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If you didn’t remove all the debris from your garden last fall, you must clear out the old leaves and stems before you plant. This is the single most effective pest-control measure you can take for your garden. There may be insect eggs or disease spores from last year’s growth, and you don’t want them infecting your new crop.
After you have removed the debris, use a shovel to break up clods of dirt and loosen the soil at the rooting depth of your plants. Any plants that root below 5 or 6 inches are capable of penetrating most soils.
If your garden plot has packed clay or sandy soil, till in organic matter such as peat, composted leaves or lawn clippings. Work these into the soil as deeply as you can. This will form a soil structure that allows roots to breathe and grow. It will also help retain vital moisture and nutrients. Do not use lawn clippings for this if you have treated your lawn with a weed killer or insecticide. Residual chemicals on the clippings can damage garden plants or make vegetables unsafe to eat.
Tom MacCubbin, host of "Better Lawns and Gardens" radio show and author of several gardening books, advises gardeners to always use a fertilizer that is gentle on both plants and the environment.
“Use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer that provides plants with small amounts of nutrients over a long period of time," MacCubbin says. "This slow release nitrogen goes directly to the plants and not into groundwater. It's friendly to the environment and allows plants to use all the nutrients you apply. It also promotes even growth, discouraging insect and disease problems.”
Slow-release nitrogen fertilizer reduces the risk of damage to plants and the environment in the event it’s misapplied or overused. An organic-based nitrogen fertilizer, such as Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0, is ideal for helping build soil while fertilizing.
Seeding and Planting
It's exciting to watch plants grow from a tiny seed. If you plant seeds, follow the package directions. Directions will vary for each kind of seed you plant. Be careful! The most common planting mistake is planting too deep. This results in poor germination. Water gently, keeping seeds moist until they germinate. Follow specific watering instructions for each kind of seed you plant.
Plant seedlings as deep as they were in their holder. You can see the soil level on the stem. Keep their roots vertical by making sure your hole is deep enough. Fill the hole half full of water before you place the seedling in it, and firmly pack soil around it. Water gently over the top of planted seedlings and keep them moist for a week or so, depending on your local weather conditions.
When to Fertilize
Fertilize when you first seed or transplant. This encourages early root and plant growth. Fertilize again when plants begin to flower or display leaf growth that will mature for harvest. For full-season plants, fertilize a third time in mid to late summer. Potatoes, tomatoes and similar plants especially benefit from this third application.
If you have any doubts as to what kind of fertilizer to use or how much to apply, or if you would like your soil analyzed for nutrients, contact your local county horticultural extension agent.
Those Darned Pests
Insects, weeds and disease can present problems to a healthy garden. Mike Archer, master gardener and research coordinator for Milorganite, recommends using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for pest control. IPM is a low-cost, low-impact means for controlling harmful pests.
IPM encourages the use of natural pesticides as a friendly method of pest control. "Using commercial pesticides should be limited to times when the damage is beyond using natural methods," Archer says.
“In many cases, treating a garden with pesticides kills off beneficial insect species that keep problem species under control,” adds Archer. “Learn to identify these helpful insects so you don’t kill off friends of your garden.”
Other methods of environmentally sound pest control include hoeing weeds, staking tall plants so fruit does not touch the ground, providing garden ventilation to minimize incidence of disease, and trickling water on the soil when watering on sunny days so leaves don’t scald.
There’s no doubt about it; gardening can be hard work. But if you follow these simple tips, your garden will prosper and your experience will be a positive one. If you need help, contact your local county horticultural extension agent to advise you on gardening tips specific to your area.
Remember, many mistakes can be easily cured with a hoe, a shovel and a compost heap. So relax, have fun and experiment! And, most importantly, enjoy the fruits -- and vegetables -- of your labor.
Courtesy of ARA Content