Tomatoes, melons and summer squash are ripening. It is a great time of year for gardeners, reaping the rewards of our labors. Were you bothered by insect pests this year? Was your garden as productive as you hoped? As you harvest crops in your garden, start thinking about next year. Traditionally, we work soils in spring, but fall is also a great time to improve our soils. Fall soil prep has the added benefit of helping to control insect pests and weeds.
First, remove all weed plants from the area. Try to identify the weeds and learn a little bit about their life cycle. Are they perennial plants? If so, you need to remove all of the plant, including the roots. Many perennial weeds can reproduce from very small root fragments. Are they biennials or annuals? Try to remove both these types of weeds before they produce seeds. If they already have, try to bag up as much of the seed as you can. Dispose of these plant materials in the trash. Do not put them in your compost pile.
Next, remove all vegetable plant debris. You can place this material in the compost pile if it is disease- and insect-free. Don’t put vegetable plant debris that contains seeds in the compost pile unless your compost gets hot, as the seeds may overwinter and sprout next year. If you had problems with insect pests or diseases, bag up those vegetable plants and throw them in the trash. Many insect pests and diseases overwinter on plant materials.
Add some organic matter to bare soil areas. The organic matter can be the compost you’ve been creating all year, manures, leaves (shredded or partially decayed) or other shredded, clean plant materials. Now, turn or rototill that material into the soil. It will continue to decompose over the winter. Remember that organic matter in the soil feeds the microbes in the soil. It increases your soil’s water- and nutrient-holding capacity. It will make your soil easier to work and plant next spring. It will also help improve garden yields next year.
Another benefit of cleaning up the garden and turning or rototilling your soil in fall is a reduction in insect pests next year. Leafhoppers and squash bugs overwinter as adults in garden debris. Tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers, imported cabbage worms and corn earworms will overwinter as pupae in the soil or in garden debris. Whiteflies can overwinter as nymphs (immature forms) on plants if it is not too cold. Finally, aphids, thrips, leafhoppers and earwigs overwinter as eggs in the soil, garden debris or other protected areas.
Removing garden debris, adding organic matter and turning soil in fall can improve your soil and greatly reduce the potential insect infestation next spring. Additionally, as you turn up those insect pests, you provide a nice meal for birds in the area.
Want to learn more about gardening? Attend one or all Grow Your Own, Nevada! classes Sept. 19 – Oct. 12. For information, visit growyourownnevada.com.
Melody Hefner is the urban IPM and pesticide safety program coordinator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have a gardening question? Contact a master gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-336-0265, or visit growyourownnevada.com.