Secrets to a Healthier Garden
Start Out Right
Start with healthy plants, ideally grown from seed by you or a trusted local grower. When plant shopping, look around the greenhouse to determine the quality of plants. Check for signs of insect infestation and disease, such as spotted or irregularly colored leaves. Improperly grown plants can spread plant and soil diseases.
This just might be one of the best-kept garden secrets. Water new plants with a diluted seaweed solution to ensure good contact with soil and to encourage roots to grow. Available at garden centers, liquid seaweed fertilizer is organic and environmentally-friendly. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to make your own! Always check first to see if it's legal to collect natural plant matter in your area.
One of our best vegetable garden tips involves what you do before you plant. Harden off plants by leaving them outside, sheltered from hot sun or wind, for increasing periods of time for about a week before planting. Plant early in the day or on a cloudy day, and give plants adequate space. Taking these steps ensures that your plants will adjust smoothly to their new home.
Tilling before planting may be necessary in some cases, especially if you have hard clay soil. Do not till or dig excessively because you will destroy soil structure and kill microorganisms. Dig or till when first preparing beds, then just add compost on top and let the critters work it for you.
Mix It Up
Marigolds, alliums, rosemary, mint, radishes, and many other plants are supposed to repel certain insects, but they attract others, too—namely, pollinators. Pollinators are beneficial insects (and birds!) that promote plant reproduction via the spread of pollen. We recommend planting 3-5 types of pollinator plants together to encourage visits from bees, butterflies, and more. There's so much serendipity in the garden, it's hard to prove which plant does what. But have fun experimenting!
Protect Your Plants
If flea beetles, cabbage moths, or other insects are a problem in your area, protect transplants with floating row covers immediately after planting. (If you wait, the insects will lay eggs and you will be incubating them under the covers.) Remove covers when plants flower so pollinators can do their job.
Weed 'Em Out
Pull weeds, which can hog nutrients and water from your plants, and keep beds clear of dead or diseased matter. Heed this tried-and-true healthy garden tip: Be sure to dig out the entire root, or the weed will just come back. Dispose of all weed foilage after, as even leftover leaves can sprout again.
Water regularly—maybe with a drip irrigation system—but don't over-water. The age of your plants matters; young, small plants don't need as much. Water more in hot weather and less in cooler seasons. Stressed plants are more likely to be attacked by insects and less able than sturdy ones to withstand damage.
Pick eggs of predators, including potato beetles and cabbage worms, from the undersides of leaves, but familiarize yourself with the shape and color of eggs. Lady beetle eggs—ladybugs to most people—look much like potato beetles, for example, but leave them alone to hatch and they'll eat the beetles eating your plants!
Compost is easy (and free!) to make yourself. Work plenty of composted leaves and vegetable matter into the soil to improve its tilth and fertility. Good soil is alive with worms, beetles, springtails, fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and many other organisms that will help your plants grow.