Certain Practices Separate Good Gardeners From Average Ones

Thomas J. Koske  |  3/15/2006 4:31:46 AM

News You Can Use For March 2006

One of the things that separate good gardeners from those who are not such good gardeners is experience, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske.

For a more productive vegetable garden, the horticulturist offers a number of tips.

– Stake plants at planting. Drive stakes at planting time. Many plants will grow to be very large. Staking will support the plant upright, protecting it from bruising, soil rot and some garden pests. It will also allow you to use your garden space more efficiently by making plants grow up rather than along the ground.

Driving stakes early also causes less damage to roots than when the plant stake is driven through a large mature and extensive root system. Plants that benefit most from staking include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, squash and peas.

– Use newspapers for mulch. Spreading newspapers on top of the garden discourages weed development and conserves soil moisture. At the end of the season, you may even be able to plow the newspaper under and work it into a natural soil composting.

If you use an organic mulch, apply it after the soil has warmed; otherwise, the mulch will hinder the ground from warming up.

– Sprinkle seeds evenly. An even distribution of seeds is a more economical use of seeds. Occasionally you may want to plant several seeds together so that several germinating sprouts can help to penetrate a crusty poor soil. To control seed distribution, cut off the entire end of a seed packet and fold a crease down the middle of one side. Hold the creased side down and tap the side of the packet to allow the seeds to separate and move one by one down the crease. With very small seeds that are to be spread broadcast, mix the seed with dry sand and then distribute the mixture by the handful.

– Keep records. Some varieties will do well for you and some will not, according to your area's and garden's particular growing conditions. If you are the type of gardener who likes to try a little of everything, it's doubly difficult to remember exactly how each thing did without written records.

– Store seeds in closed containers. Pest-proof containers will keep out insects and humidity. Both can reduce a seed’s longevity. The best conditions for saving seed are low humidity in particular and cool or cold temperatures. Refrigeration is better than freezing.

– Plant seeds a little heavier than needed. Seeds are often the least expensive part of gardening, so skimping on seeds may be false economy if you get a thin and unrewarding stand of plants. A good stand will use the garden space efficiently. Be sure to ruthlessly thin out the seedlings to the recommended spacing. Failure to thin is often a serious production problem among gardeners.

– Build up high rows. This is especially good advice in rainy Louisiana. You can irrigate easier than removing water from a drowned soil. A little bit of dryness is not nearly as bad for a plant as too much moisture.

– Keep plants well harvested. Crops that are harvested in the nearly mature stage will continue to bear vigorously, provided that they do not have fruit becoming overmature on the plant. Well-matured seeds in a fruit are a tremendous drain on the nutrient supply of a plant. They also trigger a slowdown in total plant productivity.

– Spray pesticides on a calm morning or afternoon. Calm days let you put your protectant where you want it without drift hazard. When using pesticides, particularly insecticides, spray in the afternoon to minimize injury to bees. Bees are very sensitive to many chemicals and are necessary for the pollen transfer of many crops.

– Don't go into the garden when it's wet. Under wet conditions, bacterial diseases can be spread quicker, and plants will be most brittle and subject to damage.

– Pinch off unwanted seed heads and flowers. For crops with a product that is not seed related, and for those that will not have time enough to develop fruit before hot weather or frost get them, pinching off flower parts will direct plant foods into other plant parts.

– Pick fresh vegetables in morning. Just after the dew has dried, fresh vegetables will be most crisp and turgid, since the heat of midday has not yet drained them. They will harvest easier, taste better and store longer. This is especially true for corn and melons where field heat is a problem.

– Turn cabbages a quarter turn. A slight twisting of the cabbage will tear some of the roots and slow down growth and water uptake. Turning, however, will hold the cabbage in the field longer and retard head cracking.

More gardening information is available at your local LSU AgCenter office. In addition, look for lawn & gardening and Get It Growing links in the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com/

On the Internet: www.louisianalawnandgarden.org 

Source: Tom Koske (225) 578-2222, or tkoske@agcenter.lsu.edu

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