Clean Your Cages
Some pathogens that cause diseases on tomatoes, including bacterial spot, canker, and speck and fungal diseases such as early blight and alternaria, can be carried over from one year to the next on tomato cages and stakes. Prevent problems by cleaning soil and plant residues off cages and stakes, then disinfecting them by soaking them a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water for five minutes. Rinse well, then air dry before storing for the winter.
Clean Up the Potato Patch to Control Late Blight
Unlike some other diseases, the organism that causes late blight on tomatoes and potatoes will not overwinter on cages and stakes. It is carried only on live plant tissue. In our region, infected potatoes that are left unharvested or stored and used as seed potatoes are the most common "Typhoid Mary's." (Late blight also arrives by working its way up to New England on the wind from areas farther south over the course of the summer or may come in earlier on infected transplants, as it has in the recent past.) If late blight was a problem in your garden this season, be sure to dig up and destroy all infected tubers (those with brownish purple spots that become a wet or dry rot), including those that rot in storage, and start with certified disease-free seed potatoes next spring. Don't put infected plant parts in the compost pile as some plant tissue may survive the cold in the center of the pile.
Edge Garden Beds
Now is a good time to neaten up around the edges of garden beds where grass has begun to creep in. Use a sharp spade or a half-moon edger to cut a crisp line, then pull up shoots of grass, making sure to get all the roots. Your fall garden will looked spruced up and you'll cut back on weeding chores next spring.
Sow Seeds for Spring
Follow Mother Nature's lead and sow some seeds in fall for germination and growth next spring. In the flower garden, sow seeds of annual poppies, larkspur, sweet alyssum, love-in-a-mist (nigella), cosmos, nasturtium, spider flower (cleome), and nicotiana. In the vegetable garden, try planting spinach, parsley, carrots, radishes, and beets. Your success rate will vary with the weather, but you'll usually get some extra-early flowers and harvests from these fall-sown seeds.
Keep on Weeding
Frost may nip many of the summer annual weeds in your gardens, but don't put away your hoe just yet. Frost-tolerant winter annuals that germinate as the weather cools, then survive the winter to grow actively in the spring, such as henbit, bittercress, and chickweed, are popping up. Spend some time weeding on a fine fall day and cut back on your chores in the busy season next spring.