Cody Craddock column: Gardening tips for better gardens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2022

By Cody Craddock
N.C. Cooperative Extension

Growing a garden is an extremely rewarding experience that anyone can do at home and end up with some great produce. Personally, I’ve always had a garden even as a kid. I would grow produce and set up a produce stand at the edge of my yard to sell produce from my garden. However, sometimes gardening is hard and people are discouraged because their plants, no matter how hard they try, always seem to fail. Well, hopefully this article will address some of the most common things gardeners in the Piedmont experience.

One pitfall is the way people manage their water in a garden. Some people tend to overwater, while others tend to underwater their plants. Whichever person you are is irrelevant, but better water management will help your garden. Let’s talk about when to water and how frequently, how to water plants, and why all of this matters.

First, let’s establish when the proper time to water is. Ideal soil has about 50% of the pores filled with water and the other 50% filled with air. Think of soil’s “pores” as the space between soil particles that makes it fluffy. If you dig down to a depth of 2 inches or remove the mulch around a plant and the soil is damp, but not soaked, you have enough water. Giving these plants more water will only fill up the air pores with water which is not beneficial to the plant. Next, think about the last time it rained. If it has been a prolonged time since a rain. you likely need to water. If we had rain recently, your soil is probably still moist, and your plants don’t need any more water. Lastly, if you’re going to water plants, the best time to water them is early in the morning. This allows the water you do apply to soak in before it is evaporated. While it’s best to water in the morning to reduce water lost to evaporation, if your plants are showing obvious signs of wilting mid-day, don’t withhold water just to wait until the morning.

Another watering practice that people often don’t think about is where to place the water. If you can avoid wetting the foliage on any plant, that will help with the control of diseases. Remember, water the soil and not the plant. Disease-prone plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucurbits don’t fare very well once a disease has started on the plant.

Diseases bring up another great point with gardening, and that is rotational cropping. No matter the size of your garden, rotating what is grown on the ground year-to-year will help at least a little with disease incidence. This is because different crops are in different plant families. Within a plant family, there are many diseases that can affect different plants. For example, cucumbers are a part of the cucurbit family which also includes squash, watermelon and more. Diseases that affect cucumbers can also affect other plants within that family like watermelon. Rotating the soil used to grow cucurbits with other plants like corn or beans reduces the disease pathogens by breaking their cycles. Rotating crops is often overlooked in home gardens but can have great results.

One more reason gardeners may struggle is because of the condition of their soil. Soil sampling can help you get a grip on what your garden needs, nutrient wise, so you can fertilize or lime as needed. The results you’ll get will tell you exactly what you need to put in your soil to make the fertility perfect. Soil that has too high or low of pH will cause plants to have issues taking up nutrients since the chemistry of the soil make it hard for nutrients to be pulled out. Using the soil testing services will allow you to get your soil just right with minimal input. If you need testing boxes, you can come by our office to get some for free.

Lastly, I would like to write about the importance of multiple plantings. Short-lived plants like squash can be planted multiple times a season. Squash plants will look diseased and rough at the end of their useful life. After squash has been harvested off this plant, instead of keeping it in the garden, it’s best to rip it up and replant since another squash plant has time to bear in that location. This is often called intensive planting or successional planting and is common among experienced gardeners. Longer-lived plants like tomatoes can even be successionally planted granted you start them from seeds and transplant them into the garden. Successional planting takes a little work on your end but can end up keeping produce flowing all-season long from your garden.

If you try and still fail, don’t be discouraged. There’s the chance next year to try again and maybe learn something from this season. However, if you end up without enough produce from your garden in a season, the next best place to shop for it is at the Salisbury-Rowan Farmer’s Market which opens every Saturday from 8 a.m.-noon.

Cody Craddock is ag/natural resources agent with the Rowan County Extension.

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