Your garden will likely be so well-watered and developed that more wants to grow in the area than you want: instead of just tomatoes, you might have tomatoes, some cabbage worms, some weeds, a hungry bunny, and a nearby exhaust fan that dries out your soil faster than you want. This is all normal, and a sign that you’re growing such delicious plants that others want to get involved. Caring for a plant and watching it grow is both about maintaining the healthy practices you started when you planted that seed (such as watering it and following seed packet instructions) and making sure it will be the ripest and tastiest plant in a few weeks by instituting some new techniques, from pest control to mulching.
- Gloves and skin protection.
- Spray bottle (for watering and insect egg removal)
- Any soil amendment you want to add, such as compost, mulch, or dried kombucha SCOBY.
- An appreciation for tidiness.
- The best tool at your disposal is your skills of observation, whether that’s feeling damaged stems or seeing dry soil.
Overwatering is the #1 way people kill their plants, so it’s equally important to know when to stop watering as it is to learn when to start. Most watering guidance is pretty intuitive: humid air means you have to water less, same with shaded gardens, or container gardens in large pots that hold a lot of water compared to small pots.
Important parts of watering:
- You can check when most plants should be watered by sticking your finger an inch or two into the soil and seeing if it is dry: if so, you should water your plants.
- Always water the base of your plants, as you’re trying to feed the roots, not the leaves, and any excessively wet leaves could develop molds or pests.
- Water takes time to soak into the soil, so feel free to go slowly and or pour in increments, checking in every few minutes, especially if you’re watering a larger location, like an outdoor garden.
- For a container garden, a good rule of thumb is to water the container with as much water as would fill one third of the container. Checking back hours later is especially important for containers so that you can empty any trays of water that have collected underneath the containers: leaving excess water can lead to soggy, overwatered soil.
- Just like with the other aspects of caring for your plants, your observations and intuition about your plants is more important than any exact rule: you know your garden and your plants! Start checking in every day or so for watering, and adjust accordingly.
Weeds are wonderful indicator plants: their appearance in your garden can signal the underlying conditions of your soil, water, and shade. We have a list of 20 common weeds and what they indicate, but most importantly, all weeds indicate that you now have plants that you didn’t intend to plant. What you do with weeds is up to you: maybe you decide to keep growing those pesky sunflowers because they’re so beautiful, or you uproot them while they’re young so that more soil nutrients and water can be focused on your potatoes.
Likely, you’ll be weeding a lot of plants out of the garden to prevent them from taking root, planting seeds, or overtaking your crops. This regular, repetitive work can be seen as dull, but a lot of gardeners value weeding as a meditative activity that centers them. Weeding slows you down, organizes your garden, and you can stop whenever you want. Here’s how we recommend weeding:
- Weed shortly after rain/watering, while the soil is moist and weeds can be uprooted easier.
- Protect yourself with gloves and long sleeves—there can be ticks, nasty oils, or allergic reactions involved.
- Although there are weeding tools like billhooks, hoes, or weeders, for most gardeners weeding by hand makes the most sense.
- Your goal is to remove all of the plants, not leaving anything in the soil to regrow and become a hassle later. Uprooting all of the plants in one swift motion is best and, if it’s an especially beautiful weed, you can always report it now.
- Be sure you know what plants you want to grow so that you don’t accidentally uproot your crops!
- Start weeding whatever unwanted plants look at the most developed, and check-in frequently to make sure that no plants have a foothold in your garden that you aren’t planning for.
Mulching is the act of packing down dead organic material such as leaves or lawn clippings around plants and soil to improve the area. Mulching helps maintain more consistent soil temperatures, suppresses weed growth, maintains long-term soil health, and reduces how much you have to water your plants. It’s not an essential part of plant care, but it can be incredibly beneficial for these reasons and more.
If you want to mulch your garden, we recommend locally-sourced mulch, especially shredded leaves or lawn clippings. We want to avoid any mulch with grass or weed seeds (like hay or cut grass) as well as wood chips and chemical-laden mixes. You can add mulch everywhere in the garden at any time of the year by patting down 4-6 inches of mulch and then watering the area. Mulch can smother light and growth for new plants, so don’t fully bury young plants or cover up areas where you’ve recently planted seeds.
Every gardener will come in contact with pests and diseases throughout their gardening life. Although they can be a hassle, a scorched-earth method of chemical solutions and sprays. In small-scale growing, there are easier fixes and most pesticides are highly toxic to humans as well as bugs.
Avoiding Pests and Disease
Healthy plants have their own internal pest and disease prevention tools. Plants will most commonly attract diseases or pests when they are stressed by too much or too little water. Check your soil moisture regularly to track the effectiveness of your watering strategy.
During the growth of your garden, keep an eye out for any obvious bite marks or colonies of bugs. Be sure to check the underside of leaves and along plant stems. Identifying the bite marks and the plants that occur on them may be all you need to identify the pest. Other pests will be most obviously identified by their increasing numbers. Eek!
Diseases are often much more challenging to identify but are much less likely to occur. Diseases will typically impact plants in the form of discolored leaves, drooping leaves, or stunted growth. If you think a plant has a disease, first check the soil moisture in your garden and pay close attention for a few days. More often than not, watering issues are misdiagnosed as disease.
If you want to learn more about the most common pests and diseases, we have a short guide for you here.
What should you do if you think you have a pest or disease issue?
In the short term, deal with some of the pests and diseases below individually, as each might require a different technique: weeding unwanted plants away can help starve out pests, while hose water or a spritz bottle might dislodge insect eggs. We do have a non-toxic pesticide for you below. Plants that show signs of being diseases should have those segments trimmed and discarded immediately to avoid spreading it!
In the long term, be sure to rotate your crops between each year: Keep track of where you planted different crops in your garden so that you can rotate your garden plans (Diseases are usually plant specific so you could avoid most growth of plant diseases by simply changing the plants).
Here is a great homemade, non-toxic pesticide: Garlic Chili Spray