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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Sanitation


As cold temperatures set in, most gardeners are nestled in their warm homes thumbing through gardening magazines and dreaming of next year’s garden. If good sanitation is not done this fall, the nasties that are left in the garden may come back to wreak havoc next planting season. Pull on the thermals and get your garden cleaned.

When I say the nasties I am talking about plant diseases like potato late blight which can threaten crops next year. This disease overwinters in the live tissue of potato tubers and infested potatoes left in the soil and covered with snow are protected from the freezing temperatures that would normally kill it. Make sure all potatoes are dug up. Diseased material should be disposed of but not placed in the compost pile. Compost piles act as insulators during cold weather and throwing diseased material into it will cause contamination. Early next spring check the area for volunteer potato plants and dispose of them. It is recommended to buy clean, certified seed potatoes, rather than planting potatoes saved for seed.

Late blight is spread through the air and from plant to plant under favorable weather conditions. It can affect tomato plants and the same sanitation rules apply – clean it up to prevent problems. Clean up any dropped tomatoes. Not only are they a potential harbor for disease but if left in the garden, all those little tomato seeds will sprout next spring causing you to have to pull them all out.

Another thing to keep in mind is the possibility of disease carry-over from garden to garden. Let’s say you lend a helping hand in Madge’s garden for the afternoon and you use some of your own garden tools. Soilborne diseases can be transferred between gardens if contaminated soil is left on your tools. As a preventative measure, clean your tools as you use them. When trimming your woody plants clean your loppers and pruners with isopropyl alcohol after every use to prevent the transfer of pathogens from a sick plant to a healthy one.

Preventing a disease before it becomes a problem is easier that trying to get rid of it!

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County. More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at