If you want a decent yield in your vegetable garden next spring, now is the time to clean it before the winter comes.
Master Gardener Karen Palmer said cleaning up the garden sooner rather than later gives people a head start before planting season arrives.
“Fall (and) winter cleanup is important for disease prevention against the plants and gives you a headstart on next spring,” Palmer said. “So if you don’t clean it up now, you’re going to have to clean it up next spring.”
A number of diseases appear on vegetables that sit in the garden like powdery mildew or blights on tomatoes, Palmer said.
“It won’t completely prevent (disease), but it reduces the possibility of it sitting around all winter,” she said.
Cleaning up the garden earlier is also beneficial for composting, Palmer said, especially if the plants are put into a pile. For example, if a tomato plant is standing upright and left to wither, it’ll compost a lot slower than it would if it was grouped together with other composting materials like peppers and corn stalks.
The compost gathered in the fall can be reused in garden beds or be placed as mulch on top of soil, which preserves moisture and provides nutrients for the plants. It “allows the microorganisms to do their job and turn into all kinds of nutritious food for the plants,” Palmer said.
Another method of preventing plant disease is pruning, which includes removing branches. Palmer suggests pruning fruit trees during the winter, but plants like rhododendrons should be left alone since they flower in the spring.
If fungi grows on the plants, it’s no cause for alarm. Palmer said that certain fungi like lichen doesn’t hurt plants.
“If you have fungi growing, it just means the environment is pretty damp,” she said. “If a shrub or a tree is overgrown, it’s a sign that there’s not enough air circulation or it may be in a shady area that doesn’t get enough sunlight.”
Palmer said a lot of people think fungi negatively affects the plant, but in actuality it doesn’t.
“If one doesn’t like the look of it, they should see why it’s such a damp environment, or the plant may need to be pruned out to give it more sun and air,” she said.
Palmer added that plants with fungi can be composted as well. Powdery mildew should stay in the compost bin, but Palmer said lichen or moss is not detrimental to the soil, so it can be added once spring arrives.
Other tips Palmer suggests is picking up hoses and storing them inside. If that’s not possible, she said people should unhook the hose from the water outlet. She said it’s also a good time to clean gardening tools. People can sharpen and oil the tools to get them ready for next year.
To be more organized, she recommends taking notes of what worked and what didn’t work in terms of gardening during the year, so that way it’s fresh in a person’s mind when spring arrives. For vegetable gardens, Palmer thinks mapping out a layout is a good idea “because next year you’re going to want to rotate those crops around, as that’ll also prevent disease (in your vegetable garden).”
Instead of raking leaves into the garbage, Palmer said they can be spread into the garden, which prevents weeds and prevents the soil from running off in the rain. The leaves also serve as a good nutrient for the garden as they break down, “sort of like composting in place,” Palmer said.
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