This can be a bittersweet time of the year for gardeners. As the days get shorter and temperatures cooler, the gardening clock is winding down. Now is the perfect time to begin cleaning up those nonproductive areas of the garden. For some, it may be the jungle of weeds that grew when your time and energy turned to harvesting, and for others it may be plants that are no longer producing.
Cleaning up debris now often means fewer pest problems next spring, and less work to do when the garden tasks are abundant next year. If you were dealing with specific pests this season, be sure they have been identified and that you understand their life cycle to stop or at least decrease their numbers next season. It is common for diseases to over-winter on old plants and plant parts. Insects often use plant debris as their temporary winter home.
The spotted cucumber beetle seemed to be a pest many people encountered this year.
In addition to its namesake, the beetle wreaked havoc on tomatoes, melons, peppers, eggplant, and flowering annuals and perennials. I was given a couple of mums last month. They were in beautiful bloom, but when they were in my car I noticed an abundance of these yellow and black beetles taking flight. The ¼-inch yellow beetles with black spots over-winter as adults and prefer a somewhat protected location. Removing that "protection" in the garden may help reduce numbers next season.
Be sure to keep a watchful eye for praying mantis egg cases. The brown foam-like egg cases are home to the next generation of predators. They should be left outdoors in the winter. If brought to a warm environment, they will hatch and be hungry. These beneficial insects will turn on each other, eating their brothers and sisters, if there aren't other soft-bodied pests to consume.
Fall also is a great time to test your soil and see if it is lacking valuable nutrients, or to simply determine the pH level. Soil labs typically don't get as many samples this time of the year. Waiting until spring may mean waiting a little longer for the results. A small investment now can pay off big next growing season.
Here are a few other fall tips:
* Clean and sharpen garden tools, before storing them. Remove excess soil that has collected, sharpen edges with a file, and give them a protective coat of oil. They will be ready to get to work as soon as spring hits.
* If you have herbs that still look good, consider bringing some indoors for the winter. Some herbs that you may want to try include chives, thyme, French tarragon, sweet marjoram, and sage. Be sure that they are pest free and be realistic about the amount of space and light that you have in your home for these additional pots. Taking small cuttings might be a better option.
* Keep the compost pile going. Although the composting process slows down over the winter, keep adding to it. The center of the compost pile remains warm, and the decomposition process still occurs. The finished compost makes an excellent soil amendment to your garden.
Amy Stone is an extension educator for OSU Extension Lucas County. This is the last Plant 2 Plate column for the season and the Garden page will return next spring.