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Garden Sanitation

No, this is not yet another article on Coronavirus/COVID-19. I figure you have heard and read enough on the topic that you decided to go to the next level of interesting armchair reads and tune into this garden blog. Well, I am glad you stopped by. Sit back and enjoy another stimulating round of garden joy.

Sanitation and cleanliness is on everyone’s mind for some reason at the moment, so I thought I would jump on that virtual, stay-at-home, bandwidth(wagon). One of the most important things any gardener can do for good plant health is keeping things clean. 

Garden sanitation is most critical as a part of fall cleanup and putting the garden to bed. However, with winter’s arrival, everything goes into lockdown, not unlike the arrival of a novel virus. As spring temperatures once again rise, growing degree days accumulate, those garden nasties begin to stir from their overwintering hideouts, prowling for fresh chlorophyll victims. Now is the time, today is the day for a deep garden cleanse. Come on, how many more celebrity YouTube or Facebook posts can you watch? Head out to your garden and get to work!

Removal and proper disposal of diseased above and below ground plant structures is job numeral uno. This may require a bit of scouting, squinting, and scratching of the head to remember what plants were diseased last year. Peruse your fair estate, looking closely for anything askew. If it is dead with obvious signs of disease, dispose in the proper manner, discussed next. If you are not sure, it is probably best to err on the side of caution and remove it. You have two options for ridding your life of garden nasties. You can either toss it in a sealable trash can for pickup, or (after checking your local rules) choose the more fun option and burn it. Do not add the material to your compost pile. Very few backyard compost piles are big enough or managed well enough to heat up to the ranges needed to kill off fungal or bacterial pathogens (160 to 170 degree Fahrenheit). Wellfield staff is currently gathering up as many needles and cones as possible from our two-needle pines in the new Island Garden, as they might harbor fungal pathogens common to these species.

I will say, as my one point of dissension from other’s guidance on the topic. I believe our obsessive removal of ALL things dead and dying from the garden is one of the problems in healthy gardens. We can be obsessed in our debris removal to the point of causing more harm than good. One of the main reasons generally given to really tidy up flower or vegetable beds besides removing disease inoculum, is the removing the shelter for those pesky insects seeking cover from the winter’s chill. Do not give them free rent, we are told. However, the same leaf litter playing Florida condo to some six-legged garden nasty also gives protection to some six or eight legged garden friendly. Remove all the litter and where do all those beneficials we like to see keep a summer garden in check go in winter? Forests do not seem to have a problem, why should my garden bed be any different? Balance. Create the ecosystem in the bed above and below ground. Remove the disease and leave the rest.

Another important sanitary measure is keeping your tools clean. This includes cutting as well as soil oriented tools. First, remove large debris such as soil or sap residue. Then, disinfect with a good cleaning agent such as rubbing alcohol. I like using alcohol wipes when pruning for ease of wiping. Just about every garden prose on the subject tells you to disinfect between EVERY cut. If I am dealing with a severe enough outbreak, I might take the advice. I do clean my pruning equipment either between plants or between plant varieties. In this way, if there was some disease, I am not transferring it outside a particular plant or set of plants. You know, self-isolate. Whatever you do, frequent disinfecting is the name of the game.

Much more could be said about sanitation, but the above points will go a long way to keeping it clean and keeping it real. Until next time, be at peace and not dis-eased.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

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