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Tips for garden clean-up to reduce pests, diseases
JACKSON – Gardeners can keep insects and diseases under control and make spring planting easier with a little bit of cleanup right now.
“Good sanitation is one of the easiest and most economical methods of insect and disease control in the vegetable garden,” said Rebecca Bates, Mississippi State University Extension Service Lincoln County coordinator.
In vegetable gardens, plants should be removed as soon as production stops. Any live plant material will continue to provide food for insect pests and allow them to mature and multiply.
“As soon as the plant has produced the last ear of corn or other vegetable, it is a good idea to go ahead and pull it up,” said Blake Layton, Extension entomology specialist. “If you remove the plant, any immature insects that are present will not be able to mature.”
Bates recommends composting non-diseased plant debris. However, disease-affected plants should be burned or bagged and disposed of in the trash. Plants affected by insects can be safely composted.
“Once the plants are removed from the ground, they will die, and insects won’t live long after the plant is removed from the ground,” Layton said.
The same diseases that hibernate in remaining plant debris can also overwinter in stakes and on other reusable equipment, then reemerge in the spring garden. Bates said a thorough cleaning with a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water should be enough to remove any lingering disease particles.
“A lot of people don’t think about washing their stakes,” she said. “But it is an important step in helping keep next year’s garden free of insects and disease, especially if wooden stakes are used. Diseases can get into the wood fibers and live there until next year.”
After removing plants and stakes, take a soil sample and then spread mulch or plant a cover crop. Mulch and cover crops, such as vetch or clover, reduce weeds and help conserve moisture in the soil. Both options will improve the soil’s organic matter, and a cover crop will provide nitrogen, she said.
A soil test measures the soil’s available nutrients and determines what types and amounts of fertilizer are needed.
“This is an ideal time to take a soil sample and submit it for testing if it’s been more than three years since one was done,” Bates said. “If limestone is needed, it is best to apply it in the fall because it has time to react with the soil and is more beneficial to spring plants.”
Those who keep a written garden plan each year can reduce work and increase yields.
“No matter how large or small a garden is, it is a good idea to plan what will be planted where,” Bates said. “Plants spaced too closely together do not get enough air flow or sunlight, which can cause insect and disease problems. Plans can be kept to reflect on to see what worked and what didn’t and to help keep track of plant rotation.”
Garden tools stored for the winter months should be thoroughly cleaned first, Bates said.
“I use my tools every month of the year, but it is important to clean them if you will be storing them for the winter months,” she said. “Removing the soil and applying a coat of oil, such as motor oil, will keep the tools from rusting.”