It is time to think about fall garden tasks and preparing the vegetable garden for winter. A thorough clean-up is essential to the long-term health of garden soil.

A good place to begin is by removing cages, trellises and other plant supports from the garden and clean and disinfect them. Cleaning and disinfecting are two distinct steps. Cleaning involves physically removing soil and debris and is the first step prior to applying a disinfectant. Soil and other organic residues reduce the effectiveness of disinfectants. Some disinfecting agents can be caustic and need to be rinsed from surfaces.

The garden area should be cleared of all plant material, especially any diseased debris, old fruit and vegetables. The best time to do this is before the ground hardens. Remove any weeds to eliminate overwintering sites for insects and disease. Healthy material can be composted but diseased plants should be disposed of to avoid contaminating the compost pile, thus re-infecting the garden with the same disease next season.

After the garden area is cleaned up, organic amendments may be added. Leaves are an excellent amendment and in abundant supply this time of year. Rather than disposing of all of them, apply a layer to the garden and lightly till into the soil. This lightens heavy soils, helps sandy soils retain moisture and adds trace minerals and food for beneficial organisms.

Do not forget to pick up all the hoses, drain them of water and store in a dry place. Store emptied outdoor containers upside down to avoid cracking. Cover the compost pile with plastic or a thick layer of straw. If there are hopelessly weedy areas, they can be covered with plastic or cardboard left in place over the winter to kill sprouting spring weeds. This is also an excellent method to prepare a new bed for the next season.

As tempting as it may be to forego the effort to do a fall garden cleanup and defer the job until spring, it is a good idea to start on this work effort now. Our hope is that these tips will help your garden survive winter and thrive next spring

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