Ask the Expert: How to Cover Up Your Garden

You worked all spring and summer to bring your East End garden to life, but now that fall has hit the Hamptons it’s time to start thinking about next year. Autumn is the perfect time for many plantings, so we asked the experts at Hampton Nursery & Landscaping for their tips about what we should sow now that will help gardens make it through the winter and be better than ever come spring.

The Question: Is there anything I should be planting now that will help my garden over the winter? 

Hampton Nursery & Landscaping Says… The soul of your garden is the soil. Fall is the perfect time to feed your garden’s soul by sowing a cover crop. Winter cover crops are legumes and grains that are sown to germinate in fall. Most can overwinter even in cold climates and will continue growing in early spring. The cover crop is then tilled or turned under at least two to three weeks before spring planting.

One benefit of cover crops is that they add organic matter to the soil. Organic matter breaks down into humus and humic acids, which help the plants take up water and nutrients more efficiently from the soil. Ideally your soil should have at least 5 percent organic matter for healthy production.

Cover crops also hold the soil in place in winter. This is especially important on slopes or in areas that get lots of heavy winter rains. Depending on what plants you’re growing as cover crops, you can also use your crop to suppress weeds or break up heavy clay soil. Winter rye roots emit chemicals that inhibit weed growth, while legumes, such as fava beans and alfalfa, have taproots that help break up clay soil. Cover crops also help suppress diseases and some insects.

Here are a few common cover crops to grow in your garden this fall:

Alfalfa is a cold-tolerant perennial legume that is deep rooted and drought tolerant.

Annual ryegrass is an easy annual grass to establish in fall. It doesn’t overwinter in cold areas, so it is easier to till under in spring.

Hairy vetch is a cold-tolerant perennial legume that is partly shade tolerant.

Oats are an annual cereal grain; they tolerate low pH soils, but need good water drainage to grow best.

Winter rye is a cold-tolerant annual grain that quickly germinates and becomes established even in shady soils. It tolerates low pH soils and cold soil temperatures.

Have your own questions about getting your Hamptons garden ready for the fall and winter? You can contact Hampton Nursery & Landscaping at 631- 728-1160 or visit them online at You may even see your questions answered right here at Ask the Expert. 

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