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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Winter Chores Prepare Home Vegetable Garden for Spring

LAS CRUCES -- With the onset of colder weather, the last thing on my gardeners' minds is garden chores. But with a little work and planning during the winter, vegetable gardens will have a better start in the spring.

"Tattered corn and tomato plants in the garden and dried leaves piled up against the fance are potential source of overwintering insects or disease that could re-infest the garden next spring," said George Dickerson, horticulture specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "Good sanitation now will will rd=educe problems later."

Raking leaves in the garden in early winter will expose many insects to freezing temperatures, reducing their populations. Composting these leaves and old plant material also will reduce the incidence of insects and diseases in the spring garden. "Properly maintained, compost piles can generate enough heat to kill most organisms," Dickerson said.

Before putting the garden to bed for the winter, remove any weeds like mustards that may carry diseases or harbor insects.

"On cold winter evenings, stay warm inside thumbing through the new seed catalogs that come in the mail," he said. "If decide to use a new crop in next spring's garden, select All-American varieties that have performed well in various vegetable trials throughout the country." Also, seek recommendations from other experienced gardeners in your area, or contact your local county Extension office for information.

Choose varieties that are resistant or tolerant to common diseases. "For example, tomato names may be followed by the letters VFN. These letters mean the plants are resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt and nematodes--common diseases and parasitic organisms that plague tomatoes," he said.

Order seed from reputable seed companies. "Bargain seed at a local hardware store may be more of a bargain than you counted on," Dickerson said.

Don't save seed from last year's hybrid plants. "Most hybrid varieties will not remain true to the variety once they've been planted and produce their own seed," he said. "Plants like summer squash also can cross-pollinate with some pumpkin varieties. So, if you save the seeds and replant them, you may grow some weird summer squash."

Dickerson also recommends having garden soil analyzed for nutrient content during the winter. Take several samples of soil from your garden at various locations, from depths of 6 to 8 inches where most of the plant feeder roots occur. Combine all the soil samples into one composite sample and send to a laboratory for analysis. Check with your local county Extension office for more detailed instructions and information about labs and costs.

"You should receive an analysis back from the lab in a few weeks," he said. "Besides listing the various nutrients in your soil, the report should give an interpretation of the results and provide fertilizer suggestions for common crops."

With a little extra planning now, spring gardens can have the extra boost they need to produce healthy crops next year.