November 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Removing plant debris from gardening areas when the growing season ends, usually after the first hard frost, reduces the likelihood that a number of diseases will develop on flowers, vegetables or fruits next year.

"A thorough cleanup of vegetable and flower gardens and fruit plantings is an effective way to control many plant diseases because remains provide an abundant source of microbes that can cause problems next year. This is because fungi and bacteria that cause diseases can overwinter on infected or contaminated roots, stems, leaves, flowers, vegetables or fruits," said John Hartman, Extension plant pathologist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Good garden sanitation reduces the possibility of such plant diseases as early blight, mildews, and gray mold fungus, as well as various root rot and wilt problems.

In the vegetable garden, remove all plants, except winter vegetables or cover crops. It is especially important to completely clean out and destroy all diseased plants from gardens and fruit plantings. Be sure to dig up roots carefully and remove them because decomposing roots can release disease-causing microbes that will survive in the soil. Also remove spent blooms from flower gardens and take mummied fruits left on or around trees and grapevines.

Gardeners who decide not to remove old plants should till the garden to break dead material into smaller pieces and turn this under. Buried plant debris decomposes faster than that left on the soil surface, reducing populations of organisms left in the garden to cause disease problems next year.

"Plant debris is a veritable gold mine for gardeners who have good compost piles," Hartman said. "A 'good compost pile' heats up and decomposes plant remains completely over the course of a few years. This will destroy most disease-causing organisms.

"If heat development isn't possible in the composting process, plants infected with root knot or Fusarium and Verticillium wilt diseases should be disposed of and put where they cannot be recycled back into the garden."

For more information, consult "Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky" (ID-128) and "Home Composting: A Guide To Managing Organic Wastes (HO-75). These publications are available from your county Extension office.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: John Hartman
(606) 257-5779