As the fall skies roll in - its time to start getting that garden cleaned up for the winter.
As the fall skies roll in – its time to start getting that garden cleaned up for the winter.

As we near the end of summer and head into the early fall – most of us will begin to see our summer crop of vegetables begin to slowly die off and we begin to think of the chores of fall garden clean up.

The excitement of spring planting and summer harvesting usually begins to fade as those first fall leaves drop  – as does the amount of time we spend in the garden.  But before you pack it in for the year – make sure you give one last bit of attention to the garden for a fall clean-up.  Not only does it make for a tidy appearance – it will pay huge dividends when it comes to the success of next year’s crops.

Here are 3 must take steps for your garden this year…

Remove Your Old Vegetable Plants:

When those tomatoes and peppers are finished for the year - its time to get them out of the garden.
When those tomatoes and peppers are finished for the year – its time to get them out of the garden.

This simple step can help to alleviate many of the recurring problems that gardeners face each growing season.  Vegetable plants left in the garden to over-winter become a haven for insects and disease to take root.

Many garden pests can find a home in the decaying stems, leaves and root systems of left over veggie plants.  Given the chance – many will lay their larvae in the roots and soil around the plants – waiting to “spring” to life next season to create problems for your new plantings.  In addition – those damaged or withered left over vegetable plants can harbor mold, fungus and disease that can also be transferred to next years plants.  Your best bet – get them out of the garden each fall to prevent the transfer of those diseases.

Don’t Compost Your Tomato And Pepper Plants:

We keep our spent tomato and pepper plants out of our compost bins.
We keep our spent tomato and pepper plants out of our compost bins.

You would be hard pressed to find two people that  recycle and compost more than Mary and I – but one thing we will not compost is our tomato and pepper plants.  By the end of each season – pepper and tomato plants tend to become more prone to disease and can carry that on to next year if given the chance. We actually throw our spent plants into our outdoor fire pit and burn them.

Why?  There is just too much chance for plant diseases to get passed on through in the compost for next year. Even in a steaming hot compost pile. To us it just not worth the risk.  In addition – the old or damaged fruit that is usually still hanging from the plants can carry thousands of seeds into the pile that can then become a problem the following year.

Don’t Let Your Soil Be Naked For The Winter:

 We use annual rye as a cover crop to add back nutrients and keep the soil protected through the winter
We use annual rye as a cover crop to add back nutrients and keep the soil protected through the winter

After you have spent all that time removing your old plants – do your garden a huge favor and cover it back up with a cover crops or a thick layer of shredded leaves, compost or straw.  Even better – do both!  (See-How To Plant Cover Crops)

Leaving your soil bare is an open invitation for all type of weed seeds to find a home until next spring – where they will sprout into action. In addition – barren soil that will be pelted by the fall and winter rains, wind and snow can whip away the top layer of your soil (usually the most fertile), and leave you with less top soil to grow your plants in next year.

Cover crops like annual rye are the single best thing you can do to rejuvenate your soil at the end of the season.  They provide great organic matter to your soil – keep the area covered to keep out blowing weed seeds, and stop erosion in its tracks.

If you can’t use cover crops – at the least cover your open soil with a thick layer of shredded leaves, straw or compost to keep the soil in its place.

Even better – you can do both!  We like to plant our annual rye cover crop and then put down a light layer of shredded leaves and compost to build nutrients into the soil. The cover crop comes up through the layer of organic matter – and then they are all incorporated into the soil the following spring to bring life to the garden!

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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