By Cody Craddock
NC cooperative expansion
Growing a garden is an extremely rewarding experience that anyone can do at home and end up with great produce. Personally, I always had a garden as a child. I would grow produce and set up a produce stand at the edge of my yard to sell produce from my yard. However, sometimes gardening is difficult and people get discouraged because no matter how hard they try, their plants always seem to fail. Well, hopefully this article will address some of the most common things gardeners experience in Piedmont.
One pitfall is the way people manage their water in a garden. Some people tend to overwater their plants, while others tend to underwater their plants. It doesn’t matter who you are, but better water management will help your garden. Let’s talk about when and how often to water, how to water plants, and why it’s all important.
First, let’s determine when is the right time to water. In ideal soil, about 50% of the pores are filled with water and the other 50% with air. Think of soil’s “pores” as the space between soil particles that makes it loose. If you dig to a depth of 2 inches or remove the mulch around a plant and the soil is moist but not waterlogged, you have enough water. If you give these plants more water, the air pores will only be filled with water, which is not beneficial for the plant. Next, think about the last time it rained. If it has rained for a long time. You’ll probably need to water. If it has rained recently, your soil is probably still damp and your plants don’t need water anymore. Finally, if you are going to water plants, the best time to water them is early in the morning. This allows the water you apply to soak in before it has evaporated. While it’s best to water in the morning to reduce water loss through evaporation, if your plants are showing obvious signs of wilting by midday, don’t hold back water just to wait until morning.
Another watering practice that people often don’t think about is water placement. If you can avoid wetting a plant’s foliage, it will help fight disease. Remember to water the soil and not the plant. Disease-prone plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squashes do not fare very well once a disease has started on the plant.
Diseases bring up another important point in gardening and that is rotational growing. Regardless of the size of your garden, what is grown in the soil from year to year will help at least a little with the onset of disease. This is because different plants are found in different plant families. Within a plant family there are many diseases that can affect different plants. For example, cucumbers are part of the squash family, which also includes squash, watermelon, and more. Diseases that affect cucumbers can also affect other plants in this family, such as watermelon. Rotating the soil on which cucurbits are grown with other crops such as corn or beans reduces pathogens by disrupting their cycles. Often overlooked in home gardens, crop rotation can produce great results.
Another reason gardeners can struggle is the condition of their soil. Soil sampling can help you get a handle on your garden’s nutrient needs so you can fertilize or lime as needed. The results you get will tell you exactly what to put in your soil to make fertility perfect. Soil that is too high or too low in pH will cause plants to have trouble absorbing nutrients because the soil chemistry makes it difficult to pull out nutrients. Soil testing services allow you to get your soil just right with minimal effort. If you need test boxes, you can pick them up at our office for free.
Finally, I would like to write about the importance of multiple plantings. Short-lived plants like squash can be planted multiple times per season. Squash plants look sick and rough at the end of their useful life. After the squash has been harvested from this plant, it is best to rip it up and replant it rather than keep it in the garden as another squash plant will have time to grow in that location. This is often referred to as intensive planting or successive planting and is common among experienced gardeners. Longer-lived plants like tomatoes can even be planted one at a time provided you start from seed and transplant them into the garden. Succession plantings require a little work on your part, but can keep produce flowing from your garden all season long.
If you try and still fail, don’t be discouraged. There is a chance to try again next year and maybe learn something from this season. However, if you don’t have enough produce from your garden in one season, the second best place to shop is the Salisbury-Rowan Farmer’s Market, open every Saturday from 8am to 12pm.
Cody Craddock is an Agricultural/Natural Resources Agent for Rowan County Extension.