Add organic materials to the garden

You don’t need a composter to add beneficial compost to the garden. Pile on a few inches of raw material and either till it in or let it sit on top of the soil, and it’ll be broken down by spring. Organic matter improves tilth, aeration, and how quickly the soil takes up water. In sandy soils, it acts like a sponge, holding on to water and nutrients.

Ward Upham is a horticulturist at Kansas State University. He says the first thing that comes to mind is tree leaves. 

"What I normally recommend is that people use a mower with a bagger and run those over because it shreds them up so that they break down more easily in the garden. Just spread those maybe in about a 3” layer and then work those in. Do that as many times as you can before it gets too cold to do that," says Upham. "So probably about every two weeks or so, get another 3” layer and work it in. By spring, that’s going to be all broken down and it will really help that soil."

There is a wide variety of material that can be added now including dried manure, straw, and kitchen vegetable trimmings. Grass clippings are also beneficial unless they’ve been sprayed with a crabgrass killer. Crabgrass preventers are fine, but killers are not because they can carry over and harm the garden next year.

Upham says there are a few other things to avoid.

"The things that you would keep out of compost would be the same types of things you keep out of a garden like animal fats, or anything else that wildlife would dig up," he says. "Also, people are often tempted to add sand to a clay soil. That is not a good idea. And the reason for that is you’ve got a clay soil, you mix in sand, and what essentially you’ve done is make concrete."