10 Tips for healthy Plants
Simple steps you can take to a better garden
- Add a 1" layer of compost to your gardens at least once a year. Compost is full of beneficial microbes that break down organic matter, which in turn improves the consistency of all types of soils, from clay soils to sandy soils. If you happen to have that perfect soil that every gardener wishes for, it will stay that way when you continually add compost each year. Compost also attracts earthworms, helps retain moisture and improves the overall nutritional content of your soil. If you have happy soil you will have happy plants. I like to spread my compost in the fall when it's plentiful, but anytime is fine.
- Add a 3"-4" layer of organic mulch to your gardens once a year. Mulch suppresses weeds and adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. Mulch can be in the form of grass clippings, shredded wood, bark, dried leaves, cocoa hulls, straw or even pine needles. Mulch will help retain moisture during times of drought and help keep the soil at a more even temperature, which is better for plants. Keep the mulch away from the stem or crown of your plants to help prevent rot.
- Place 4 to 6 sheets of black and white newspaper under your mulch once a year to prevent weed seeds from germinating. The newspaper will break down over time and add organic matter to the soil and help your mulch to work better by preventing the sun from germinating the seeds below. Stay away from the shiny ads as they do not break down as easily and the inks may not be good for the soil. Brown paper bags and brown corrugated cardboard can also be used in place of the newspaper. If you get a lot of rain each year, the newspaper will break-down faster, so you may want to increase the layers to 8-10 each time or you may want to lay it down twice a year.
- Switch from synthetic fertilizers to organic fertilizers such as bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion, compost teas or alfalfa tea. Synthetic fertilizers can build up salts in the soil and can actually be harmful to beneficial microbes and wildlife when used over a long period of time. There is also a higher risk of “burning" your plants when using synthetic fertilizers. Espoma carries a line of organic fertilizers as well, but many plants don't even need additional fertilizers when you apply a yearly dose of compost to the surrounding plants.
- Make sure your lawn and gardens get at least 1" of water a week for optimal growth. The exception to this rule would be if you have established drought tolerant plants, thirsty roses or grow mainly in containers (containers may need to be watered daily). Check your specific plant care instructions for more information, but in general 1" of water per week is sufficient. In the case of watering containers, water just until the water comes out of the bottom of the pot. Any more is a waste and will just wash the nutrients out of the soil.
- Keep weeds at a minimum in your garden to ensure optimal plant growth. Weeds will compete with your flowering plants for water, light and nutrients. Pulling weeds the day after a soaking rain makes the job easier.
- Give plants ample room to grow, taking into account their mature size when first putting them in the ground. Doing so, will improve air circulation around the plants, which reduces pest and disease problems. It also keeps you from having to prune all the time or constantly move plants when they have gotten too big for their location.
- Use the winter months to research plants you'd like to grow in your gardens. The more you know about a plant, the easier it will be to care for it once you have it in your gardens. Remember, knowledge is power. corny I know, but it applies to a lot of things.
- Encourage birds, butterflies and beneficial insects to come to your yard by not using herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. These creatures will help reduce any pest problems you may have. Check out my articles on attracting birds and beneficial insects to your gardens to learn more.
- If you do have a pest problem, try the least offensive method of removal first, such as hand picking, a sharp blast of water from the hose or a mild insecticidal soap before resorting to harsh chemicals. Many times, the plant can withstand quite a bit of damage before showing signs of stress, and nothing needs to be done. Keep in mind that unhealthy or stressed plants attract problem insects and that a healthy soil encourages healthy plants.