Garden Docs: Cover crops add a whole lot of goodness to your soil

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


Tim D. of Windsor asks: I don’t have a winter vegetable garden, and I was told I should grow a cover crop in its place. Can you tell me what the benefits are of having a cover crop growing in this vegetable garden area?

All types of cover crops have the ability to improve soil conditions by increasing organic matter, fixing nitrogen, breaking up soil compaction, suppressing weed growth and preventing any erosion that could happen on fallow ground. It would be best to use organic seed. Organic cover crop seeds can be grasses, legumes, buckwheat or mixes. When you chop the plants up in the early spring, you can incorporate them into the soil, or leave the plant material on top as a mulch. Either way, these plants will add a whole lot of goodness to your soil.

Kathy R. of Santa Rosa asks: I have had trouble in the past with growing garlic. They peter out in early spring before the head develops. When I pull them out, there’s nothing there.

Garlic needs well-drained, fertile soil in an area that gets full sun at least 6 hours a day in order for that clove to grow and develop into a head of garlic. Areas that flood, have standing water for long periods in the winter, or have clay soil, are not ideal for growing garlic, which has roots that rot in wet soil or in standing water.

Choose an area with good drainage or grow the garlic in raised beds or containers, with a good planting mix.

If you’re going to grow garlic in the ground, incorporate well-aged compost and work up the top 8 inches of soil, raking the bed to level the soil. Pull the cloves apart from the head and select the largest cloves. Discard the skinny little ones. They won’t amount to anything. Use a stick or trowel to make holes about 2 inches deep for the garlic cloves — either 4 inches apart in single rows or 6 inches apart in double rows. Drop one clove, pointy end up, into each hole. Tamp the soil down around each clove, and top with a couple of inches of compost. Water them in well and wait for the little green shoots to appear. Harvest in early summer when the foliage has died back.

Kathrine G. of Healdsburg asks: Quite a few of my perennials are getting crowded and they need to be divided. How do I know which ones to divide when? Is there some sort of guideline I can follow?

The general rule of thumb for dividing perennials is to divide the early bloomers in the fall, and the late bloomers in the spring. There are two exceptions. Oriental poppies and bearded irises can both be divided during the summer.

This is also a good time to divide and replant rhubarb. Dig up the entire plant, cut the crown into sections, making sure there are roots attached. Add compost into the planting hole, replant and share some divisions with your friends.

Judy R. of Windsor asks: I like Chrysanthemums, but have a difficult time growing them. I have bought the small sized plants from the nursery, transplanted them in a sunny location, and after a few weeks, the leaves start to turn gray and they don’t produce many blooms. I would like to try again this year, so I’m asking for help first before I buy them again.

Sounds like they have a mildew problem. Be sure not to plant them too close to each other, plant in full sun, meaning ALL day long, in good draining soil with organic matter incorporated into it. And do not overhead water them. If you don’t have a spot that gets full sun, grow them in containers with a good planting mix and be careful not to over.water them. Use a moisture meter for your watering guide.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Claims of "Fake News" will be delayed for moderation
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine