Issue: November 2004

Clean the Garden in Late Fall and Protect Irrigation Systems

As November frost sets in, a few preventive garden chores will help protect drip irrigation systems during winter and reduce pest problems next year.

Disconnect battery-powered automatic drip irrigation systems from faucets. If left connected, water in the meter will freeze during the winter, damaging the meter and possibly the faucet. Remove the batteries from the timer and clean all parts, particularly the water filter. Remove caps from the ends of header lines and blow all water out, especially if the lines are not buried.

For drip systems with electrical timers and solenoid valves, turn off the main valves, drain the lines if possible and place straw mulch in the valve box to keep lines and valves from freezing.

During winter, birds can help clean up any exposed insects in the garden. To attract birds, leave mature "cultivated" or wild sunflowers in the garden. Also, pick over- or undermature sweet corn and pull back the husks to expose grain on the ears. Weave the husked ears together into a corn ristra and hang it on a post for birds.

Remove all leftover crop debris from the garden, including the root systems. Shred it and add it to the compost pile. Clean up leftover mulch and all leaves that have dropped from trees and shrubs and throw them into the compost.

A properly constructed compost pile will generate internal heat, killing most weed seed, insects and plant diseases. Exposed insects will either be eaten by birds or subject to freezing weather, which kills most overwintering bugs.

Recent rains have provided sufficient moisture to germinate winter weeds like wild mustards, which permit beet leafhoppers to overwinter. If left, the leafhoppers will migrate to tomatoes and chile next summer, causing curly top. Pull up all winter weeds and throw them into the compost pile.

Tomatoes or chile plants infected with curly top this past summer can be recycled in the compost pile since the disease is caused by a virus spread only by the beet leafhopper. But throw plants that were infected with fusarium wilt or verticillium wilt in the trash. These soilborne fungal diseases can spread to other parts of the garden if the compost pile doesn't heat up enough to kill the pathogens.

Turn soil with a garden fork in the fall to expose grubs to freezing weather and birds. The cloddy soil will also help catch blowing snow, increasing the moisture content of soil next spring.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on:
KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays,
KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays,
and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)