The growing season came to a screeching halt with the first frost of the season last week.
It put an end to one of the most challenging growing periods in recent history. The season began with above-average temperatures in early March followed by below-average temperatures in April. Heat and drought lasted for most of the summer. This fall had above-average rainfall and early snowfall in some parts of the city.
Now that the freeze has killed many annuals and forced perennials into dormancy, it is time to start the fall cleanup to keep the garden healthy for next year.
Cleanup starts with removing any weeds found in garden beds. While the old weeds may be dead, they are loaded with seeds waiting to drop.
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To prevent more weeds next year, pull and dispose of them in yard waste bags — not in a compost bin.
Controlling perennial weeds starts with knowing the plant and how to best prevent spreading. Pull and remove dead plant debris from the vegetable garden. Old debris provides a winter home for many nasty insects and diseases. Like weed growth, composting this debris is not recommended for several reasons.
First, the pest may survive in the compost and could be transferred back to the garden. Second, much of the vegetable debris is very coarse or woody, making it hard to decompose. Third, this material is brown and dry, which makes it is harder to compost without the addition of a source of nitrogen found in green, moist plant materials or additional water.
Remove dead annuals from containers and beds. Like vegetable debris, they could harbor pest issues and the coarse stems make them difficult to compost, so toss it in the yard waste container.
Perennial plants are a little trickier when it comes to fall clean-up. There are two different methods. One approach is to cut back and clear out the debris so the plants are ready to go next spring. The second approach is to leave it over the winter and into the very early spring.
Unlike the pests that overwinter in vegetable materials, many beneficial insects and butterfly chrysalis use the perennial stems and leaves for winter protection. These insects wait to emerge in the spring to help protect the garden.
When the warmer days of autumn return, take advantage of them and start preparing for next season.
After this past season, who knows what weather challenges we will face. A little preparation now will help lead to a healthy garden in the coming year.
Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.