Letter | Linda L. Reddick: Winter clean up for your garden
Well folks, if you’re not planting a winter garden, actually even if you are, it’s time to clean it up.
Pest and disease prevention is a major subject of discussion among gardeners. What many people don’t not understand are the reasons for systemic and determined efforts for cleaning up your garden and tools at the end of the season. When properly done, our clean-up efforts can significantly reduce insects and diseases from returning the follow planting season. Also, what a great time to plant a cover crop.
Two major reasons for cleaning-up
The two major reasons for cleaning up the garden is to remove food and shelter sources for pests and diseases. Debris removal and sanitized tools are a major step in preventing their introduction to the garden the following growing season. Though we may think so, pests don’t just magically show up. Pests need a place to live and food to survive the winter. Diseases may be a bit more difficult to treat. But with some forethought and understanding, it’s not difficult. Never compost any material that has the remote possibility of harbouring disease or insect eggs.
Removing dead plants, weeds, and debris from the garden at the end of the season is essential in preventing pests from having a convenient winter home where they wait for the new seasons growth. Potato beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers and certain species of aphids are examples of insects that will overwinter in the garden. If you have used wood chips as a walkway or mulch this is especially true. Try replacing the wood chips with straw, so you starve them out. Fungus is another problem. Fungus will survive in dead organic materials, often producing spores that can survive both summer and winter in unwashed or unsterilized pots and seed flats.
Once housing is removed, what about their food source? Weeds are not only a nuisance, but they are an important source of food for both pests and diseases. Diseases often piggy-back on pests to return to our garden. For example, cucumber mosaic is virus which overwinters on chickweed and groundsel (weeds) and returns the following season. Pigweed harbours grasshoppers, flea beetles and aphids’ eggs. Annual grasses that are not cut down house cutworms, army worms, flea beetles, grubs, and several species of aphids and the Colorado potato beetle. Russian thistle (tumbleweed) is a great example of harbouring the sugar beet leafhopper, which is a common host for the curly top virus that decimates many crops like tomatoes, beets, green beans, squash, cantaloupes and spinach.
Removing the housing often removes the food source at the same time, so you don’t have to do the work twice! Removal and control of weeds and unmanaged grasses is very important for pests and disease control, not only in the garden but adjacent areas as well.
Tool cleaning & repair
If you are fighting any disease in your landscape or garden, a wise step is to sanitize your tools and gloves after each use, especially before using them in another area. Pruning shears, hand trowels, shovels, rakes and even gloves can inadvertently be the cause for spreading disease. They can pick up and spread viruses or fungi from one branch, or location to another. If you are working on cankers or other diseased portions of a tree or shrub, sanitize the tools after each cut to prevent spreading the disease to other parts of the plant or tree. This can be accomplished with a simple spray or dip of rubbing alcohol. Wiping with antibacterial wipes is also very effective. Be careful using bleach as it will cause accelerated corrosion of metals. Let’s not forget those wheel barrows, including the wheels. Disease only needs one single pathway into the garden, and we often unknowingly bring it in season after season.
Try getting into a routine of not putting tools up for the day with debris on them. A simple rinse will suffice. At the end of the season remove rust and debris by plunging them up and down several times in a bucket of clean sand. Small hand tools can be cleaned with a wire brush. Spray with alcohol or sanitizing wipes, let dry and apply a coat of silicone spray. It also never hurts to spray the silicone spray or other lubricant on shovels, rakes and other hand tools. Always wipe off excess. Now for those wooden handles. Give the wooden handle a couple of swipes with fine sand paper and apply paste wax or linseed oil generously, let it stand for a few minutes and wipe off excess. With proper tool care you will be amazed how long your tools will last, and they will be ready to use when you are.
What is that old saying? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to your landscape and garden it’s true, especially if you do not want uninvited problems.
So now that you have taken all of the steps to prevent and control the unwanted problems, what to do about keeping the good ones in the soil alive and well? Please remember our macro and microbial friends, organisms in the soil need food and water too. Bare soil leaves ample room for weeds to grow, so why not plant a cover crop to discourage weed growth, feed the soil organisms and add nutrients to your soil? There are several types of cover crop seeds available. Break the soil loose, spread seeds, rake in and irrigate, it’s that simple. Cover crops need little attention and are often very attractive. Come spring simply dig the cover crop under adding organic material as well as nutrients to your soil and you are ready for the next season.