MADISON — Zoey Rugel: Fall garden cleanup. Today, we’re visiting with Brian Hudelson, Extension Plant Disease Specialist and Director of the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Zoey Rugel. So, Brian, when is a good time to start fall garden clean up and when should you really be done by?
Brian Hudelson: Yeah, usually what I suggest is to start cleanup after we’ve gotten a good frost and things have died back. Certainly, if you have leaves coming off the tree you can rake those up at any time, but for herbaceous plants, if you want to wait until it frosts then you can start cutting those back. Some people like to leave the material over the winter, because, you know, some of that dead plant material looks really nice in the winter time and if that’s the case that’s fine, but you need to make sure that you remove it before the plants start to sprout in the spring.
Zoey Rugel: What do you recommend for garden cleanup? Are there different types of clean up?
Brian Hudelson: Sometimes with the leaf material, it’s a little easier to dispose of than if you’ve got, you know, branches or that stuff- a little woodier sort of material. So, I’d handle that a little bit different in terms of the disposal, but mainly cutting back if its branches, herbaceous plants. So, if you can cut those back close to the ground, that often times is really great, but again, making sure you get as much of that material out of the garden as you possibly can.
Zoey Rugel: Why do you recommend garden cleanup?
Brian Hudelson: From a disease standpoint, and that’s what I always concentrate on, is that old plant material can be a place where disease-causing organisms can survive the winter and they won’t be killed off by our Wisconsin winters. So, they’ll hangout there over the winter time and then when we get warmer, wetter weather in the spring, then those pathogens will be active and they can re–infect your plants in the spring.
Zoey Rugel: What types of diseases?
Brian Hudelson: All kinds of diseases: powdery mildews, leaf spots. Those are the primary ones that we can control really well if you do this really good fall cleanup.
Zoey Rugel: What should people do with the debris once they’re done?
Brian Hudelson: Depends on where you’re located. In a place like Madison, where I live, we have city places where you can drop off yard waste and they will commercially compost it. So, that’s a great way, I think in an urban setting, to get rid of the material. If you’re in a more rural setting, you might have the option to burn the material. That’s not necessarily a great, environmentally friendly method, but it’s certainly something that you can do. Sometimes I recommend that people bury the material. So, dig just a shallow trench, but make sure that the material is covered with a thin layer of soil, so that none of the plant material is exposed to the air, and then if you’re interested in home composting, you can actually get a compost bin and you can compost the material. The thing with compositing is that you need to make sure that the pile heats properly. So, 135, 145, 40 degrees Fahrenheit and that you turn it routinely and it’s that combination of the heat and the decay of the plant material that will get rid of disease-causing organisms.
Zoey Rugel: We’ve been visiting with Brian Hudelson, Extension Plant Disease Specialist and Director of the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Zoey Rugel.
For more news from Wisconsin, click here.