Some homeowner’s fall gardens are in full swing now. However, a majority of home gardeners seem to prefer skipping the fall garden ritual as they are ready to forget about dealing with plant disease and insects in the vegetative garden until next spring. Even so, this time of year is actually the perfect time to start controlling next year’s disease and insects. A little work in the fall can prevent a lot of trouble next spring. Why is this so? A fall cleanup of the vegetable garden involves the removal of spent leaves and stems on which many plant disease organisms (called pathogens) and insect pests survive the winter. This cleanup, formally known as fall sanitation, is a crucial step that will increase the amount of time it takes for populations of plant pathogens and insect pests to reach damaging levels as it reduces their populations. The following are some specific suggestions that are especially important.
Practicing good sanitation measures in the garden is important throughout the year. This is especially important for gardens that are only being partially used or not used at all during the cool fall and winter season. In many cases, high incidents of disease in the spring time can be traced back, in part, to leaving diseased roots, foliage, stems and unharvested vegetables to decay on the surface of the soil.
Gardeners should properly dispose of all plant parts remaining in the garden soon after plants have finished producing an edible product. If the material is not badly diseased, it can be placed in a compost pile to undergo decomposition and then returned to the garden to add valuable organic matter.
Thoroughly till or deeply spade the soil to chop and incorporate all remaining foliage and roots into the soil so the plant material will be well-decomposed before the spring growing season. If possible, till or spade the soil a second time. Infected leaves, stems and fruits can serve as a primary source for future infections on spring-planted vegetables especially if infected foliage is left on top of the ground.
A neglected garden site also can become an insect haven waiting to explode next spring with hundreds of hungry and unwanted insect pests. Ideal places for garden insects to survive the winter period are trash, vegetable stubble, unharvested fruits and tubers, boards and overgrown grass and weeds along the edge of a garden and fence rows. Removing crop residues and disposing of debris, weeds and other volunteer plants helps eliminate food and shelter for many garden pests such as cutworms, aphids, wireworms, white grubs, millipedes, sow bugs and spider mites.
Submitted by Ray Tackett, Agent for Horticulture, Bourbon Co. Cooperative Extension