A little planning and prepping during the fall can really improve your spring season. 

Autumn is the time to get ready and manage the soils, prepare sod, clean up your raised beds, and minimize the problems in the new growing season. 

It’s also the time to plant bulbs that bloom in spring and pull out tender summer bloomers. 

Fall garden preparation is key, and one of those maintenance tasks that will help you guarantee a beautiful garden during the following season. Follow these fall garden tips for a worry-free winter and to have more free time in spring.

Fall is also, a time to reflect on the severity of diseases observed this past year and remember that most fungi survive winter within infected plant debris. 

Fungal material such as mycelium, spores, or specialized reproductive structures may persist in the soil, in fallen leaves, or in dead branches remaining on the plant. 

In the spring, these structures produce spores that cause new infections. However, before infection can occur, three components must be present: a susceptible host, a virulent pathogen, and a conducive environment. 

If one of these components is missing, no disease will occur. Therefore, as a management strategy, we can try to minimize the amount of fungal material that survives winter.

One way to minimize winter survival is to follow a thorough sanitation program. 

All infected plant debris both on the ground, as well as in trees should be removed and destroyed in the fall. This includes dead or infected leaves, branches, and fruit. 

Collected material should be buried, burned, or discarded. Collected material placed in the compost pile will not decompose before spring.

Fall is also a good time to mark dead or infected branches in need of dormant season pruning. 

This practice, similar to sanitation, removes fungal material that is surviving in infected shoots and branches on the tree. 

This material, if not removed, will produce spores capable of causing new infections next spring. All branches containing cankers, knots, galls, or dead shoots should be marked for pruning. 

The best time to mark branches is in late fall after leaf drop, so infections are more visible. Marked branches should be pruned during late dormancy, usually late February to early March. 

It is important to remove all infected material before fungi become active in the spring. Pruned branches should be burned, buried, or chipped.

A number of fungal and bacterial diseases including cedar apple rust, fire blight, black knot, and a variety of other cankers and galls can be minimized through therapeutic pruning. 

To prevent the dispersal of fungal material from infected branches to healthy branches, pruning tools should be sterilized between cuts with a 10% bleach solution or 70% alcohol. 

Although sterilization is not a necessary practice for all diseases, it is extremely important when removing bacterial infections such as fire blight.

In addition to therapeutic pruning, trees requiring dormant season fungicide application should be identified and marked in the fall. Fungicides such as lime-sulfur or Bordeaux mixture can be applied to severely infected trees during late dormancy, before buds begin to swell in the spring. 

A few of the common diseases controlled with the use of dormant season sprays include black spot on rose, black knot of cherry, and plum pockets.

Finally, it is important to maintain plant vigor throughout the entire growing season, so plants enter dormancy in a healthy state. Stressed plants are more likely than healthy plants to suffer winter injury. 

To maintain plant vigor, properly fertilize and mulch plants during the growing season and water trees during dry periods to reduce drought stress in late fall.