Your garden is probably up and growing by now but instead of seeing a healthy garden is it looking a little sad? In the spring, seedlings are bright and healthy and you’re looking forward to the beautiful garden to come. But then you’re faced with some of the more disappointing aspects of gardening.
Weeds start outstripping your plants’ growth, you start noticing yellowing leaves or (horrors!) pests on your vegetables, it takes longer to water everything, and a garden starts to seem like an awful lot of work. Well, don’t despair! There are things you can do to grow a healthy garden without having it become a full-time job.
8 Steps to a Healthy Garden
Mulch everything! A deep layer of mulch retains soil moisture, suppresses weed seeds, and makes the soil easier to work by attracting earthworms. They love the cool, moist soil under mulch and will happily ’till’ the soil for you. This loose, friable soil makes it easier to pull any weeds that do manage to sprout and maintains a healthy garden.
2. Cut back on the watering (frequency)
Water deeply but less often. Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow-rooted plants that are more vulnerable to wind, drying out, soil pests, and other problems. A deep soaking once a week is usually sufficient if you have enough mulch in place. A soaker hose on a timer lets you set it and forget it.
3. Fill in those gaps!
After the radishes are pulled or the pansies have faded, fill in those gaps by tucking in a few pest deterring plants. In fact, tuck them in wherever you can. If your soil is rich enough, you’ve added mulch, and you water deeply, plants can easily stand a little crowding. Add a handful of compost to each planting hole to encourage good, quick growth. Remember this key to a healthy garden, empty space is just asking for weeds!
4. Make a plant’s favorite brew
Brew up some tea – compost tea, that is! This nutrient-rich plant drench will give your plants an instant boost of energy that will help them finish out the season strong and healthy. It’s so rich, you’ll need to dilute it before adding it to the soil. Double the dilution and strain it if you’re using it for foliar feeding. Use it at any time for annuals but don’t use it on perennials, shrubs, or trees less than two months before dormancy. It will encourage tender new growth just when they should be hardening off their old growth to rest!
5. Give your plants a special treat
Pepper plants of all sorts love sulfur! Adding the unburnt tips of 3 wooden matches or a book of paper matches (minus the cardboard cover) to the bottom of the planting hole is a time-honored planting method. If you didn’t add them at planting, just poke 3 holes a couple of inches deep and about 4″ away from your pepper plant’s stem. Drop unburnt match tips into each hole and cover with soil.
Both peppers and tomatoes need a steady supply of calcium to prevent blossom-end rot. Bone meal and crushed, dried egg shells are both good sources of calcium. Cool the water in which you’ve hard-cooked eggs and put it in a spray bottle for a calcium-rich foliage spritz.
Epsom salts contain magnesium and sulfur. Mix 1 tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water in a spray bottle. Spray your tomato and pepper plants in the evening when they first start flowering and again when they start setting fruit. And don’t forget your roses – they love Epsom salts, too!
6. Control those pesky pests!
Mother Earth News surveyed gardeners around the country about their worst garden pests and the organic prevention methods and treatments that were the most effective. Blanket bombing with chemical pesticides will kill beneficial insects along with the pests. The end result? Worse infestations that are increasingly hard to control!
7. Call for backup in your war on pests
Beneficial insects are among a gardener’s best friends and keys to a healthy garden. They can eat a surprising number and variety of garden pests and range from nearly invisible nematodes to the familiar ladybug. Planting nectar-rich flowers that bloom in spring will attract adults of several species and encourage them to breed in your yard. That means generations of predators patrolling your yard and garden!
Planting an insectary will also attract natural predators and encourage purchased beneficials to stay. Plants like calendula, coriander (mature cilantro), cosmos, dill, fennel, thyme, and yarrow are all favorite food sources for beneficial insects and their offspring. Adding a water source and places to shelter when they’re done munching for the day (or night) will also encourage them to stick around.
8. Put your garden to bed
Finally, clean up your garden before you ‘put it to bed’ for the season. Dead leaves or plants provide the perfect place for this year’s pests and diseases to overwinter. Leaving plant debris gives them a headstart on next year’s garden! As an example, last year’s windfall apples are the primary cause of this year’s wormy apples!
Pull up dead annuals, prune anything that requires fall pruning, rake up any garden refuse, and compost everything. The only exceptions are diseased plants and noxious perennial weeds. A home compost pile might not get hot enough to ensure their complete destruction. Either drop them off at a commercial compost facility or put them in the trash.