top of page

Keeping Garden Soil Covered, Cover Crops


January 28, 2018

I attended your compost basics class in Corrales, and I did learn some new things! One that I have a question about is the advice to keep your garden soil covered all year round. This fall after I pulled out my annual veggie plants, I put down the leaf mold I had made from the previous years leaves. This winter I shredded all the leaves from my front yard and put them in the compost bin for this coming falls leaf mold. Then out of sheer laziness, I just blew the leaves from my back yard into my garden bed. Should I leave that layer of leaves in my bed in place and just plant through it in the spring? In the fall can I just rototill that leaf layer into my soil and spread the fresh leaf mold on top? Then in the winter repeat this whole cycle over again? Please let me know. Thanks.


Answer by JZ: Maintaining moisture in garden soil year round improves the environment for soil microbes to decompose both topical and incorporated organic materials - year round. They are forming humus. If you have healthy plants in the Fall, then you may allow all those plant parts to overwinter and decompose in place. It is not necessary to pull them out. They are a source of organic material - a substrate for soil microorganisms to decompose to humus. If you have any diseased plants, in your garden then they should be removed, then trashed, before overwintering.

Yes, you may use the residual leaves as a top mulch this Spring, just move them aside to do your planting.

Yes, in the Fall you might turn leaves into the soil, then water, maintain moisture into Winter. You could use a fork spade to turn them. A rototiller will disturb already formed soil structure- soil particle aggregates, which create air& water spaces which create tilth. The method is your choice.

Yes, what you have described is a cycle that you would be repeat seasonally - annually.

You might enjoy some of our future soil classes which will be posted here.

Please let us know if this is helpful and if you have more questions.  Good for you!    Keep up.   Best.

Response from Questioner: Wonderful thank you so much! One other question, would it be beneficial to add in a green manure/cover crop into this cycle somehow? When and how would you recommend I do it? Thanks

Answer by JZ: Excellent idea, which will add nitrogen, nutrients and organic mass to your soil.

As soon as soil warms up in the Spring you could plant a cover crop - there are many choices.

This guide may be of help to you: NMSU: Principles of Cover Cropping for Arid and Semi-arid Farming Systems

After your crop has germinated and is growing in the Spring - about 10 days before you want to plant your regular garden selections, then gently, with a fork spade, till in the cover crop. The crop will begin to decompose in moist soil. About 10 days later you may put in your other crops.   Then in late August / September you could plant another Winter crop - many choices.

Good for you !

bottom of page