Garden Residue Aids Wildlife
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
As you give your vegetable garden a final fall cleanup this year, consider leaving some plant residues for wildlife. Leave bean plants and beans that got too mature to be harvested, corn stalks with nubbin ears that never grew big enough, oversized summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins with soft spots or frost damage, leafy vegetables that went to seed, and the tough outer leaves and stalks of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and the other cole crops as an emergency food source for wildlife.
You can still clean up the garden to reduce the carryover of insects and diseases.
Remove and burn or put out for the trash pickup any diseased plant materials, including corn that has been infected with smut, wilt-stricken squash vines, and blighted tomato and potato plants.
Till or plow under stands of weeds and mulch that might provide overwintering shelter for squash bugs, cucumber beetles, Colorado potato beetles, European corn borers and other pests. But leave residues of healthy plants that could serve rabbits, birds and, in rural areas, deer as a winter food reserve.
Do not be surprised if some of the less palatable foods stand untouched for weeks or even months. The beans and squash seeds will go quickly, while things like Brussels sprouts stalks and leaves may remain a long time. But when snow gets deep and bark is about the only other food available, even those tough old stalks may be consumed.
Leaving garden residues for wildlife may help take some of the pressure off fruit trees and other potential foods in your landscape. It is wise not to count on this, however, to protect your landscape plants from all harm. Mice will still be busy under the snow, so you will still need to protect fruit trees and valuable landscape plants with either physical barriers or taste/odor repellents.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office