Winter pest control is an important part of any organic integrated pest management system. Cold weather doesn’t mean an end to garden chores or the necessary vigilance and active control of insects and diseases in the garden
There is a belief among some gardeners that with the advent of colder temperatures and some freezing weather that the time for concern about insects pests in the garden is gone like the warm summer sunshine. Nothing could be further from the truth
Many insect pests and plant diseases, for that matter, can survive the harshest conditions that winter can produce. Winter doesn’t mean that we should end our vigilance and efforts to combat these challenges, only that we need to change our focus and our methods.
Out of Sight but Not Out of Mind.
Most garden pests don’t leave the country like migrating ducks and geese when the cold weather makes its appearance. They are still present in your garden and may even be active though in different ways and in different locations.
Weeds left unremoved from summer, crop debris, and other accumulated items left around the garden provide the perfect shelter for many species of insect pests to overwinter in the garden. Many of the most common pests spend their larval stage of development beneath the soil. Some even burrow their way into seeds to wait for warm weather in the spring, feeding happily on the seed.
Common Sense Winter Solutions
Winter is not the time to stop your organic integrated pest management system. There are some common sense things you should be doing in your garden and landscape during the winter months that will help you have a head start on pest control next spring.
Check your fruit trees for mummies, those old fruits that haven’t fallen. Pick up any fallen fruit around the trees. This includes nuts, as well. Old fruits and nuts can provide winter habitat for pests such as codling moths. Don’t leave your pruned branches around the trees. Shred or chip them. If you suspect they may be infected with borers, either compost them if your compost pile gets hot enough to kill the larva or send the refuse to the dump secured in plastic bags.
Remove weeds from your garden now. Many insects use weeds for overwintering. If you wait until spring to remove them, the pests residing in the weeds may simply move to your freshly planted vegetables and ornamentals. Remove the weeds now and insure that the insects don’t have a place to overwinter until your new garden and landscape plants are ready to welcome them.
Don’t Forget Your Tools
Any tools that you use during the winter should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before they are used again, especially if you are using them to dispose of and to clean up debris that may house insect eggs or larva. Using a contaminated tool next spring could be the route that re-introduces the insects to your garden.
Getting Ready for Spring
Part of the joy of winter is planning next year’s garden. One key aspect of a good organic integrated pest management plan is to include a sound crop rotation plant for your garden. Even the smallest of urban gardens can benefit from crop rotation. Many garden pests and plant diseases are variety specific. This is especially true of soil born pathogens such as nematodes. Following a sound crop rotation plant can help control the damage from soil-borne pathogens in succeeding years.
Consider planting cover crops in your beds, as well. The organisms in your soil don’t hibernate or go dormant during the winter. The bacteria and fungi present in vast numbers in healthy soil continue to be active during the winter. These organisms need the presence of living roots in the soil. This will insure a healthy active soil biome in the spring when your new transplants and seeds are introduced.
In summary, winter is not the time to think that your efforts to have a pest and disease-free garden are over. Winter is really the time to implement a preventive portion of your organic integrated pest management system to get a head start on the control of pests and diseases in your garden next spring.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
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