We are fast approaching the season to be out tending to our gardens. It is an endeavor that is well worth any effort you put into it.
To make the very most of your efforts, we have compiled a list of the top 10 tips for garden maintenance that will help you on your way to a successful growing season.
Before you even turn the soil for your garden, you need to find the best location. The ground should be level, as this will ensure that there is proper water distribution.
It should also have good drainage so that the plants are not always in standing water.
When you have an idea of where you would like to plant your garden, check to make sure that there are no underground utility lines in the area.
If you are unsure, you can look in the phone book for the “Call Before You Dig” number in your area.
Essential, too, is at least six hours of sunlight. Without the sunshine, the garden will not flourish.
During the day, watch the area that you are considering for your garden to see when and how long it is in the sunlight.
Watch to see when shadows appear over the area. Avoid planting near buildings, unless the building will not shade the area.
Crops planted in the shade are more susceptible to disease and insect damage, so make sure that the area gets plenty of suns.
Give the Soil a Boost
Compost is good for keeping down the weeds in your garden and for keeping the soil moist, but it is also a valuable item to add organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.
Adding two inches of compost to your garden each year will help bind the soil in an aerated fashion.
Worms are not just for fishing! Purchase some worms and add them to your garden or your compost.
Worms will help to aerate the soil, and their excrement helps to bind the soil as well.
Create paths to walk in your garden. When you step on the soil, it compresses, and that takes away the aerated benefit that plants need.
Create areas that you can reach across for the harvest so that the areas around the plants are not trodden on. This same idea holds true after rain.
You might want to go out and weed, but walking on the wet soil will compress the soil and halt the aeration process.
If you have access to farm animals or can purchase manure, it will be a significant boost to your garden. You can use a horse, cow, chicken, goat, or rabbit manure.
Make sure that you spread it out evenly. It will break down and feed your soil organically.
Another way to give a boost to your soil is by checking the nitrogen levels.
Nitrogen is the one nutrient that escapes from the ground quite quickly. You can test your soil to see what the soil might be deficient in.
If you find that your soil is low in phosphorus, you can add bone meal or rock phosphate to get the levels to where they should be.
If you need better potassium levels, this can be raised by adding wood ashes from a stove or fireplace to your soil. Crushed oyster shells will help to boost low calcium levels.
To balance or add to the magnesium level in your garden, you can add Epsom salt to the soil.
Leaves that have fallen in the autumn can also be great to add to your garden to help strengthen the soil.
Mulch the leaves with your lawnmower or run them through a wood chipper.
Spread the mulched leaves over your garden in the fall, where they will decompose and add nutrients to the garden soil.
Coffee grounds will be a perfect addition to your garden if you have alkaline soil. Just toss it onto the soil and work it in. It also gives you a good excuse for drinking more coffee!
Choose Disease-Resistant Plants
If you want a healthy garden, the best place to start is with disease-resistant plants.
Choosing plants for your particular area of the country that are resistant to a disease is an advantage that will get your garden off to a healthy start.
Research common diseases in your area or visit your local nursery for guidance. Your local co-op will also have advice on what types of disease-resistant plants to choose for your garden.
Mulch is a valuable addition to your garden. Mulch will do you a huge favor by keeping the weeds down.
Your plants will love it, too, because mulch will keep the soil cool and keeps the soil around the plants moist.
Mulch will also help to moderate the temperature of the soil, which takes the stress off of plants.
If you choose a mulch made from organic material, it will break down over time and contribute to enriching the soil.
There are several types of mulches.
You will be able to find wood chips at any garden center. They are chips of tree bark and pieces of wood from trees.
It is suggested that you allow wood chips to decompose for one year before laying them in your garden. Whatever you purchase this year, will be used in next year's garden.
Plan on replacing or adding to the mulch every other year. Use a two to three-inch layer of wood chips in the garden around the plants.
Straw is inexpensive and easy to find, and so is often a favorite with gardeners. Use a layer around plants that is six to eight inches deep on top of the soil.
Rice straw does not have weed seeds in it and can be placed in the garden immediately.
Straw is also an excellent mulch to cover your garden during the winter. The decomposed straw makes for extra enrichment of the soil in the spring.
Compost consists of yard waste, such as grass clippings, sawdust, sticks, and twigs. The compost is usually put in a pile and turned every few weeks as it decomposes.
This process can take anywhere from a few months to a year to compost items yourself. If you start the process in the spring, the compost would be ready to use the next gardening season.
Water is the lifeblood of your garden. If nature does not water for you, you will need to water the garden yourself.
The best time of the day to water is early morning. When you water early in the morning, you will reduce the amount of water that is lost to evaporation during the heat of the day.
Giving your plants a drink in the morning will also help them to get through the heat of the day without wilting.
You want to avoid watering the leaves of the plants, just aim to get the soil that is around them. If you water the leaves, it can cause mold to form.
Water gently around the base of the plant, making sure that you soak the ground around them.
One of the reasons that you don’t want to water late in the day or at night is because damp leaves at night encourage fungus problems.
Powdery mildew or sooty mold can form, and this can harm your garden plants.
Underwatering your plants is just as bad as overwatering them. The best way to determine if your garden needs to be watered is to check the soil.
If the soil is dry to the depth of two inches, then it needs to be watered. During hot weather, this is usually about every four days.
A garden that has clay soil might need watering less often, and a garden in sandy soil will need watering more often.
Some gardeners prefer to have an irrigation system for their garden. It makes the watering process much easier.
All you do is set up the system, connect it to your hose and turn it on, the system does the watering for you.
This Micro Drip Irrigation Kit from Growerology makes the watering process easy. Turn on your hose, let the system water the garden, and then turn your hose off until the next time you need to water.
You can't get around the fact that weeds are going to grow, well, like weeds.
There are a few things that you can do to help you in the battle against them, taking over your garden.
Preventing them is the best way to limit their spread. One of the ways to do this is also to limit the amount of bare soil that is in your garden.
Plant your crops densely and use mulch in all other areas of your garden, even the walkways.
Some gardeners use landscaping fabric in walkways and around plants, making sure that there is enough of an area around the plant for it to get water.
You are going to need to weed daily. The longer you allow the weed to reside in your garden, the longer the roots will grow, and the deeper they will be.
If you weed a bit each day, you will go a long way to keeping them in check.
Hoeing is another way to keep uprooting weeds. This method is easier on your back, but just make sure that you don't hoe too deeply.
The seeds for weeds are also buried underground, and you don't want to bring them to the surface where sun and rain will help them to flourish.
A three-inch depth is a max that you should hoe. Pull the weed out, don't yank it out.
If you yank, you are just getting the top of the weed, and you will not get the root system. If the soil is hard, use a trowel to dig carefully around the weed and get the entire system out.
Once you have plucked the offender out of the soil, don't let it sit in the garden, and its seeds could find their way back into the soil.
Have a bucket to place them in as you dig them out, and then make sure that those weeds are thrown away.
If a weed has grown out of control and is too big for you to dig out, cut off the head of the weed.
This will eventually kill the weed and prevent it from going to seed.
While there are herbicides on the market, they can be toxic to pets and children. If you feel you need to use a herbicide, use it sparingly.
But consider that weeding a little each day will keep the weeds down and give you your daily dose of vitamin D in the process.
Rotating the plants in your garden will help to keep the soil free from disease organisms that are soil-borne.
Problems with diseases in the soil often occur when the same crop is planted in the same areas over the years.
Rotating annually will reduce or eliminate the severity of diseases. Insect infestation is also curbed by rotating plants in your garden.
Rotating your plants will help to preserve soil nutrients. While all of the plants in your garden need nutrients from the soil, they need them in different amounts.
Other plants return nutrients to the soil. If you plant the same crops in your garden in the same places year after year, then the demands for nutrients will be high in those areas.
It will deplete the soil and cause your plants not to do as well. Rotating your plants will create a balance in the soil and be better for your crops.
Clean Your Tools
One of the things that you want to do is to avoid spreading diseases or bacteria in your garden by using dirty tools.
Pruning shears, especially, should be sanitized with bleach wipes or spray after each use and before using again.
Keep your tools clean with a good hose off after using them. Make sure to clean the tools that you use the most regularly.
One way that many gardeners find handy to clean and maintain their tools is this easy method:
- After knocking off dirt, spray each tool with WD-40.
- Wipe the tool down with an old rag until the tool is clean
- Let the tool air dry
- Store the tools in a bucket of dry sand. This will keep them from rusting.
When your crops start coming in, it can seem like they come in all at once and far faster than you can use them.
Don't make the mistake of leaving the crops in the garden. Harvest your plants promptly. Left on the plant too long, the harvest will start to rot.
The rotting process, whether on the plant or with produce that has fallen to the ground, will draw pests to your garden.
Those pests, even at the end of a season, can wreak havoc and set the stage for an infestation the following season.
If you have too much produce, consider canning, freezing, or bestowing family and friends with homegrown produce. They are sure to thank you for it.
Clean Up At Years End
Remove the plants at the end of the year. Plants that are left in the ground after harvest will become a haven for disease and insects.
Certain garden pests love the decaying stems, leaves, and roots left over from the crops.
They will lay their larvae in the roots and the soil, making it ideal for them to be one the spot when spring comes.
Another reason to get rid of the former crop is that withered vegetable plants can harbor mold, fungus, and disease that will translate into your new crop.
It is best to get them out of the garden completely.
Don’t compost your tomato or pepper plants. Those plants are more prone to disease and can infect the compost.
Old or damaged fruit can still have thousands of seeds that can become a way to spread the disease.
As with weeds, dispose of these at the end of the season by either burning them or putting them in the trash.
Consider using a cover crop at the end of the season. When the ground is left bare and exposed, the soil can have some of the nutrients stripped from it.
A cover crop will sprawl out over the garden area and protect the soil from the elements. They will help to keep weeds at bay and prevent soil erosion.
Some cover crops are ryegrass, hairy vetch, buckwheat, red clover, and winter rye.
Garden maintenance done on a regular basis will ensure that your plants have the very best chance of thriving in your garden.
You will see the benefit of your endeavors with a crop of healthy, productive plants that you can share with your family and friends.