- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
It feels like spring is here! It might not stay, as we sometimes have a few false starts here in So Cal, but the birds are singing, the trees are sending out blooms and summer veggies are getting seeded and about ready to be transplanted. Things always seem so much easier in the garden in the spring. The weather is mostly on our side, with a few hot or cold days, but usually nothing really extreme. We have the hope of periodic rain to help our plants along so we are not alone in watering, getting a little help from nature. While many pests that have slowed down in the cooler months are just emerging and starting planning their takeovers in our garden, optimism is high! We have grand plans for successful vegetable and herb gardens.
Here are a few tips to help turn your grand plans into successful gardens:
1) Keep it reasonable (or don't, just be prepared): In the spring, with weather on our side and soooo many seeds coming in one packet, it's easy to get a garden going that might be bigger than you want to maintain in the summer. Big expansive gardens can be great! Just make sure that for each crop you plant, you think about the water, shade, space, and protection the plants will need in the summer, and what to do with any extra produce!
2) Keep your garden close to a water source: Be sure your garden is set up so you have easy access to water. While it might not need very much supplemental water now, inconsistent watering can cause fruit and veggie bitterness and fruit split. Make sure you plan ahead to supply water through an irrigation system or with a hose or, for smaller gardens, a watering can, keeping in mind that your plants can need about three times the water in the heat of summer than in early spring.
3) Check early and often for pests and diseases: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest management approach that combines several “best practices” with the use of pesticides as a last resort. These practices include: Proper identification of your pest (and the damage they can cause); early monitoring and detection before populations or disease are widespread; and treatment that is based on your pest or diseases life cycle and behavior to get a treatment that is effective and also reduces harm to non-target animals and plants. When IPM techniques are used, many problems in your landscape and garden can be avoided before harmful chemicals are needed. In practical terms: check for things like aphids, earwigs and blight often so that you can catch the infestation early and only need to treat or manage a small outbreak; make sure when you see a bug that it was the bug that actually did the damage to your plant, or find out if it's a pest that doesn't cause much harm and can be left alone. (It may actually be a beneficial insect since there are more of those in our gardens than actual insect pests.) If you see a weed, pull it out before it becomes a huge pest in your garden. Keeping your plants weed free keeps them from competing with other plants for nutrients and water, and keeping weeds out early helps keep them from taking over your yard!
4) A great resource for all things IPM is: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html
Another great resource is the UC IPM diagnostic tool where you can go to trouble shoot your pest problems: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu Don't forget that our Master Gardener helpline is also here to help you trouble shoot all of your pest problems too!
5) Use “best practices” when caring for your plants: Part of a successful integrated pest management strategy is to keep your plants healthy and well cared for. Just like when we exercise, eat right and get enough water and rest to avoid getting sick, we can do the same for our plants. Start by adding generous amounts of organic matter (compost is great!) into your garden soil, mixing it at least 6 inches deep for non-root crops and a foot or deeper for potatoes, carrots, and other root crops. Overwatering is one of the main causes of mature plant failure and underwatering is one of the major causes of newly established plant failures (including recently planted vegetable seeds and transplants). Both overwatering and underwatering put extra stress on plants and makes them vulnerable to pests. Also, apply the right amount of fertilizer. Both too little and too much impact the health and production of vegetables. Applying mulch on top of the soil around your vegetables is another best practice that can buffer soil temperatures and keep spring weeds from germinating in your garden.
6) Keep an open mind and learn from your struggles! Gardening can be so rewarding when you sit down to eat your first summer tomato (if it even makes it into the house) or can be so frustrating when you go to pick your first tomato and you find it's hollowed out on the back side!! Arggggg! It's important to remember that gardening is a journey not a destination and all of the best gardeners will tell you they learned more from their failures than their successes. When things aren't going right in your garden, don't be shy to reach out to your local Master Gardener helpline and let us help you (firstname.lastname@example.org)! The sooner you reach out to us to have us help troubleshoot your challenges, the more likely it is that the problem can be resolved without total loss of your plant or crop…..and don't be shy, the only silly question is the one you don't ask, and the Master Gardeners loooove a gardening mystery or challenge!
Right plant, right place, right time: That is what we learn early when we go through our Master Gardener training program to become volunteers. The right plant (meaning it's well suited for your climate and the microclimate that you are planting it in at your house) put in the right place (given the right amount of sun or shade as needed, placed in a soil that it is suited for, placed in a place where it can grow to the height it needs, etc.) and planted at the right time (e.g. warm vs. cool season veggies) will be a plant that is healthy and productive!
With these tips, and regular “check in's” with your garden, you are well on your way to taking your spring dreams into summer success.
If you need more help with your vegetable garden, check out our ABC's of School and Community Garden Workshop on March 13th where we will go over our new veggie guide: From Asparagus to Zucchini for all the San Bernardino County climates! Register here for this free Zoom class: http://ucanr.edu/u.cfm?id=265
Remember that the Master Gardeners are here to support you along the way with free online gardening classes, our monthly “Ask a Master Gardener” time, and our helpline!