaves. Or, consider a "lasagna" gardening plan with a covering of newspaper, grass clippings, food scrap compost, straw and shredded leaves.
"By spring, it starts decomposing nicely and you can plant right in it," said Shanon Wolf, a Master Gardener who chairs the demonstration garden project at Washington County Agricultural Education Center, at 7303 Sharpsburg Pike.
Beginning gardeners should start small. Bob recommends an 8-by-4-foot plot.
Consider raised beds. For raised beds, wooden frames are built to keep the soil in. The 4-foot-wide plot is small enough that gardeners can reach the vegetables without stepping into the area where the plants are growing.
"We don't walk in our garden ever," Anne said.
They also employ close-proximity planting. If the plants are placed close together so the leaves of the adult plants barely touch, weeds don't have as much of an opportunity to grow.
"We don't have many weeds," Anne said, explaining that this is largely because of a barrier of mulched leaves that is added in the fall. The leaves gradually deteriorate, nourishing the soil and keeping it soft for planting. The leaves also keep the soil moist, protect it from runoff and provide a good environment for earthworms. Earthworms are beneficial to a garden because they aerate the soil and add nourishment to it.
Out with the old
Gardeners with an established vegetable plot can start getting ready for winter by removing old, "exhausted" plants.
"The main thing we encourage gardeners to do is clean up their gardens," Wolf said.
Pull up the dead plants and rake away rotten vegetables that have fallen on the ground, Wolf recommended.
"Compost it or dispose of it," she said. "That will get rid of next year's problems."
One exception to this is in the flower beds, Wolf said. Consider leaving behind some of the plants that look nice when they've dried so birds can continue to eat the seeds.
Keeping soil healthy
To keep the soil healthy during the winter, a cover crop should be planted. Alfalfa and winter rye make good choices for cover crops, the Courtemanches said.
"Then another thing we recommend for fall is to test your soil," Wolf said.
From the soil test, a homeowner learns how to amend the soil for the items he or she plans to plant in the spring.
November is a good time to have soil tested, Anne Courtemanche said, noting that the average cost for the test is $10.
Samples should be taken at a depth of about eight inches from about five to six different areas in the garden, Anne said.
To learn more about soil tests, go to the Maryland Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center at www .hgic.umd.edu.
In the lawn
Fall is a good time to reseed any bare spots in your lawn, Wolf said.
Grass clippings can be spread over the lawn as a natural fertilizer.
"The nitrogen from the cut grass is generally enough to fertilize an established lawn," Anne Courtemanche said.
Anne also plants white clover in the grass to fix nitrogen in the ground. Rabbits like to eat the clover, and tend to stay away from other plants if clover is available, Anne said.
Planting clover is also a good way to support the bee population, she said, noting that homeowners who plant clover in their lawns probably shouldn't walk around barefoot.
Clover also is beneficial to homeowners because it is more economical than fertilizer. One pound of clover seed costs $5 to $6, Anne said.
"And you only have to do it once."
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