What's Bugging You? Fall-Winter Pest-Wise Preparation


Congratulations to all my fellow gardeners out there who have successfully completed yet another summer growing season in Southeastern Arizona. I hope that you enjoyed a bountiful harvest with a minimum of hassle from our local pest population, for many of us, this is the time of year that we put the garden to rest for the winter while enjoying a well-deserved respite for ourselves. For others, fall is the transition time from hot to cool-season crops and is often one of the most productive seasons of the year.

For those who followed a spring and summer pest-prevention program (from the previously published Preparation for Spring article or useful ideas from other sources) the fall and winter program will be along much the same lines. For those just starting a prevention program, the following are some ideas that you may want to use to get a jump on next year's pest problems, and hopefully leave you more time, energy, and money to enjoy gardening and other hobbies.

KNOW YOUR PEST - Try and identify the creatures that gave you the most problems during the past growing season. Study their life cycle and try to determine where and how they overwinter. This information will give you many ideas on what to do to interrupt their breeding/feeding cycles and how to discourage them from frequenting your garden patch or orchard.

CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN - If the most important word in real estate is LOCATION, it's corollary in gardening is CLEAN. Garden debris, weeds, and leftover materials such as rocks, boards, etc. are prime overwintering and breeding places for pests and an open invitation for trouble. Pull up all your old plants and weeds and put in the trash for pick-up, burn, or compost in a HOT compost pile. Speaking of compost piles, stir yours up, wet it down, or add a little manure to get it "cooking" again. A compost pile that is too cool to properly (and quickly) decompose can become simply another pile of trash that bugs and other vermin love to set up housekeeping in.

CHANGE YOUR MULCH AND CULTIVATE THE SOIL - If you used a mulch this summer, then rake it up and add it to the compost pile. Many insects will have chosen this material for an egg-laying, pupation, or overwintering site. By removing and destroying the remains of THIS year's pest population, you can seriously reduce the number that show up NEXT spring. Other insects survive the winter by burrowing into the top 12-18 inches of soil. By digging and turning over this soil in the fall you can expose many of these critters to the weather or predators looking for a late-season snack.

"SOLARIZE" THE SOIL - Some folks have had good results with using the sun to "pasteurize" their garden soil. After letting the weather and predators have a chance at the pests (see above), moisten the soil and cover with a layer of plastic tucked in securely at the edges. Our fall and winter sunshine is hot enough to heat the soil to a significant degree and can "cook" many insect eggs or pupae that you may have missed. If you use clear plastic, you will encourage growth from any weed seeds that may be present and you may go ahead and pull these up and thus prevent problems with them next growing season.

IDENTIFY BENEFICIALS - Insect pests are not the only ones that may overwinter on your property. Learn to recognize the pupal cases and egg masses of any "good guys" that may be helping you with your pest-control duties. Look for these during your clean-up operations and put them aside in a protected place for the winter.

DO NOT BRING THEM INTO YOUR HOME!!! - Imagine the chaos if you wake up one bright, sunny January morning to find a hundred newly hatched Praying Mantids sharing your house. Not only would your spouse probably have a few well-chosen words to say to you, but all of these helpful creatures would die once you had transferred them back outside to the cold weather and lack of appropriate prey to eat. Leave them outside to hatch at tile proper time.

ENRICH THE SOIL - Do your pH testing (if needed) and add fertilizer and humus to the soil to give your plants an extra-healthy start next growing season. Remember, anything that you can do to strengthen your plants will make them less susceptible to pests, disease, and weather stress next spring. If you will not have a winter crop, you might want to sow a cover (or "green manure") crop. This is often a species that can be tilled under in the spring to help provide a nitrogen boost to the spring planting. Some winter plants can also provide food or shelter for overwintering beneficials. If you do plan a winter garden, be sure to practice proper crop rotation so as to not deplete any particular set of nutrients in the soil.

READ PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED MATERIALS FOR FURTHER IDEAS - My Preparation for Spring and Ecologically-Sane Pest Control publications both contain other ideas such as dormant oils, washing your trees with soap, and the use of tree wraps and agricultural fleeces that can be used in the fall as well as spring. These and many other useful articles can be obtained at the Cooperative Extension offices in Sierra Vista or Willcox. Most, if not all of these ideas can also be used by winter gardeners as they convert their plots from summer to fall/winter use. For those taking the winter off, hopefully these ideas will take away some of the work and worry as you prepare for next year's crops, and you will be able to concentrate on ordering all those new seed catalogs and spend the winter anticipating a wonderful gardening experience next spring with far fewer pest problems than ever before.


T.J. Martin
November, 1993