Basic Gardening Tips
Waiting for the season’s first harvest can be taxing, but there are some steps that you can take to help ensure your garden is as productive as it can be. Proper watering, fertilizing, and weed control are all important factors in making sure the garden grows vigorously and is productive. Although different plants can vary in their individual needs, here are some general guidelines and suggestions.
Watering needs change as plants grow. When newly seeded or transplanted, plants need consistently moist soil. This helps seeds to take up water and germinate and allows transplants to produce new roots and get established in the garden. Daily watering may be needed during these stages of growth.
For established plants, a good rule of thumb is to provide one inch of water a week. If rain does not provide at least an inch of rain in a given week, then watering the garden is beneficial. A deep, thorough watering is better than more frequent, shallow watering. Deep watering encourages roots to penetrate deeper into the soil, where they are less likely to experience dry conditions.
It is best to water early in the day, when temperatures are cool. This reduces water loss from evaporation and helps to ensure that plant leaves are not wet after sundown. Plants with wet leaves at night are more prone to suffering from leaf diseases.
Plants growing in containers need more frequent watering than plants growing in the ground. Container plants are generally watered when the upper few inches of the media has dried out. Container size and material influence the watering needs of potted plants. Smaller containers hold less soil volume, so they dry out faster than larger containers. In addition, unglazed clay pots are porous, so they need more frequent watering than plastic or glazed clay containers.
Different plants vary in their nutritional needs, but most garden species benefit from fertilizing at least once per season. Fertilizer labels indicate the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) that they contain. These values are expressed with numbers, like 10-10-10 or 4-6-8.
Nitrogen (the first number) promotes vegetative growth and helps to give plants a healthy green color. Phosphorous (the second number) stimulates root and flower growth. Potassium (the third number) is an important nutrient in plant metabolism and enzyme activation.
When choosing fertilizers, it is helpful to understand something about fertilizer N-P-K ratios. In general, leafy vegetables and plants grown for their foliage (and not for flowers or fruit) benefit from feeding with a balanced fertilizer. In a balanced fertilizer, the N-P-K numbers are equal or nearly so, as in a 6-6-6 blend. Flowering plants and vegetables where fruits or flower parts are eaten (like tomatoes, melons, broccoli, and cauliflower) benefit from fertilizers higher in phosphorous than nitrogen. An example is 4-6-4.
Plants growing in containers generally need fertilizing more frequently than those growing in the ground to keep them healthy. In gardens, it is generally best to fertilize transplants before they are planted in the garden and again two to four weeks later. Container plants usually need feeding every other week through the season.
Proper weed control helps to keep the garden growing actively, as weeds compete with crops for nutrients and water. Garden weeds can also harbor insects and diseases that can spread to your plants, so weeding can help to reduce pest problems. A properly weeded garden is also more attractive and inviting than a weedy garden.
There are multiple ways to control weeds in the garden, including herbicides, hand weeding, and mulching. Pre-emergent herbicides, like Vegetable and Ornamental Weeder, can be used to prevent germination of weed seeds after planting. Selective herbicides, like Grass Beater, can be used to kill existing grass weeds in a garden, fruit planting, or flower bed without harming plants. Non-selective herbicides, like Bonide Burnout, will kill any plant they come into contact with. They can be used to control existing weeds before planting.
Always carefully read herbicide labels for proper mixing and application information and to ensure that the product is safe to use around the plants you are growing.
When hand weeding take care to avoid disturbing the roots the plants you are weeded around. Damaging plant roots while weeding is stressful and can reduce the growth of your crops.
Mulching is an excellent way to control weeds. It also helps to keep the soil moist and reduces problems with soil compaction. Organic mulches, like straw or chopped leaves, also break down over time and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Black plastic mulches help to warm the soil earlier in the season, which can be beneficial for warm season crops like melons, tomatoes, and peppers.
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