Cleaning up the garden at the end of the season will help eliminate a lot of diseases and insects that can overwinter and cause problems next year. And, doing some soil prep in the fall can help improve hard, compacted clay soils.

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Cleaning Up Your Garden in the Fall

After another great season in the vegetable garden, our chores aren’t over until we clean it up. The reason we want to clean up the debris in the vegetable garden is several fold. First of all, eliminating this debris will get rid of a lot of diseases and insects that can overwinter to cause problems next year. If you leave weeds in the garden, they’re going to go to seed, and we’ll have that many more problems next year.

The question is, do we want to compost some of this diseased material? The answer for the backyard gardener is that you probably don’t want to compost this diseased material because it may come back to our garden in the form of compost.

So, it’s best to just go in with your clippers and start cutting and removing the tomato vines and pulling them out. If you have trellises and other things that are holding up the tomato plants, you’ll want to make sure that all the leaves are gone, because the diseases can overwinter on it.

After you have the garden clean of all the debris, then you can start working on the soil. Because doing a lot of the soil prep in the fall will give us a leg up in the spring. A great thing to do in the fall is to till the soil a good six to eight inches deep – using a spade or rototiller. If you have hard, compacted clay soil that Kansas is famous for, you can add some organic matter such as compost at this time.

The other nice thing about tilling the soil in the fall is that we don’t have to do a fine till. In fact, we want to leave it rough with some clods. Then, in our Kansas winter, the snow, rain, and freezing and thawing will break down the soil. Then, next spring, all we have to do is give it a light raking, and we’ll be ready to plant.

Another reason for doing that soil prep in the fall after cleaning up the garden is that it tends to be drier in the fall in Kansas than in the spring. You don’t want to get in there and work wet soil. So, spending a little bit of extra time this fall getting debris out in the vegetable garden will solve problems next year and get a jump start for the next season.

This feature story prepared with Dennis Patton, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Johnson County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at

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