Fall Garden Clean Up

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Cooler days are ahead and when they arrive it will be a good time to go outside and work on some garden clean up. Good sanitation practices for getting rid of leftover plant debris in vegetable and flower gardens can reduce the risk of some common problems next year.

Plant debris left from previous planting can become great hiding places for disease-causing bacteria and fungi to overwinter. Cleaning up is a relatively easy task and it is cheap compared to the expense of a devastating disease in our favorite vegetable or flower. Garden diseases like black rot of grapes, strawberry leaf spot, and leaf spots of tomatoes caused by the fungal pathogens Septoria and Alternaria can be managed with sanitation.

The gardener’s first action plan should focus on removing all plant material from the garden. Leave any winter vegetables or cover crops. Be diligent and dig up and remove decomposing roots. This will help prevent the release of disease-causing microbes into the soil. If you find mummified fruits on or around fruit trees and grapevines, remove and dispose of them away from the growing area. If there are spent blooms or foliage in flower beds, remove this as well. Leave nothing for disease pathogens to lurk in and on.

Pesty insects can also be managed in the fall. The twig girdler overwinters in tree branch debris and many plant pathogens can survive the winter in fallen leaves, residual stalks and rotten fruit in the garden. All of this should be raked up and removed to reduce the insects emerging next spring.

Many gardeners sport a backyard compost pile. The plant debris removed from the garden areas can be a great addition to these piles. Compost piles can heat up and decompose the debris in a few years if maintained properly. Disease-causing organisms are destroyed from the compost’s heating process.

Another method of destroying plant debris from gardens is to till the garden area. This will break up the dead and decaying plant materials into smaller pieces. Tilling works the pieces into the soil and allows for the debris to decompose more rapidly than if left on the soil surface.

Following these tips, just may save gardeners from the frustration of disease and insect invasions in the spring.