Removing plant debris from gardening areas when the growing season ends, usually after the first hard frost, reduces the likelihood that a number of diseases will develop on flowers, vegetables or fruits next year.
A thorough cleanup of vegetable and flower gardens and fruit plantings is an effective way to control many plant diseases because remains provide an abundant source of microbes that can cause problems next year. This is because fungi and bacteria that cause diseases can overwinter on infected or contaminated roots, stems, leaves, flowers, vegetables or fruits.
Good garden sanitation reduces the possibility of such plant diseases as early blight, mildews, and gray mold fungus, as well as various root rot and wilt problems.
In the vegetable garden, remove all plants, except winter vegetables or cover crops. It is especially important to completely clean out and destroy all diseased plants from garden and fruit plantings. Be sure to dig up roots carefully and remove them because decomposing roots can release disease-causing microbes that will survive in the soil. Also remove spent blooms from flower gardens and take mummified fruits left on or around trees and grapevines.
Be cautious of composting plants infected with root knot or Fusarium and Verticillium wilt diseases because as these diseases can persist in incompletely composted materials. Gardeners who decide not to remove old plants should till the garden to break dead material into smaller pieces and turn this under.
Submitted by Ray Tackett, Agent for Horticulture, Bourbon Co. Cooperative Extension Service