When the growing season really hits its peak during the summer, our gardens can often look like out-of-control invasions by plants from outer space. Don’t despair! There’s no need to call the Men in Black! Just follow these 10 tips for a healthy summer garden and you’ll be just fine.
1.Tilling = Weeds. The more you till, the more bare soil is exposed, which can lead to moisture loss (something we don’t need). Plus, tilling actually plants any weed seeds that land on the surface soil and your next crop will be weeds.
2.Mulch = Less Weeds and Watering. Instead of tilling, spread mulch on your garden paths and around your plants. This does two things: it keeps weeds from growing and it holds in moisture, which means you don’t have to water as often. You can use organic compost, straw, shredded leaves or grass clippings around your plants and wood mulch or untreated shredded bark on the paths.
3.Less is Better when Fertilizing. Young plants need the extra boost that organic fertilizers give them. Mature plants take that extra food and use it to grow more and bigger foliage – not fruits and veggies! Cut back on the amount you use or stop fertilizing altogether.
4.Perform Surgery on Damaged Plants. Any damaged stems or other plant parts not only invite pests and diseases to move in, they also stress out your plants. This stress reduces the amount of energy your plants can use to produce more produce. Keep a close eye out for disease-, pest- or weather-damaged stems and cut them off as soon as you find them.
5.Pruning Makes Life Easier. Even healthy stems, especially the lower ones on peppers and tomatoes, may need to be removed. It keeps the plants focused on producing fruits and veggies, lets air circulate, makes it easier for the plants to get light and makes watering a lot easier. That’s a lot of benefits for a little work! Another benefit is healthier plants. Healthy plants don’t attract as many pests. Keeping up with pruning and #4 above is a perfect method of preventing pest invasions.
6.Pinching for Produce. Plants’ basic focus is on producing as much foliage as possible. You can change those plans via pinching about 1/3 – 1/2 of new shoots and flowers to refocus your plants’ efforts to growing more – and bigger – fruits and veggies. Besides, vining plants (think cukes and zukes) must be pruned and pinched as it trains them to grow around their support structures.
7.Harvest, Harvest, Harvest! The more often you harvest, the more your plants will produce. Plants with an abundance of over-ripe produce stop producing. Plus, over-ripe fruit is a beacon for all sorts of animals and pests that could wreak havoc in your garden.
8.Organic Insecticides. Sometimes, you’ll get pests no matter how hard you try to avoid them. Rather than bombard your garden (and eventually, your body) with chemical pesticides, try these simple DIY recipes for organic insecticides. Getting rid of soft-bodies pests is as easy as spraying them with a potion of one quart water mixed with two tablespoons of biodegradable liquid soap. If you have aphids, put wet coffee grounds around infested plants. The silly bugs despise caffeine and coffee! Hard-bodied bugs can be dealt with by using an all-purpose spray (it also works on soft-bodied bugs and insane, coffee-hating aphids). Just boil some onions, mint, garlic, ginger root and cayenne pepper (basically, really strong spices). Let this concoction cool and steep overnight, strain it, fill a spray bottle and let loose on infested areas and plants.
9.Invite Natural Predators. Make sure to plant things that will bring in natural insect predators, such as spiders, praying mantises, bees and ladybugs. They’ll make a meal (literally) out of your pest problem and they’re fun to watch!
10.A Little Time Goes a Long Way! These tips may sound like a lot of work. However, if you spend just 5 – 10 minutes per day doing this work, you’ll see amazing results. It’s easier than spending an hour or two at a time and a few minutes a day makes the difference between tiny weeds and an impenetrable jungle or a few broken stems and a dead plant. Plus, it’s a good way to get some fresh air and sunshine every day!