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Bill Starr: Time for winter cleaning

Spring cleaning is a time-honored tradition, but “winter cleaning” may be a better idea. You can prevent a lot of spring problems by doing some work now. Many diseases and insects we will find in the spring can be prevented by doing a little yard work now. Raking leaves, removing spent flowers and cleaning up fallen limbs removes overwintering sites for insect pests. Getting rid of the bugs’ winter homes will make them less plentiful in the spring. I hope all this cold weather we are having will help to alleviate some of the insect problems we have had the last few years due to our mild winters.
Diseases over-winter in that debris, too.  The disease organisms may go dormant through the cold season, so you may not see signs that they are there. But come spring, you may have problems.
Clean-up is important in home orchards, gardens and landscapes. In the orchard or for individual fruit trees, prune the dead branches to prevent disease problems, be sure to remove any plant debris and fallen fruit, which can harbor diseases and insects. If you have a major case of cabin fever or the “winter blahs,” winter is a great time to remove old mulch from flower beds and from around trees and fruit bushes. If you plan on reusing the old mulch, be sure to compost it first, to destroy some of the disease organisms. You will need to re-apply fresh mulch if you have removed the old.
January is a great time to plant balled-and-burlap and container grown trees. Water newly planted trees thoroughly, even if the ground is wet. It’s important to settle soil around the roots. Mulch will help keep out weeds and grass. Be sure not to pile mulch against the trunk.
Even though it is cold outside, winter can be a great time to get outside and perform maintenance on your lawn, garden and flowerbeds. I do most of my pruning this time of year. Put on some warm clothes and get outside and enjoy some “winter cleaning.”

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension agent and coordinator, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.