Don't wait until spring to relive this year's garden pest nightmares. The best defense against insect pests is a good offense, and that means starting in fall. If this year's harvest was a bust, try these 5 things you can do to prevent pest problems in next year's garden. You'll thank me when you're picking tomatoes and cucumbers.
1. Weed the garden one last time.
Weedy gardens, even in winter, give insect pests an advantage. Some pests survive the winter by seeking shelter among the few plants that remain in your garden. If you're just going to pull them in the spring anyway, why not pull the weeds now and leave those pests out in the cold? In addition, certain insects sustain themselves on weeds in spring until your garden crops are ready to eat. Don't give those spring pests a free lunch. Do a thorough weeding at season's end.
2. Remove all garden debris and dead or diseased plant material.
Once the harvest is done, pull all annual crops out of the garden. Insect pests are just as happy cozying up under your spent squash vines as they are sheltering in the weeds. Any plant material that is diseased or pest-infested has got to go, and the sooner the better. Don't put diseased plants in your compost bin, though, unless you are sure your compost pile heats up (ideally to between 120º and 140º F). If in doubt, throw it out.
3. Give garden beds a good tilling.
Some of the nastiest insect pests burrow into the garden soil in the fall, and stay buried beneath the surface until spring. Wake them up! Get out the rototiller and give your garden a nice, deep tilling. Your goal is to push those pests so deep into the ground they can't make their way to the surface next year. You'll also bring some to the surface, where it's too cold for them to survive. And as an added bonus, you'll turn any remaining plant material under, adding organic matter to the soil.
4. Do a soil test and amend your garden soil as needed.
Healthy soil means healthy plants, and healthy plants are far less susceptible to pest problems. If you haven't done one in a while, take a soil sample and have it tested at your local extension service. Adjust the pH as recommended, and add any amendments required. Consider planting a nitrogen-rich cover crop that can be turned under in the spring.
5. Plan next year's garden.
In some cases, rotating crops may be helpful to combat pest problems. Did one crop in particular succumb to insects this year? Find a new place to plant that vegetable next year. Pull out the seed catalogs and look for pest-resistant varieties of your favorite veggies. Read up on the life cycles of your worst garden pests so you're prepared for them next season. Sometimes just knowing how early to monitor for an insect pest makes all the difference in your ability to win the war.