Congratulations to you and your garden! Your springtime preparation and planting and summertime cultivation and watering have paid off handsomely. Your refrigerators are filled with fresh produce, jellies, jams, and preserves; your cupboards and pantries are filled with canned vegetables and fruits, and your basements are brimming with fruits and vegetables that have been stored away for the coming long, cold, and snowy winter. (Note to Mother Nature: go easy on us this winter. Please?) Perhaps you even have a fall crop of greens to which you’ve been routinely consuming. Now’s the time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors.
Uhh, not quite so fast. There is one task remaining for you — one that should not be ignored if you want to improve your odds of having a successful harvest in next year’s garden. That task is to remove the cages, stakes, and other supports, clean up the spent plants, and perhaps even apply some compost and turn over the soil.
“Oh, there’s no need to do all that now,” you say. “I’ll do it in the spring.”
No. There’s every need for that. Cages and stakes left to the mercy of the winter can rot and/or rust. Spent plants and other garden debris left in the garden can become breeding grounds for insect pests and diseases that will plague your garden from the get-go next season and leave you with a severely reduced or non-existent harvest. Cabbage worms and tomato hornworms, for example, can overwinter in the pupal stage in dead or decayed leaves and plant parts. If you get rid of the plant debris, you’ll leave theses pests with no place to hide and survive, thereby lessening the odds that they’ll chomp on your plants next summer.
Turning over the soil in the fall also has many benefits. For starters, any overwintering insect pest pupae will be buried in the soil. The moth will then be unable to emerge (and lay eggs on your vegetable plants) next spring. Any grubs that would normally overwinter below the soil surface will be brought above ground where they can be seen — and eaten by birds and other grub-eating predators. And if you work in some compost, then all throughout the three months (or more) of winter, soil bacteria will break it down. Come springtime, you’ll be off to a good start with healthy and nutrient-rich soil.
So clean up that debris and turn over that soil! You’ll find that a clean garden is a happy garden — and a productive one too!