You’ve planned out your plot, figured out your plant spacing, and everything is officially planted in the garden... now what?
Getting your garden planted is just one step towards successfully growing your own food—now comes maintenance season.
Maintenance season in the garden is just as important (if not more) than the initial seeding and transplanting season. Although there isn’t much you can do that will completely ruin your planted crops, there are a few tricks to keeping your garden well-managed to improve your harvest yield and your plants’ health.
Trellis your crops
Tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers and other vining crops will very much appreciate being trellised or caged. There are certain varieties that need it more than others, so be sure to check what type of seed you bought.
If you purchased bush beans, you’re less likely to need a trellis, but if you purchased pole beans, they love to climb. As for tomatoes, the cage or trellis is to help keep the plant sturdy, because otherwise the limbs and fruit get too heavy and the plant can snap at the load.
You don’t have to get expensive or fancy with your trellises—some large sticks and twine will do wonders for most things. But if you’re working with trellising squash (which has very heavy fruit), you might want a sturdier cattle paneling or let it trail off into the grass.
Weeding, weeding and more weedingPexels/Felix Mittermeier
Ah, weeding in the garden feels like an endless task (because it often is). But don’t let those little weeds convince you that you need to use harmful pesticides or herbicides in the garden—this will do more harm than good for your crops. Pesticides can harm beneficial insects and can negatively affect your and the planet’s health.
Weeds are most common in the spring and fall during the rainy seasons and there are a few tricks to keep them at bay without the sprays:
- Staying on top of them early in the season.
- Pulling them up by the roots.
- Not letting anything (especially dandelion) go to seed, because they’ll spread.
- Investing in a wire hoe to lightly dig up the top layer of soil and remove patches of small weeds. This will also help your back in the long run.
- Not digging deeper than that as it stirs up any weed seeds.
- Using a trowel to remove the long taproots of weeds like burdock and dandelion.
- Mulching after you’ve weeded to prevent any new ones from sprouting up.
Prune and “top” your herbs
Herbs grow rampant in the warmer months. Of course, you can leave them as is to do their thing, but a few little maintenance tips will keep them growing productively all season long without you having to reseed them. Managing your herbs also prevents any disease caused by overgrowth and crowding.
- Keep pruning from perennial herbs (ones that come back each year). Removing flowers, harvesting leaves, and trimming dead parts of stems signals the plant to keep growing through the warmer months. Just be sure to stop pruning before fall so that the plant can begin to go dormant.
- Pinch back leafy herbs like basil and cilantro frequently and once you see that they start to go to flower or seed, cut the top of the seed head off to stimulate more growth from the same plant.
- Leave the plants to go to seed if you want to save seed to plant next year or if you want it for culinary uses like coriander (cilantro) or cumin.
Look out for disease
It’s inevitable that disease will make its way into the garden: pests can bring disease, too much rain causes mildew, and weaker plant genetics can make certain varieties more susceptible to diseases. There are ways to prevent and fight this.
Most of the time you’ve amended your beds with enough compost in the late fall or in the early spring; compost works as a slow-release fertilizer which helps feed the plants while also fighting off any pests and diseases that present themselves in the summer months. But what happens if you forgot to add compost to your whole bed early on?
- First, trim the diseased leaves and stems, or if the whole plant seems infected, remove the diseased plant so that it won’t spread to the others. Use clean shears to trim the diseased plants and make sure to clean them before using them again on any healthy plants.
- Top dress compost around the base of each plant for a mid-season boost of nutrients. A little goes a long way with this nutrient-dense black gold.
- Make or purchase a worm tea or worm castings to spot treat any weak plants or ones that had diseased leaves. It doesn’t hurt to spread some worm tea love to the healthy plants to give them a boost in case they were in close contact with the diseased plant.
Life gets busy, and sometimes things in the garden just don’t get done. That’s OK! Plants are pretty forgiving, and as long as you get to some of the maintenance at some point, you’ll have a beautiful harvest this season.