Ounce of prevention in fall is best medicine for garden success in spring
- Published: Monday, Oct. 3, 2022
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ben Franklin’s adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could be gardeners’ theme song for November.
Gardeners should close the curtain on this season and begin looking forward to the next, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein. Next year’s success is influenced greatly by this fall’s cleanup.
“Garden cleanup does more than just improve the appearance of the garden during the mundane, lifeless months of winter,” Trinklein said. It reduces the amount of disease inoculum and insect infestation that might remain.
Prevention is the best cure for any plant-related problem, he said.
Here are his tips:
Begin fall cleanup by removing plant debris. Pull annual flowers and vegetables. Dispose of healthy plant material properly by making a compost pile. Discard diseased or insect-infested plants. When in doubt, throw it out.
Cut back herbaceous perennials to the crowns after they go dormant. This usually happens after the first hard freeze.
Mulch tender perennials, including roses, after several hard freezes. This allows the soil to cool. Mulch provides protection from winter weather.
Remove weeds from gardens to curb weed population next year. Careful hand or mechanical weeding works best, Trinklein said. You can also use nonselective herbicides such as glyphosate on living weeds. Keep in mind that post-emergence herbicides applied in cool weather take longer to work, he said.
When removing weeds, cut back and put in a plastic bag to take them out of the garden. Weeds such as pigweed can produce up to 600,000 seeds, so you want to avoid spreading seeds as you remove the weeds.
If it has been several years since your garden soil was tested, now is a good time to take a soil sample for testing. Go to soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil for more information.
Improve garden soil with well-rotted manure or other organic matter. Incorporate several inches of organic matter to flower and vegetable gardens. If needed, add limestone and other slowly soluble fertilizers to this.
Gather and drain garden hoses. Store inside to avoid cracking.
Clean garden tools and coat with a light layer of oil to prevent rust. Sharpen tools used for cutting so they are ready for use next spring.
Drain irrigation lines.
Clean hotbeds and other “season extenders” in the fall. If you don’t have one, consider building one as a winter project, suggested Trinklein.
Winterize mowers and tillers according to the owner’s manual instructions.
Finally, “think spring,” Trinklein said. “Remember: Winter is only 90 days long.”
Now is a good time to assess your gardening activities from this year, he said. Make notes of what worked and what did not. This will help you on “cabin-crazed snow days” as you plan next year’s garden.
Writer: Linda Geist
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