Grow a bountiful harvest with timely garden maintenance. Arm yourself with a few basic tools, some time, and regular garden visits during the growing season to keep the plants healthy and more productive.
You don’t have to invest in every garden tool on the market. A shovel, trowel, weeding tool, gloves and knee pads are the basic equipment. If your budget is tight, ask friends and family in the garden if they have extras or can borrow them.
Now you’re ready to go. Weed control is an ongoing task. Working in minutes of weeding time, however your schedule allows, makes this a much less overwhelming task. Put a bucket with your favorite weeding tools, gloves, and a kneecap next to the door. Whenever you have a few minutes between other activities, pull up some weeds.
When tools are practical, you spend less time looking for them and more time getting the job done. Consider storing all of your tools conveniently and close at hand for the garden in a mobile tool storage caddy (gardeners.com). It has space for short and long handled tools, a bucket for collecting weeds, and wheels and a handle for easy maneuvering.
Spread a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles, or other organic matter on the surface of the soil surrounding your vegetables. This layer of organic material helps conserve moisture so you don’t have to water as often. It also helps suppress weeds and improve the soil as it decomposes.
When your seeds sprout and start growing, you need to thin out a little. Remove additional plants, leaving enough space for the remaining seedlings to reach full size. The seed package recommends the correct spacing for the vegetables you are planting. Good news, some seedlings like radishes, beets, and spinach are edible, so consider this a harvest instead.
Once you have your first harvest, leave space in the garden and fill it with another planting. Through succession, also known as staggered planting, you can grow several different types of vegetables in the same area. Just make sure the second planting has time to mature and produce before the end of the season. Seed packets and plant labels contain information about the number of days from sowing to harvest. Compare this to the number of days until the average first autumn frost.
Keep the plants healthy with proper watering and fertilizing. Water new plantings often enough to keep the top inches of the soil slightly damp. Wait until the top inches of the soil are crumbly and moist to deeply water the established plants. Watering and moistening the top six inches of the soil deeply encourages plants to develop a more drought-resistant root system. Frequent, shallow watering will keep the roots near the surface of the soil where they will dry out quickly. Too little water means fewer and smaller vegetables.
Follow the recommendations for soil testing to fertilize your plants. If these are not available, consider using a fertilizer recommended for vegetable gardens. Apply according to the directions on the label.
Giving plants room to grow and keeping them healthy means fewer insect and disease problems. That means a bigger harvest for you and your family that you can enjoy all season long.
Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She moderates the DVD series The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” and the television and radio program Melinda’s Garden Moment. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was hired by Gardener’s Supply for their expertise to write this article. Her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.