klo1(z7 OK)November 6, 2009

Hi, Lurker here, been a member for a long time but haven't gardened for a while so haven't posted. Now I have converted a large flower bed to a small garden. This was the first year and while it wasn't a complete success I'm going to try again next year. I mulched with newspaper topped with straw to keep down the weeds and it was great. I didn't have the time to weed so this was a lifesaver for me.

Now to the question! I know I shouldn't leave the mulch on the garden all winter because of overwintering bugs but don't have a place to compost so would like to till the mulch in to help enrich the soil, but when would be the best time to do it? I haven't even had a light frost yet and I'm afraid if I till now the weeds would start growing again. Should I wait till the first frost or till a killing frost? Help please and TIA!

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If you are going to use the so-called lasagna gardening system, which is sounds like you've started, you don't till. You simply add another layer of newspaper and another layer of hay or the mulch you are using. Let it build up, year after year (LOL, maybe in 100,000 years you will have a coal seam!) and do its thing.

Simply google "Lasagna gardening" and you will find a great deal on this subject, and most of it is quite interesting. It is almost a religious cult for many people!


    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 8:03PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

To add to what Robert said, you can just continue to add layer after layer of mulch, compost, chopped and shredded leaves, grass clippings, animal manure, etc. Time, the weather, small decomposers like earthworms and some beetles, and using a trowel to plants seeds or seedlings will gradually mix the layers together.

I do not necessarily agree that you should not leave mulch because of overwintering bugs. First, keep in mind that some bugs are herbivores (I call them the bad bugs) and they eat plants, and you might consider them a problem, but other bugs are carnivores (I think of them as the good bugs) and they eat the bad bugs, so you want them to stick around. Secondly, even if you remove mulch to deter insects, they will find a place to overwinter and you'll have sacrificed your mulch for nothing. Third, every single time you rototill the soil, you expose millions and millions of weed and grass seeds to sunlight and that sunlight exposure (even less than 1 second of exposure) often encourages them to germinate. So, every time you rototill, you are creating a new generation of weeds.

I'll use our woodland as an example of soil building. We have heavy, thick, dense, clay soil that is just awful. In the wooded areas, though, there's about 8-10" of rich, humusy, loamy, fertile brown topsoil on top of that clay. Where did it come from? It was created by all the forest debris that fell to the ground and lay there until it decomposed. As leaves, brushy undergrowth, flowers, seeds, nuts, bird and animal manure, twigs, limbs and even full-sized trees have fallen to the ground over the decades (and probably birds and small animals too, after their death), they have decomposed in place and formed a layer of rich soil. Nobody has been running all over the woodland plowing or rototilling the decomposing material into the ground. It simply isn't necessary.

So, whether you should till now or later in winter depends upon your reasons for doing so. If you're just trying to get rid of the mulch, that's counterproductive. You'll have weeds pop up as a result of the rototilling, the bugs will still underwinter somewhere, and you'll still have to add more mulch next spring after you plant.

If your soil is a horrible, horrible mess and either drains much too slowly or much too quickly and needs to have organic matter incorporated into it 'right now' and you cannot wait for it to happen over time, then you can rototill your current mulch into the soil, but then you immediately need to lay down newspaper or cardboard and put down new mulch to prevent winter weeds from sprouting. Otherwise you'll have a gardenful of winter weeds by January or February....or even by December.

If you are going to rototill, you can do it now or you can do it later, and it doesn't really matter. Different weed seeds sprout at different temperatures and some of them sprout in every month of the year although the ones that sprout in Nov. and Dec. generally form tiny rosettes close to the ground and are almost unnoticeable until they suddenly zoom up about a foot in height just overnight in mid-winter. Waiting for a freeze won't help much. In fact, freezing temps perform a function we call cold scarification which actually makes some seeds sprout. Some seeds need a long period of scarification, some need a short one, and others need alternating temps that go from cold to hot and back again. The key factor in how many weeds you have is 'bare soil'. Nature abhors a vacuum and her response to bare soil is to make something grow in it. So, I'd advise keeping the mulch, or at least putting down a new layer immediately after I rototilled.

I've been gardening a long time now and I'm here to tell you that you absolutely, positively cannot garden without insects and without weeds unless you use enough poisonous chemical pesticides and herbicides to make your little patch of ground toxic, and I bet you really don't want that. It is a whole lot easier to learn to work with Mother Nature and get her to help you (for example, by sending you good bugs to help control the bad bugs, and by sending you mulch, aka falling leaves, to cover the soil surface and keep the weed seeds from seeing the light of day) than to work against her.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 9:15PM
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I agree with Dawn re: bugs. If you don't have bad bugs for them to eat, you won't get any of the good bugs either. I let the aphids come to my milkweed plants (they attract the oleander aphids) because the lady bugs will come then, too. There is a balance in nature and for far too long we have tried to "control" it by the use of pesticides and various chemicals in the soil. I am beginning to move toward building my soil rather than adding chemical fertilizers, and I don't use pesticides at all. I can control a lot of things like aphids, spider mites, mildew, with hard, thorough sprays of good old water, and an occasional squish of the fingers! LOL! I like to think that the bad bugs are here to feed the good bugs. If I am just patient and allow Mother Nature to do her job (which she is much better at than I am), I really don't have many problems to complain about.

Have fun with your new garden!


    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 8:07AM
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klo1(z7 OK)

Thanks all of you, you've just made my life much easier! I'm going to go with the lasagna method. I hated to loose all my mulch but tilling it in is what I had learned in the past.I have good soil, sandy and with water it can grow anything, but I know you need to feed it to keep it that way.I prefer to garden organically for health reasons, even planted a "bug tub" this year to help draw in the good bugs. I found out about it a long time ago, just planted it this year.

I saw something this fall I had never seen before, horn worms that had those white eggs from I believe a wasp(?) on them. And of all things they were on a lantana, not a tomato plant! Had four of them, really something to see. Hope the eggs survive the cold this winter.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 10:24AM
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I agree with all of what has been said above. I think any dexision has to be made after reviewing the situation in your garden. I have deep sandy soil also. I have mulched heavily the last few years. I did very little tilling last fall and this spring. Mainly pulled mulch back and planted. I did turn my garlic area over with a shovel last fall. But I've had high disease trouble the last two years. I don't blame the mulch for causing it. But the extension service and other specialists have advised me to turn all mulch under and start over. They say the mulch can harbor it once it gets in it. I decided to mold board and turn over deep if I was going to do it. I hated too as I saw many big worms. I turned it 10 to 12 inches deep. Just dipping into some spots of new dirt at that depth. My soil is nice, dark and mellow down to that depth. I don't plan on tilling or mold boarding every year. I know in drought years disease problems increase but it has been the worst I've ever seen. And felt that I needed to try something. But tilling or plowing will be on a limited basis in the future. Like I said my decision is based on disease control. If it works I hope I don't need to again for several years. There are radials of both sides of the working or not working your soil. I believe plowing has it's place but do it only when required and not just because you have every year.
Like I've stated before I think another factor in my disease problem could possibly be growing seeds from many different sources from many areas. I don't plant any seeds now unless from a commercial source without soaking in a chlorine solution. Jay

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 2:57PM
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klo1(z7 OK)

Jay, what is mold boarding? Never heard of that before!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 2:50PM
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I think it's like deep plowing.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 3:17PM
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I will paste a description. They were more widely used in the past. Work well to turn over heavy residue and mulch. Doesn't fluff the soil like a tiller. Many use them then either a disc or a tiller to smooth out the top 4-6 inches. Mine can turn over 14 inches deep but I don't have enough tractor. Even after several trips I imagine I turned mine under 10-12 inches. I wanted to roll the mulch under. I was surprised to find between my previous tilling and then mulching and letting the worms work my good soil was close to ten inches deep. Just broke through it into the plain sand at the bottom 1-2 inches. I forget that many of us with country back grounds take for granted what some have never heard of. I do feel more qualified talking about plows than being a "Tomato King." hehe. Jay

Moldboard Plows Top of Page


Moldboard plows are designed to slice and invert a layer of soil, thus covering the sod and leaving a rough surface. These plows have large curved bottoms called moldboards which attach to a frame. The moldboards have shears along the bottom edge and large curved wings above to turn the soil. Models are available that have 2 to 12 bottoms, a 12- to 22-inch width of cut, and plow to a depth of 14 inches. They attach to the 3-point hitch or they may be towed. Most models have furrow wheels, and the plows are raised or lowered hydraulically. Horsepower pulling requirements are high and vary widely because of soil type and conditions.


Moldboard plows are used on clean-tilled cropland with high amounts of residue. Some models have reset mechanisms which allow each bottom to rise over an obstruction and then return to its original position.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 6:23PM
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You probably already know the old saying. "Plow deep in the fall and shallow in the spring."
Best of luck

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 8:35PM
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klo1(z7 OK)

Ok, I really don't have enough space to worry about doing that! Think I'll just either till come spring or just add mulch and keep going.

You know, I think I've seen a tractor attachment like that a long time ago, just didn't know what it was called!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2009 at 8:27PM
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Moldboarding or deep plowing does for a large area what double-digging does for a small one.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2009 at 12:46PM
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