Garden Maintenance is the next step in getting a bountiful harvest from a vegetable garden this summer! When should you fertilize? What about watering? And the dreaded weeding? How can you minimize that chore? Read on my fellow gardeners! Also, get lots of free recipes to make with your produce here!
Without a properly maintained garden, all of the work you have put in to your garden, including; Planning Your Garden, Preparing Your Garden, and Choosing Plants and Planting Your Garden, will have been for nought!
A properly maintained garden, will produce a significantly higher yield than a garden that has been forgotten about, until it was time to harvest! Regular garden maintenance will save you time and greatly increase your yield.
Make yourself a checklist of chores that need to performed every week and stick to it.
Watering the Garden
Watering your garden is one of the most important aspects of garden maintenance!
The decision to water your garden, or wait, will be answered, mostly, by the plants themselves. If your plants are badly wilted, it is time to water, before it is too late!
If there are only a few plants that are wilted, then you can probably wait until late in the day, or the next morning to water. Know that in heat of the day, many crops, like squash and cucumbers may look a bit wilted. Even if you don’t water, if you go out in the evening, they look perfectly fine. So a little wilt is usually ok.
You should avoid, whenever possible, watering during the heat of the day, unless you are using drip irrigation (more below). Overhead watering, when the sun is high in the sky, can cause the leaves to burn.
The water droplet on the leaves acts like a prism and intensifies the suns’ rays. As we discussed in the section of this series regarding planning, some crops require more water than others.
Peppers, especially, hot peppers do well in arid climates and will drown if they receive the same water that you are giving to cucumbers, for instance.
Overhead watering, in particular should be done early in the morning, or in the evening, after 5pm, or so.
Don’t water too late in the evening, because you want the leaves to have a chance to dry out before dark, or you could invite fungal diseases.
It goes without saying that in a wet year the garden will require less water than in a hot, dry year.
The best water for your plants is natural rainfall. It contains no chlorine or any other chemicals, so plants inevitably perform better.
In the horticultural business, we refer to our jobs as the “too” business. As in, it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry… you get the point.
Mother Nature is not always the friend of gardeners around the world, so you have to be adaptable.
In the northeast, as a general rule, if we get rain during the day or at night, I will hold off on watering. Many years here, the garden needs very little supplemental water, except for the hottest times in August and early September.
Certain crops will suffer if the moisture level varies drastically. Tomatoes, if they have not had water for a long time and then get a lot of water, will split and crack. It is best to try to keep the moisture levels as consistent as possible, to have a perfect fruit.
Drip irrigation is the practice of applying small amounts of water to specific areas, using special pipes. Like everything, drip irrigation has pros and cons.
- Drip irrigation is great in hot dry climates, where water is costly, or rationed.
- There is less water lost to evaporation than there is with overhead watering.
- It can be applied at any time during the day, without adversely affecting the plants.
- Drip irrigation can be placed on timers, so that they are virtually hands off. Make sure to buy timers that have rain meters, so that they do not water when it has rained, or you may overwater your garden.
- Drip irrigation can be set up in “zones”. This is where you schedule less water on crops that require less and more water on the ones that require it. See the post for Planning Your Garden, for more information about crop placement.
- Drip irrigation is more labor intensive to set up. It could take, literally, hours to set up drip in a garden.
- Setting up drip irrigation can be costly, initially, but you can reuse it year after year, if stored properly for the winter.
- Monitoring that each of the plants along a drip irrigation line are receiving adequate moisture may take some time and effort.
- Setting up a drip irrigation system can be complicated and is best designed by a professional.
For more information on setting up a drip irrigation system, this is a great tutorial from The Art of Doing Stuff
- Overhead watering is cost effective, initially, for the equipment. If your water is expensive, this advantage, may not be relevant
- Overhead watering doesn’t take any custom knowledge, or know-how.
- You can use a timer, with a rain gauge with overhead watering, as well. The length of time the water remains on will need to be adjusted with the heat levels of the season.
- Overhead watering is a huge water waster. Much of the water will end up on paths and a lot will evaporate, especially in very hot, dry weather.
- Overhead watering can result in one crop being underwatered and another being overwatered, since there is less control of the water placement.
- It takes more effort throughout the season to monitor individual crops are receiving their optimal water requirements.
Weeding is another important part of Garden Maintenance. Weeds rob nutrients and water from your crops and some weeds are quite aggressive.
Weeds that are viney can choke out your garden crop. It is important to keep on top of them.
Pre-emergence Weed Killers
In larger gardens, it can be beneficial, at the start of the season to treat the area with a pre-emergent. Pre-emergent weed killers will only kill weed seeds that are in the soil.
They will not affect perennial weeds, or existing weeds that have already sprouted. Do Not use a pre-emergent in areas of the garden that are to be planted with seeds. Such as; carrots and radishes.
Do not apply it “uphill” of areas that are to be planted by seed. (The water from watering may allow the chemical to travel down to those areas.)
Adding a layer of mulch can assist with weed control and maintain a good soil moisture. Some great options to use for mulch are straw, well aged mulch, sawdust, grass clippings and others.
I have a few tools that I use for hand weeding. I will link them below.
The key to hand weeding is to do it continuously throughout the season. Smaller weed plants are easier to remove than larger weeds. If you let the weeding get away from you, you will be sorry!
Whether you choose organic or non-organic fertilizers, it is important to follow the package directions! Different soil fertilizer will have a different longevity in your garden.
Many vegetable crops are what is referred to as “heavy feeders”. Among these plants are corn, tomatoes, cucumber, rhubarb and anything in the cabbage family. (brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, etc.)
“Low feeders” require less fertilization. These include, peppers, herbs, chives, most root vegetables (parsnip, carrot, radish, leek, onion)
Heavy feeders, as the name implies, will need extra fertilization throughout the year. Organic fertilizers tend to have a shorter effective life than inorganic fertilizers. Some fertilizers are time release, so that less fertilizing is required.
Insect and Pest Control
This is an extra broad topic! There are so many insects and diseases out there, it a whole separate field of study, in fact it is two separate fields of study.
Entomology and Plant Pathology. For this reason, it is difficult to do an even partially comprehensive discussion on either topic in a 2000 word article, but it is an essential part of proper garden maintenance!
Instead, I will list for you, some of the more popular pests, by crop that affect common vegetable crops. This list will be quite accurate for the Northeastern US, but these may or may not affect crops elsewhere in the world.
Common Insect Pests, by Crop
Another important skill in Garden Maintenance is being able to identify what problem your particular crop is having.
- Aphids, Cutworm, Flea Beetles, Tomato Hornworm. Good article regarding organic controls of Tomato Pests by Plant Natural.
- By far, the most damaging and common pest of cucumbers is the cucumber beetle. They can also be affected by aphids and white flies. Control article by Arbico Organics
- Peach Aphid, Beet Armyworm, European Corn Borer. Good article regarding organic controls of pepper pests from SF Gate.
- Aphids, Thrips, Leaf Miner. Slugs can be a real problem in wet years. Good article regarding organic controls of pepper pests from Gardening Know How
- Cabbage Family (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage)
- The cabbage family is susceptible to a plethora of insects. That is one reason that I do not suggest trying these, for a novice or brand new gardener. They can make even the most seasoned gardener rip their hair out! Some of the most common include;
- Aphids, several Cabbage worms, Cabbage looper, Armyworms, and Cutworms. Article for control from Entomology Department U Kentucky
**NOTE** Many of these common insects can be controlled by natural insect predators! Here is a good article on beneficial insects and how to attract them from Organic Lesson.
REMEMBER! It is crucial not to spray insecticides when you have invested in beneficial species!! The insecticides will kill them too! Here is an extensive list from Plant Natural. I will link to other sources to buy them below.
Common Diseases of Vegetables, by Crop
Control of most diseases comes from prevention, before the fact. Most of these are related to planting practices and, most importantly, choosing resistant cultivars.
- Blight, Leaf Spot, Mosaic virus, Verticilium Wilt. Here is a good article on disease control from The Spruce.
- Phytopthora, Bacterial wilt, Angular leaf spot, Powdery mildew. A good article from Seminis on control
- Damping off, Fusarium wilt, Powdery mildew, Gray mold. Control article Gardening Know How
- Damping off, Bacterial leaf spot. Control article Gardening Know How
- Cabbage Family
- As with the insects, the cabbages are susceptible to many fungal and viral diseases. Among the most prevalent; Pythium, Downy Mildew, Fusarium, Black rot. Here is a good article from Clemson Cooperative Extension on control.
It is very difficult for a novice to identify what particular disease affects a plant. Professionals are most often called in.
To help with this aspect of garden maintenance, some Agricultural Universities have consumer help departments that can test for a given disease. In my experience, many of the diseases are not worth fighting. You just have to give up and remove the affected plants.
Other diseases, like powdery mildew may devastate the leaves, but the plants may still keep producing, for a while, and it won’t effect the fruit. This is especially true late in the season.
Don’t Get Discouraged
The key thing to remember, is, that if you have done your research, before choosing varieties that you planted, you should have little to no problem with infestations of insects and diseases and the garden maintenance will be a breeze.
But diseases are more specific to certain growing conditions, if you have a very wet year, certain root fungi are unavoidable, on some crops. If you suspect a crop has failed and there is no hope to revive it, do not be afraid to remove that crop from the garden, for that year.
Make sure in subsequent years, you rotate that specific crop to a completely different location! There is always a local Farmer’s Market to supplement that vegetable for that year! 🙂
Even experienced gardeners fail, from time to time! Don’t take it personally and try, try, again next year! 🙂
Summary for Garden Maintenance
Garden Maintenance is the next step to ensuring a great harvest throughout the summer!
That was a very abridged version of all the things that can go wrong in a garden! The good news? 90% percent of them never happen in a good growing year.
Be very careful selecting varieties that are resistant and have shown good success in your specific area! Keep your garden weed free and watered consistently, and you should have no problems.
I never spray insecticides on my garden. It is not that I am vehemently opposed to insecticides, and have been known to spray them on a non food crop occasionally. And, I have worked in greenhouse situations, where it is sometimes unavoidable.
The reason that I don’t spray, is that I don’t have the need too! I carefully choose the cultivars that I plant and maintain the garden properly, and I just don’t have problems.
In the off year that I have a really bad problem with a crop, I eliminate that crop and supplement with the local Farmers Market!
Last year for instance, I had a cucumber beetle infestation in pots that I had planted, I just ripped them out and this year, I will not plant cucumbers any where near those specific pots.
I hope I didn’t scare you away from giving your own garden a try! Like I said previously in the series, start small!
As you gain more experience, gradually increase your garden. You will learn what crops do best in your soil type and climate and which cultivars perform the best for you!
I hope this series has been helpful to you! Please, don’t hesitate to ask, if you have a question! The comment box below or the contact box on the sidebar will both work. I will answer your question at the earliest convenience!
The next, and last post in the series is coming soon! Harvesting Your Garden! That should convince you that it is worth all of the effort to have your own vegetable garden!
Recipes to make with the fruits from your well maintained gardens
- Tomato Cucumber Salad
- How to Can Homemade Salsa
- Chicken Stuffed Tomato Bites
- Seafood Fra Diavolo
- Green Tomato Salsa
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Don’t miss the last article in our series, Harvesting the Garden and Preserving the Harvest! Complete with over 100 FREE recipes! Thanks for stopping by today!
Enjoy! And have fun cooking!
Tools I use for my garden maintenance
Contains affiliate links, for full disclosure, see FTC Disclosure, here.
- 1 Fertilizer
- 1 fungicide or insecticide if required
- Watering The Garden. Choose from drip irrigation or overhead watering. See post for suggestions and explanation.
- Weeding Your Garden. Pre-emergence weed killers can cut down on maintenance. Hand weeding, machine cultivating. See post for more information.
- Fertilization. See post for suggestions for types of fertilizers
- Insect and Pest Control. For helpful suggestions to identify and control insects and diseases in your garden, see post.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click the link and purchase something, at no additional cost to you. See FTC Disclosure, here.