If you're like me, this hot dry summer has taken all the fun out of a fall garden. However, as the days shorten and the nights cool, fall garden cleanup needs to be put on your list of gardening activities for the weekend.
Taking the time to clean the garden will pay big dividends next gardening season. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are doing your fall cleanup.
After finishing the pumpkin, squash and fall bean harvest, clean the area by discarding the vines and tilling under left over plant debris. This will help kill squash bugs and cucumber beetles two perennial pests in the vegetable garden.
Leftover plant material serves as a food source for the over-wintering adults. Insects feeding on the plant parts this fall will go into winter in good condition. They will be ready to come out early next spring and give your garden fits. However, if you clean the garden now, the bugs are unable to complete their late season feeding and they will be injured by the cold weather providing a natural means of control.
Likewise, when cleaning the tomato patch, discard all the old plant parts to keep diseases to a minimum. Several of the fungal diseases that infect tomatoes overwinter on dead plant parts left in the garden from the previous year. By tilling deeply and making sure all those leftover leaves and vines are buried, you can minimize your risk of infection. The same goes for the tomato cages and stakes.
Disease spores overwinter on the surface of the wood stakes and wire cages. To minimize infection, store these outside where the freezing and thawing can kill the spores. And then soak or spray them with a 10 percent bleach solution next spring before using the supports in the garden next year.
Take full advantage of the mild weather to finish those fall gardening activities. Make sure all leftover plant debris is removed or tilled under. Finishing with a clean garden this fall will help ensure another successful gardening season next year.
Bruce Chladny, horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more gardening information call the Master Gardener Hotline, 843-7058, between 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.