Garden Sanitation – Late Winter

The words “garden sanitation” sound kinda funny, at least to me, and also impart a connotation of an assertion that I’m uncleanly.  After all who is to say who is clean and who is not?


Perhaps the best approach is to remove all thoughts of human sanitation (taking a shower, washing your hands) and think in terms of cleanliness in the flower, veggie and shrub beds.  These areas of the landscape can be full of all sorts of unwanted items such as tree leaves, fallen fruits from last year, decaying stems and trash that has blown in from the neighbor’s yard.


Though not fun to do, removal of these things will pay dividends down the road.  Let’s address each of them, one by one:

Tree and shrub leaves – leaving these in place will produce a microenvironment that harbors disease organisms and insect pests, so a light raking to remove them and toss them on the compost pile is the suggested action.

Fallen fruits from last year – ditto for tree and shrub leaves.

Decaying or damaged stems – Diseases such as stem cankers or black knot can develop on the stems of ornamental and fruit bearing trees and shrubs, killing them and perpetuating the disease for the future.  Removing these stems from the desirable plant, usually at least 6 inches beyond the visible signs of the injury is advised.  These infected stems shouldn’t be incorporated into the compost pile, rather, cut into smaller pieces and disposed of with the household trash.

Wind-blown trash – more of an eyesore than a problem, old newspapers, egg cartons, Christmas decorations and milk jugs are common pieces of trash that should be collected and placed in the household trash containers.

black knot john gentry


Cleaning up the remnants of insect infestations, disease infections, tree/shrub debris or actual trash might not be high on the list of enjoyable activities, but is necessary in order to have a productive and healthy landscape going forward.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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