Vegetable Garden Cleanup

Composting greens and browns
Chop plant debris to turn under or compost
Chop plant debris to turn under or compost

Clean the garden of plant debris and decaying vegetable matter at the end of the season to be sure insect pests and plant diseases do not overwinter in your garden.

At the end of harvest or after the first hard frost, clean the garden and compost plant refuse or dispose of debris that is diseased or pest infested. Garden sanitation is important in preparing for the next growing season.

Remove dead or dying vegetable material to the compost pile or chop or break up plants as best you can and turn them under so that beneficial soil organisms can begin the process of breaking down organic material and returning it to the soil.

Use a sharp bladed spade, machete, or tiller to chop debris into pieces. Plant material that is chopped or shredded will be more easily digested by soil bacteria. If garden debris is left whole in the garden pests can hide and overwinter and return to the garden in spring.

Remove and compost or turn under young weeds and grass that has not set seed from the garden as well.

Chop up the stems and leaves of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower plants, also tomato vines, cornstalks, melons and squash vines. All of these will decompose faster if chopped into small pieces.

If you had problems with soil-dwelling pests such as wireworms during the past growing season or if you suspect larvae or pests are in the soil, leave the soil exposed for several weeks after cleanup allowing birds and the frost to kill them. Cultivate or turn the soil weekly to upturn soil pests.

Once planting beds are clean of debris and any remaining pests, plant a cover crop or mulch the bed.

Before mulching you can test the soil or amend the soil in anticipation of spring planting.

Pests that Commonly Overwinter in the Garden:

• Aphids overwinter in cabbage family stalks and leaves; pull up stumps of Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and sprouting broccoli.

• Flea beetles overwinter in weeds and plant debris.

• Slugs and snails shelter and lay legs under plant debris and wood.

• Downy mildew fungi overwinter in plant debris.


Here are Related Articles:

Winter Mulching

Troubleshooting Pests and Diseases


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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