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What fall gardening tasks will help reduce plant pests next year?
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Many plant-feeding insects and mites seek out protected sites to spend the winter. Among this group of pests seeking a cozy spot in your yard are squash bugs, Mexican bean beetles, earwigs, strawberry root weevils, and spider mites. You can take action now to get a jump-start on pest management for the next gardening season. Here are some things you can do:
- Remove any herbaceous (annual) plant material at the end of the season. Do not leave old vines, plants, and annual flowers in debris piles. Compost or dispose of the plant material as soon as possible. The longer you leave the debris around, the longer many pests have to find a comfortable place to spend the fall and winter.
- Rototill your garden soil in the fall. This destroys many pests that can overwinter there by bringing them to the surface where they will freeze or dessicate.
- Plant a fall and winter cover crop such as annual ryegrass. The cover crop helps reduce weeds, retain soil moisture, and add nutrients to the soil.
- In the late winter to early spring, prune diseased and dead limbs from woody shrubs and trees. Wait until the woody plants have hardened off for the winter before pruning. Fall pruning may predispose plants to winter injury.
- Protect shrubs and other plants with winter-sensitive roots and crowns, such as rose, blackberry and grape. Place leaves, grass clippings or other type of mulch around the base. Winter injury will cause stress and reduced growth for cold susceptible plants next spring. This in turn tends to make these plants more prone to attack by pests.
- Continue to water your perennial plants through the fall. Although their growth is slowing and less water is needed, a water-stressed plant is more vulnerable to winter injury.
- Plan now for next year by keeping a record of garden plants and cultivars you liked best, those with the fewest problems, and pest problems that should be addressed next spring with dormant oil sprays (such as aphids, scale, pear psylla and red mites).
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