Plant Care and Maintenance – Garden Collection
Here are some general guidelines for establishing and caring for your Tried & True plants. Careful soil preparation and regular watering and fertilizing will help you grow healthy, vigorous plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases.
Good soil is essential to successful gardening. But if your garden soil isn’t ideal – don’t despair. This will help you decide what is needed to be done: what must be amended to your soil to improve it; and whether it needs lime or additional fertilizers. But, what if you don’t know the quality or the nutrient status of the soil? A basic soil testing kit can be purchased from your local garden center. Carry out a few simple tests to discover if your soil is acid, neutral or alkaline and if there are any deficiencies in major nutrients. Try to test different parts of your garden for the best results.
Soil acidity is measured on a pH scale: a pH between 1.0 and 6.9 is acid; pH 7.1 to 14.0 is alkaline and pH 7.0 is neutral. Plants tolerate a wide range of pH values, but most prefer a pH between 6.2 and 7.2 (nearly neutral). To reduce the acidity, add lime or ground limestone to the soil at planting time. Lowering the pH of an alkaline soil is not practical, but knowing the soil is alkaline may indicate an application of fertilizer containing micronutrients is needed.
The key to having good garden soil is to provide it with a constant source of nourishment in the form of organic matter. Here are some suggestions for organic matter for your compost:
- Shredded leaves
- Grass clippings
- Dead garden plants
- Remains of vegetable plants after harvest
- Pulled weeds (not gone to seed)
- Cardboard (tear up or shred first, then add in small quantities)
- Vegetable trimmings
- Coffee grounds and other uncooked plant-based waste
- Chopped straw or hay
What not to compost:
- Big pieces of yard debris
- Perennial weeds with their roots
- Annual weeds that have flowered or set seed
- Plant debris that has been treated with weed killer or pesticides
- Cooked food, bread, meat or food with oil based dressings
- Cat litter or pet waste
- Diseased or pest-ridden materials (If these organisms are not destroyed, they could spread throughout your garden.)
The soil’s living organisms break these materials down into humus or sometimes known as “black gold”. The benefits of humus are:
- Keeps garden soil moist during hot weather
- Keeps soil loose so plant roots can grow
- Gives off slow, mild doses of nutrients
- Attracts microorganisms and worms, which feed on it and leave behind castings rich in nitrogen
- Helps plant resist disease and insects through increased vigour
Plants make their own food using energy from sunlight and mineral nutrients. The nutrients hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and carbon (C) come from the air and water and are important in photosynthesis, the process where plants convert sunlight into their food in the form of starches and sugars.
All plants need fertilizers to grow well. They fall into two general categories: organic and inorganic. Organic fertilizers are those formed naturally, including such things as compost, mulch and manure. Inorganic fertilizers are manufactured, often referred to as chemical fertilizers. Primary nutrients of organic and inorganic fertilizers are:
- Nitrogen (N): helps with rapid growth; improves foliage growth
- Phosphorus (P): promotes healthy root growth and flower and fruit production
- Potassium (K): guards the plant against diseases and aids in drought protection and cold tolerance; aids in flower colour and size
Use a general or balanced fertilizer, containing all the necessary nutrients to ensure plants maintain healthy growth. The limited supply of nutrients in potting soils is usually exhausted about six weeks after planting, and regular liquid fertilizing every one to two weeks then becomes very important in container-grown plants. A slow release fertilizer is an excellent alternative to liquid feeding.
Consistently moist soil promotes the fastest growth. Plants must be watered after transplanting. Because of restricted root space, containers should be checked regularly, daily in hot weather. Plants grown in open ground survive longer before wilting, especially if mulched or grown in soil with plenty of compost. Remember to water carefully because water splashes may carry disease spores from one plant to another. Overhead watering, particularly in cool conditions where moisture stays on the leaves, is much more likely to promote disease than applying water directly to the soil. Soaker hoses offer an easy and efficient alternative to deliver water to plants.
General Watering Guidelines
The standard watering recommendation is 1” or 2.5cm of applied water per week. Be sure the water penetrates at least 4” or 10cm into the soil. Plants given a deep watering once a week develop a deeper root system. However, sometimes more or less watering is needed depending upon the weather conditions, composition of the soil, etc.
Crops need less water than the “average” when:
- The soil surface has a good amount of organic mulch.
- The soil has been amended with compost.
- The weather is cool and humid.
Crops need more water than the “average” when:
- The soil is sandy.
- The crops are grown in raised beds.
- The crops are grown in containers. Depending upon the container and soil, they may have to be watered once or even twice a day, especially in hot dry weather. Note, the smaller the container, the more often the plants need watering.
- It is windy.
- The weather is warm and dry.
For more concise watering guidelines, see the individual Tried & True varieties.
Pests and diseases are present in all gardens. By creating a well-tended healthy garden and maintaining the fertility of the soil, you will be less susceptible to problems. Strong, healthy plants may be no less likely to be attacked by pests, but they are able to manage the attack better. A garden with neglected or overcrowded plants in poorly drained, infertile, or dry soils is more likely to develop pests and diseases. Keeping your vegetable garden free of weeds, leaf litter and plant debris will remove breeding grounds for pests, particularly slugs and snails. Removing a weak or diseased plant will often prevent further spread of infection.
Inspect your plants regularly for early symptoms (yellow and wilting leaves, few small holes in the foliage, etc.) and take action promptly to limit the damage. Sometimes, all you need to do is pick off a leaf or pinch out a growing tip. An early aphid influx can be knocked off plants with a good strong spray of water. Remember, not all insects are signs of destruction; ladybugs are our allies as they feed on unwanted pests like aphids.
If you have a problem with pests and diseases, go to your local garden center where they can assist you in diagnosing the problem and help with recommending a solution.