The Garden Patch: Some good garden practices – for now or later

This column is a “saver” for next year’s garden and you probably practice most of these items already – but just in case – here are either some reminders or some fresh ideas for your next garden. (I won’t tell anyone if they are “reminders”!) This is a long one …

Checklist of good garden practices

Create a “healthy” soil. In the rush to plant, this important step is often overlooked, yet it can make the difference between a productive and so-so garden. Many insects are attracted to unhealthy, poorly growing plants. Poorly growing plants also recover more slowly from insect injury. Have a soil test and follow the recommendations to supply a full range of nutrients. Adding extra fertilizer won’t create healthy soil, because excess nitrogen or phosphorus can promote insect and disease injuries. Add organic matter to the soil each year in the form of soil amendments or mulch.

Choose pest-resistant or tolerant varieties. Nursery and garden catalogs often identify such varieties. Additional information is available in the K-State Research and Extension publication Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Kansas, L-41.

Start with quality seeds and healthy plants. Purchase stocky, dark green transplants and buy certified virus-free seed potatoes.

Eliminate competition. Remove weeds and grass from the growing site because they compete for nutrients and water. Keep plants vigorously growing. Rapidly growing vegetables can better tolerate or outgrow insect and disease damage, but they quickly use up available nutrients. Applying fertilizer and water at critical times during maximum plant growth is essential for producing pest- and disease-resistant plants.

Keep it clean. Remove plants and debris after harvest to avoid harboring insects and diseases. Remove weeds which may provide shelters for pests. Dispose of or burn diseased plants, fruits or vegetables. Composting is seldom thorough enough to eliminate disease causing fungi and bacteria.

Rotate crops. Planting the same crop in the same place year after year invites losses due to soil borne diseases and over wintering pests. Follow a crop rotation of at least three years for the four major vegetable plant families – solanum (tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant); cucurbit (melons, squash, cucumbers); cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts); and allium (onion, garlic, leeks).

Choose a sunny location away from large trees. Eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day is necessary for proper growth, flowering and fruiting of most vegetable crops. Sunlight also helps to dry foliage and reduce many fungal and bacterial diseases.

Water properly. Plants receiving either too much or too little water will be less vigorous and more susceptible to diseases and pests. Consider using a form of drip irrigation which keeps the foliage dry and helps prevent foliar disease while using water more efficiently.

Use mulch. Mulches help control weeds and reduce moisture evaporation from the soil surface. They also help to prevent rot when fruit is in contact with bare soil. When tilled under, organic mulches become valuable soil amendments.

Provide good air circulation. Overcrowding plants can cause weak growth and an increase in foliar diseases. Stakes, cages, trellises and pruning, all help to increase air circulation.

Plant at the proper time. Seeds planted too early are more susceptible to rot. Delay planting until the soil has warmed to allow rapid germination and growth of the young plants.

Get to know the major pests in your area (this does NOT include obnoxious neighbors). Learn the weaknesses in their lifecycle, their habits and at which stages they are most easily controlled. Refrain from using any pesticide until you have correctly identified a pest. Your local Extension agent can help with positive identification.

Grow crops that have fewer pest problems. Plants that have few insect and disease problems include loose leaf lettuce, rhubarb, Swiss chard, garlic, cos lettuce, leeks, parsley, sweet potatoes, okra, beets, snap peas, parsnips, carrots, onions and kale.

Put up bird feeders and birdhouses. Birds are the leading predators of insects. For instance, more than a dozen species of birds are known to feed on moth larvae.

Inspect the entire garden at least weekly. Check the undersides of leaves. Discover any symptoms when they first develop so that they can be more easily controlled.

Be realistic in your expectations! Accept the fact that there may be some damage and even an occasional crop failure. This is also the case in many gardens using conventional pest control methods.

Alternative pesticides and control methods

A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate any insects, rodents, nematodes, fungi, weeds or other forms of life declared to be pests.

Synthetic chemical pesticides provide many benefits to food production and nutrition but they also pose some hazards. Some synthetic pesticides may leave undesirable residues in food, water and the environment when not used properly. Low doses of many pesticides are toxic to humans and other animals. As a result, many homeowners, growers and researchers are seeking less hazardous alternatives to conventional synthetic pesticides.

Well, I’m sure you’ve had enough for this week! Hope you have a great week and thank you for reading my article! I’m looking forward to the next one!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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