You may have read this title and thought to yourself, “WHAT?! How does having an ugly garden help me to grow food?!” Don’t worry, I’ll explain. 😊
Many people fantasize about having the most beautiful garden on the block. But I’m here to tell you why it can be very beneficial to allow your garden to become “ugly.”
When I talk about having an “ugly garden” what I mean is that at the end of the harvest season, you don’t rip out the plants or the weeds. You just allow them to remain in the garden over the winter. As the winter progresses, your garden might look like a hot mess of dead plants, but here are 8 reasons why you should allow this to happen anyway:
1. It Provides Extra Nitrogen to the Soil.
Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for growing most plants. In fact, most commercial farmers will spray their plants with nitrogen each year to increase yields. When you leave your plants in the garden over the winter, they release nitrogen into the soil as they break down. I personally don’t like to spray my plants, and I prefer to use the most natural fertilization methods available to me. That is why I love that my soil can get a natural nitrogen boost, by literally doing nothing with the garden at the end of the season!
2. It Allows You Much More Time in the Fall For Preserving Your Produce
With a fruit and vegetable garden that is over half an acre in size, the fall harvest season is a CRAZY BUSY time for me on our homestead!!! I spend months canning, dehydrating, and freezing the fruits of our labor, and it is extremely time consuming! With the knowledge that waiting until spring to clean up the garden is going to be beneficial for next year’s plants, I can have peace about letting it go and focusing on preserving what’s already in front of me.
3. It Makes the Plants and Weeds MUCH Easier To Pull Out in the Spring!
When the plants die off, so does the root system (as long as they are annuals.) Dead roots are WAY easier to extract than live ones!!! Some plants that I wouldn’t have a chance of pulling out in the fall slip right out of the soil in the early spring. This saves A TON of time (and a ton of very long days and sore muscles!)
4. It Protects Your Soil.
Leaving your plants and weeds in the garden to overwinter helps to protect your soil in a couple of ways. The plants create some shade and ground cover, which not only prevents the soil from drying out, but also prevents it from losing nutrients due to damage from direct sunlight. This means that come spring, your soil will still be moist and nutrient rich when it’s time to plant your seeds.
5. It Helps to Prevent New Weeds From Sprouting in the Spring.
As tempted as you might be to rip everything out all at once in the spring, don’t do it!! In addition to the risk of the soil drying out and losing nutrients, exposing the soil to the sunlight will cause new weeds to germinate in those spots. It is best to pull the plants out just before you are ready to replant in those areas.
(Note: I use 6 mil black plastic to cover my walkway areas in order to keep the weeds down in between rows. I’ve gardened without it once, and it was a nightmare! I highly recommend using the plastic for weed management if you are gardening in a large space.)
6. It Helps to Aerate and Loosen Your Soil.
Another reason to let the garden rest until just before planting is that the act of pulling out plants by the roots will aerate and loosen the soil. This will make it much easier for your new seeds to germinate and grow, as seeds have a difficult time germinating in compact soils. I also use a little garden trowel to help break up and smooth out the soil even more when planting.
7. It Saves Time and Money.
As if you don’t already have enough reasons to keep your garden ugly, here’s an ugly garden money-saving tip. Since it is important to keep mulch on your soil (for the reasons already discussed), why not use your old, dead plants as the mulch itself? There was a lot of tall grass that grew around my garden fence last year. Now that it is dry and dead, it makes the perfect mulch! I was careful, though, not to mulch with any weeds that had gone to seed, as that would just cause problems for me in the long run. But not only did I save money by not buying mulch, I also saved time (and a lot of extra work) by not having to pick it up from the store and haul it down to the garden.
8. Sometimes You Get Surprise Harvests Throughout the Winter.
Did you know that you can harvest food from your brassicas, even in the dead of winter?! (Brassicas, by the way, are things like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.) All of these plants are frost tolerant, so they will often survive well into the winter. There were several years that I was able to harvest broccoli from the garden in January, and this year, I was even able to harvest brussels sprouts in late February! Those brassicas are hearty!!!
Well, folks. There you have it! Ugly is better. Rock those ugly gardens with pride, and have a more abundant harvest with less time and effort!
If you have questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love to hear from my readers!😊