You can reduce the risk of some common problems next year by getting rid of leftover plant debris in vegetable, flower and fruit gardening areas this fall.
Several disease-causing fungi and bacteria spend the winter on plant debris, and can cause diseases the following growing season. Proper garden sanitation can combat such diseases as early blight, mildews, gray mold fungus and various root rot and wilt problems.
To combat diseases, remove all plants, except winter vegetables or cover crops, from the garden. It is especially important to completely clean out and destroy all diseased plants in vegetable gardens and fruit plantings. Carefully dig up and remove decomposing roots to keep them from releasing disease-causing microbes into the soil. Also, remove spent blooms and foliage from flower gardens and mummied fruits on are around trees and grapevines.
Garden debris is a wonderful addition to a compost pile. A good pile will heat up and completely decompose the remains in a few years. This process will destroy most disease-causing organisms.
If heat development is not possible in your composting process, dispose of plants infected with root knot nematode or Fusarium and Verticillium wilt diseases. Be sure to put these infected plants where they cannot be recycled into the garden.
Gardeners who decide not to remove old plants should till gardening areas to break dead materials into smaller pieces and then work them into the soil.
Plant debris decomposes more rapidly when buried than when left on the soil surface. This reduces populations of disease-causing organisms that could cause problems next year.
Planting a cover crop to maintain and rejuvenate the soil is another way to get your vegetable garden off to a good start next year.
A cover crop will help prevent erosion of enriched topsoil, keep rains from leaching minerals from the soil, prevent compaction and stop growth of weeds that can serve as overwintering sites for insects and diseases.
A cover crop also will add organic matter, both from its roots and when tilled into the garden soil.
Successfully growing a cover crop requires proper crop selection, correct timing and good management techniques. You will reap the benefits of cover crops in future vegetable harvests.
For more information, consult "Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky" (ID-128) and "Home Composting: A Guide to Managing Organic Wastes" (HO-75).
These publications and other gardening materials are available from the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service and by selecting "Publications" from "Focus Sites" on the College of Agriculture home page at http://www.ca.uky.edu.
Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agriculture/natural resources.