Managing Gardening Leftovers

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

The stress of a hot, dry summer is showing on our garden and landscape plants and, while needed and welcome, recent heavy rains will not help the vegetables and perennials much.   Further, we will be watching the slide into cooler and colder weather when the annual plants are exhausted and perennials are ready for a well deserved rest.

Now is time for a best-practices refresher on garden clean up.

The Vegetable Garden:

-Remove any diseased or damaged plant material to the trash for disposal.  Especially plants with powdery mildew. This plant material should NOT go into a compost pile.

-Remove all other vegetable plant material to the compost pile.  

-Cover the bare soil with fall leaves, if you can.

The Perennial Garden:

-Deadhead any plants with seeds that you do not want to spread.   For example, Milkweeds and Asters disperse a lot of seed that may end up in unwanted places.  These seeds can be composted, put into trash, or shared with friends if they are not invasive species.

-Leave plant stems in place.  There are two benefits: winter interest and housing for overwintering insects.  

Trees and Shrubs:

-Now is the time to prune and reshape MOST trees and shrubs.  Prune everything that blooms after the Fourth of July in fall.  Remember, most spring blooming plants have already set buds for next year and pruning now can severely affect blossom abundance.   They should be pruned in mid-summer.

-Pruning generally stimulates plant growth so by pruning before the plant heads into dormancy actually encourages growth.

-Prune away any dead stems, followed by shaping.  Should a plant need a complete refreshing, remember that significant pruning should be accomplished over three years, removing a third of the over-growth each time.  Opening up centers of shrubs can encourage fuller leafing and blooming by letting light in.

-Finally, prune Oak Trees ONLY after and hard frost and before a thaw to reduce the chance of oak wilt.

When it is time to rake leaves consider the following:

-Leave them in landscaped beds for a winter cover.

-Mulch leaves in the lawn to add organic matter.

-Collect the leaves to feed a compost pile.

The most important task is to properly dispose of diseased plant material to reduce the spread the following season.  Keep fall clean-up to a minimum for habitat preservation.