How to Avoid Next Season’s Pests in Your Vegetable Garden

cabbage worm vegetable pests in gardener's hand

If you’ve ever felt annoyed, angry, sad, or even hysterical about the havoc wreaked on your garden by vegetable pests and diseases, know you’re not alone.

It’s the number one frustration I hear from organic gardeners all over the world during summer.  The struggle is a real one!

And if we’ve had a particularly challenging season in our gardens, by the time fall arrives we breathe a sigh of relief and run to the garage to hang up our gardening gloves until next year.

But, wait, not so fast! If you’ve struggled with vegetable pests in your garden this past season (and really, who hasn’t?!), there’s something critical you must do before winter to put yourself way ahead of those little buggers for next year.

kale eaten by vegetable garden pests

Lacinato kale in my garden ravaged by cabbage worms.

The Secret to Avoiding Next Season’s Vegetable Pests

Before winter hits, you should remove and dispose of all spent vegetable plants in your garden. If squash bugs and borers, cabbage worms, cucumber beetles, or any other vegetable pests plagued your plants this season, a thorough fall clean up is the first step in reducing their numbers next year.

Plant debris that’s left in the garden often provides habitat for larvae, pupae, or unmated adults, giving them a head start on next year.

If you’ve had particularly bad issues with certain diseases and pests, don’t put the plant debris in your home compost pile, especially if you use it on your vegetable garden. (Unless you’re hardcore and really monitor temperatures in the pile.)

If your town has brush collection, consider putting the plants on the curb for municipal composting. Large municipal piles should get hot enough to kill most pests and diseases.

wheelbarrow full of plant debris to prevent vegetable pests in garden

If that’s not an option, create a dump pile for plants somewhere on your property that’s away from your vegetable garden. We created a composting area in the back corner of our yard,  on what we like to call our “back 40” (ha-ha, our lot is only a 1/4 acre), where we compost fall leaves, weeds, and other garden debris.

When this pile breaks down we spread it over other areas of our yard, but not on our vegetable garden since we don’t tightly monitor what goes into it. (Invasive and noxious weeds always get thrown in the trash.)

This pile is separate from my kitchen waste compost pile. Closer to my house I have a smaller compost bin that only contains vegetable and kitchen scraps. I feel fine about using this compost in my vegetable garden because I know exactly what went into it.

fall garden clean up to avoid vegetable garden pests

As the fall progresses I’ll eventually clear out most of my garden, except for my fall plantings (beets, carrots, salad mix) and vegetables I’m hoping to overwinter with the help of row cover and low tunnels (spinach, scallions, cilantro).

By the time winter arrives, your garden should look like the photo below. The winter winds are harsh, so don’t leave your garden soil exposed to the elements. Cover each bed with a thick layer of mulch (hay, straw, leaves, grass clippings) to protect it from the long, cold winter.

Fall Vegetable Garden Tasks

If you’re also a perennial flower gardener like me, there are different recommendations for fall clean up in those gardens. Because beneficial insects also like to overwinter in plant debris, leave perennial plants up through the winter to house these good guys.

You could also leave some vegetable and annual flowers standing, as long as they didn’t suffer from disease or pest issues. These remaining plants will offer winter interest in your landscape, seed for the birds, and neat photo opportunities when the snow flies!

Pick a nice fall day when the sun is shining and the air is crisp, dig those garden gloves back out of storage, and have fun putting your garden to sleep for the winter. A good fall clean up can help fight the ravages of vegetable pests and diseases next season.

 

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