As we reflect on the gardening season, many of us can report successes with our fruits and vegetables. However, as the days shorten and the nights cool, fall garden cleanup needs to be high on your "to do" list this weekend. Taking time to clean the garden now will make spring gardening that much easier and more successful.
After finishing the pumpkin, squash and fall bean harvest, tidy up the area by discarding the vines and tilling under leftover 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 overwintering adults. Insects feeding on the plant parts this fall will go into winter healthy and strong. 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 more likely be killed by the cold weather -- providing a natural means of control.
Likewise, when cleaning up 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 leftover leaves and vines are buried, the risk of infection is minimized. The same goes for the tomato cages and stakes. Disease spores overwinter on the surface of the wood steaks and wire cages. To decrease infection, store these outside where the freezing and thawing can kill the spores. Then soak them in or spray them with a 10-percent bleach solution next spring before using the supports in the garden next year.
Soil building is last on the list. Heavy clay soils benefit from annual applications of organic material. Make a direct application of leaves to your garden, annual flower bed or other bare areas. Applying six to eight inches of leaves and then tilling them under will not only build soil, but will also improve gardening success. Research has shown that leaves directly applied in the fall will break down by the following spring with little to no effort on your part. Not only does this save time, but it is also easy to accomplish.
If you start now, you can make several applications of leaves four weeks apart. For an added boost, spread about 10 pounds of 10-10-10 type fertilizer over 100 square feet of area before tilling. Make just one application of the fertilizer. The added nitrogen will assist in the decomposition.