By Amanda Sears
Many diseases and insects will overwinter in the garden on plant material or leaf litter. That is why it is best to clean up the garden and landscape once growth has ceased for the season.
Remove non-hardy annuals and cut back perennials to near ground level. Use care when removing perennials because the stems are attached to the crown of the plant where next year’s growth will originate. Pulling up such material may damage the crown, so it is better to cut the plants off at their base.
Annuals on the other hand can be removed by pulling or cutting because they are not expected to return from underground structures.
Clean up around fruit trees by raking leaves and removing dried fruit. This will help control several diseases and insects.
For example, apple scab, a fungal disease which infects many apple varieties and certain crab apples, spends the winter in dead infected leaves on the ground. The warm moist weather of spring triggers the fungus to resume growth and release spores that will infect new growth on the tree.
Raking up dead leaves from under apple trees in the fall is one way to reduce the severity of disease next spring. The disease may not be completely controlled in this manner, but good sanitation practices such as this are an important part in any disease control strategy.
Many insects also can be found in dead leaves in and around the garden and landscape. Pests such as European corn borer, squash vine borer and Mexican bean beetle, to name a few, are able to overwinter in the garden.
These insects often make their home in dead leaves and plant material which offers them some protection from the elements. Getting rid of those dead tomato vines, bean bushes and squash vines and fruit will lessen the chance that these pests will be able to overwinter in the garden and so will lessen the incidence of pest problems next spring.