Gardeners often wonder whether plowing or tilling should be done in the spring or late fall, but LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Thomas Koske says working the soil in late fall has several advantages over the traditional spring plowing.
"Working soil in the late fall allows earlier spring planting, since the basic soil preparation is already done when spring arrives," Koske says, adding, "The turning under of large amounts of organic matter is likely to result in better decomposition when done in the fall, since autumn and early winter soil temperatures are higher than those of late winter or early spring, and there is more time for the process to take place."
The horticulturist also says insects, disease organisms and perennial weeds may be reduced by killing or inactivating them through burial or exposure to harsh winter weather.
Since more moisture is retained on flat, bare ground, Koske also says to build high rows to plant early on less soggy soil.
Incorporation of lime or rock fertilizers in the fall gives them time to become integrated with the soil and influence spring plant growth, he says.
Fall plowing alone is not recommended for hillside or steep garden plots, however, since soil that is left exposed all winter in such locations is subject to erosion from spring rains.
"If a winter crop is grown to improve the soil and prevent erosion, the ground will have to be tilled in the fall to prepare the soil for seed and again in spring to turn under the green manure," Koske says.
Spring plowing is better for sandy soils and those where shallow tilling is practiced, according to Koske. He notes that most gardens generally must be spaded, disked or rotary-tilled in the spring to loosen the soil for planting.
For additional information about fall gardening, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.
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