It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of gardening advice in books and websites. So I thought I’d simplify things by sharing my top 10 tips for keeping a garden healthy.
Start with your soil. Healthy soil grows healthy plants. So get a soil test to know what you have and need.
Add compost or other organic matter regularly to enliven the soil and keep the soil community happy. This intricate web of beneficial microbes, fungi, bacteria, worms, and more is crucial to healthy plants.
Minimize soil disturbance. Every time you turn the soil, you bring up weed seeds and wreak havoc on the soil community. So dig and till minimally.
Keep the soil covered with plants, an organic mulch, or cover crops. Bare soil invites weeds, encourages soil-borne disease, and promotes erosion.
Put the right plant in the right place. Choose plants that suit the site whether it’s sunny or shady, wet or dry. This matchmaking helps plants not only survive but thrive.
Use native plants. These tough, well-adapted plants need less water and fertilizer. Since they co-evolved with native wildlife, they support pollinators and other native species best.
Encourage beneficial insects. These are the good bugs that help control bad bugs. Nine out of ten insects are beneficial, naturally controlling the few true pests. Put them to work for you.
How? Reduce or eliminate chemical pesticides which kill both good and bad bugs. Use organic products instead and try other controls like hand-picking or floating row covers.
Further, encourage beneficial insects by planting a wide variety of plants to provide food and shelter. Add a rock to a birdbath so insects can sip.
Wait to cut back perennials and grasses until spring to give beneficial insects a safe place to overwinter. Many tuck into hollow stems or leaf litter.
Check your plants often. When you’re strolling, be patrolling. Look for spots, yellowing, or other changes that might be clues to a problem. Early detection makes fixes easier.
If you live in Washington County, Maryland, e-mail or call me if you need help identifying an insect or disease. Just send me a photo or bring me a sample. If you live in another area of Maryland, contact your county or city Extension office, or send your questions to Ask Extension.
Many problems are preventable. Honest. About 80% have cultural or environmental causes and aren’t due to pests or diseases. So there’s much we can do to prevent problems.
Water wisely. Water in the morning and avoid overhead watering. Leaves that are wet overnight tend to have fungal problems.
Removed diseased plants. Add compost which naturally suppresses some diseases. Space plants so air circulates. Cover bare soil so rain doesn’t splash fungal spores up onto plants.
At the end of the growing season, thoroughly clean up vegetable plant debris which can harbor harmful overwintering insects and disease.
There you have it, my top 10 tips for a healthy garden. When you work with nature, not against it, you naturally limit pests and diseases, grow more resilient plants, and build a healthier garden and community.
That’s a very good feeling indeed.
By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.