Winter is a great time to prepare your garden soil for spring

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      EUGENE, Ore. Now is a good time for gardeners to clean out the rest of their summer veggies and plant cover crops for winter. But it's also a great time to take a closer look at the health of your soil.

      There are places in Eugene where you can have your soil tested for free.

      Many gardeners have already cleaned up their plots. But that doesn't mean the work is done. Green thumbs say if you want success next spring, you shouldn't leave your bare soil exposed to the rain.

      "The most important thing to do, as far as springtime, is to make sure that your soil is protected over the winter time. That can be cover cropping, sheet mulching, just layering a layer of compost over the top of your garden beds is really important," Adam Cole said. Cole works at Down to Earth garden store in Eugene.

      "It's a great time for mulching. It's a great time for laying down cover crops to protect your soil erosion," Ryan Brey with Oregon's Constant Gardener in Springfield said.

      This is also a great time to test your soil's pH level. To get an accurate reading, you should dig a number of samples from all over your plot. From there, you can use a pH tester, or you can take it to a place like Oregon's Constant Gardener, where they can analyze it in minutes.

      "If you're going to make adjustments to the pH in your soil, you want to do it gradually," Brey said.

      My soil sample tested at around 6-point-7, which is a healthy level for fruit bearing plants. The parts per million test, however, was far lower.

      But experts say winter is a good time to make those gradual changes, because applying nutrients just before you plant can be problematic.

      "If you add calcium carbonate or a pH adjuster to your soil and you go right behind that and put in a tender annual or a tender perennial, they can also be affected by the extreme pH variance from the material itself," Brey said.

      And while some gardeners have a few veggies left to pick before winter sets in, the time to boost your dirt patch is right now. Experts at Oregon's Constant Gardener say having low parts per million doesn't mean you have unhealthy growing soil, but adding nutrients like bone meal or phosphorous will help.