My dad has always tilled the garden at the end of the growing season, and therefore I have as well. But today I want to ask this group a simple question, is there really a benefit to tilling at the end of the season?

  • Depending on the exact timing of your "end of year tillage" you might also be able to establish a cover crop for the winter to be tilled under in spring, such as winter rye. That's somewhat better on balance than merely sitting fallow over the winter.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 7 '17 at 0:41
  • Otherwise @Ljk2000, best is to cover crop and till in the Spring. Tilling in fall is for aesthetics, has no benefits at all. Even waiting to clean up and prune perennials is best done in the spring. The extra dead matter continues to decompose (heat) and at the same time allows better insulation making pockets when covered with snow. Do you have time now for setting a cover crop? What zone did you say you have?
    – stormy
    Nov 7 '17 at 1:25
  • @stormy and ecnerwal I do have my large compost pile but has only been sitting about a month and a half. If I use that will it still decompose over the winter?
    – Ljk2000
    Nov 7 '17 at 13:56
  • I'd use it to cover my beds for the winter. It will decompose all winter, probably be fine in the spring. Otherwise, if the compost looks at all like the original ingredients it is still decomposing, add a little nitrogen for now but when you plant in the spring take that nitrogen into account with whatever you are planting; leafy greens...perennials, fruiting plants...I'd go lower on the nitrogen more than usual for flowering/fruiting plants in that soil. When you turn that compost over, what do you see? A dark taupe, brownish even textured finer than coffee ground looking stuff? Use it.
    – stormy
    Nov 10 '17 at 2:31
  • Don't till in the fall/winter. Wait till early spring unless you have clay. If you have clay, no tilling allowed with a rotary tiller. Try to wait until the soil is moist not wet. Just double dig. Dig down a good foot to 18" using a good old shovel. Turn soil over, chop if you want but keep going. You will be able to make mounds of soil 3' or more in height. Allow to dry somewhat then form your beds into raised beds, sloped sides with a 6"X6" trench at the foot of the beds where you tell that water where to go. I add decomposed organic matter a little as I double dig. Otherwise...
    – stormy
    Nov 10 '17 at 2:38

If what's been growing and will be growing again next year are vegetable crops, then yes, there's an advantage, but only if you live somewhere with frosty winters. Turning the soil over in Fall and leaving it in clods on the surface over winter means the frost and cold will break them down, so by spring, the soil is loose and friable, and thus easier for planting.

If you mean the soil is tilled around permanent amenity plants like ornamental shrubs, perennials and the like, no, it's not useful - it's unnecessary because it disrupts and destroys the soil, along with the ecosystem of fungal mycorrhizae and microscopic life forms within it which are essential to plant health.

  • pretty easy to understand. Yes I do vegetable gardens every year. Maybe a few sunflowers or something but nothing that will stay. When I till what size should the 'clumps' ideally be? Mostly out of curiosity on that. Thanks for the answer!
    – Ljk2000
    Nov 6 '17 at 17:29
  • Its not something you yourself can decide - if you have heavy, clay soil, the clumps will be large, and that's fine ... but if your soil is light and sandy, you probably won't have any clumps at all, somewhere inbetween, smaller clumps, but it doesn't really matter.. If it is light and sandy, tilling now seems a bit pointless, but does at least mean the land is cleared prior to winter, and left nicely fallow for a few months, saving time next spring
    – Bamboo
    Nov 6 '17 at 19:29
  • Didn't think it mattered but I figured there might have been a sweet spot. But good to know. Thank you
    – Ljk2000
    Nov 6 '17 at 19:32

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