Good grooming improves health of your garden, too.
Byline: Paul Rogers
COLUMN: ROOTS OF WISDOM
It is past time to clean up our act by cleaning up the lawn and garden. Why should you go through the trouble of cutting, pulling, raking and other forms of general yard work? The easy way out is to ignore the winter trash and allow new growth to hide the dead foliage left from last year.
We can skip spring cleanup chores, but sanitization of the yard pays huge benefits. Forget for the moment the challenges caused by late-blight of tomatoes. Thankfully that disease problem is history. Whereas many diseases, fungi and most insects successfully live over on our properties from year to year, late blight cannot survive from one year to the next.
Of concern, however, are the myriad other pests that are able to survive a New England winter, especially one as benign as the one just past. Indeed, severe winter storms, bitter cold temperatures and harsh cycles of warm to cold spells do work (to a degree) to help destroy pests overwintering in our yards.
Deep, persistent snow cover shields grasses and other groundcovers from desiccating winds. Frigid temperatures freeze the life out of egg masses and adult insects. Cycles of warm to cold weather expose the cocoons of insects of various kinds. It does appear that populations of insects such as the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid were reduced by winter's cold temperatures.
Yet, increased numbers of Winter Moths have been observed this year from the Cape Islands to Shrewsbury. Their egg masses seem to have been little affected by the cold of last January. Viburnum leaf beetle, and the lily leaf beetle are yet to appear.
If past seasons are any guide, we will see increased numbers of both this spring. The combination of high temperatures and record rains may lead to heavy infestations of disease.
What is a homeowner to do? Faced with the potential stresses from pests of various persuasions, how can we cope? Sanitation is the answer. Spend your available time and energy removing the plant debris left in the garden. Provide a vigorous raking of turf areas. Collect all the fallen tree leaves, dead grasses and weeds, and prune away the black stems of woody plants. Pull the stems and stalks of vegetables and perennials.
Transport them to the compost bin. In the cleanup of dead organic materials, you will remove the insects that are ready to invade, nibble, bite, chew, disfigure and destroy the new growth of plants.
When the soil is dry, turn it over to expose overwintering insects. The birds will be pleased to turn the bugs into birdsong.
Yard pickup and cleanup is the single most important activity that you can do on your property. The benefits are immediate and long-term. Start now and make plant grooming a part of your gardening culture.