Gardening 101

10 Golden Rules for Gardening

Flowers in the garden

Successful gardening depends on how you plant and how you manage problems in the garden. Here are 10 ways you can get ahead of the issues and have a lovely garden.

1. Focus on preventing problems more than curing them. Proper preparation and appropriate choices favor plant vigor. Vigorous plants avoid most diseases and pests.

Aphid

Aphid / by Jeana Myers

2. If problems occur, identify the pest, weed, or disease, before treating it. Ask Extension Master Gardeners, garden centers or go online to accurately identify your problem. Do not apply fertilizer or chemicals to a sick plant unless you know what ails it.

3. To avoid plant problems, identify stress factors and work on correcting them. The problem could be too much/too little water, sun, and nutrients, poor planting techniques, drainage, excessive/not enough mulch, animal or weed pressure, or some combination of stress. When stressed, plants succumb to insects and diseases.

4. Choose the right plant for the right place. Each plant has its preference for light, shade, soil moisture, and nutrient levels. It may live outside its comfort range, but not thrive. Move the plant if necessary.

5. Start with a soil test, taken after you have applied organic amendments. Many organic matter amendments (compost, conditioners) have high nutrient levels and you may over-apply fertilizers or lime if you sample before adding the organic matter amendments. Low or high pH or fertility can stunt growth, burn roots, and stress plants.

6. Choose drought tolerant plants when possible as we often have short-term droughts here in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Plant moisture loving plants together, so you can apply water as needed without having to water everywhere. Few plants tolerate poorly drained soils, so note these areas carefully and either create raised beds or choose plants that like wet roots. Practice best irrigation techniques.

7. Mulch to reduce weeds and maintain soil moisture, but don’t apply it thicker than 2 to 4 inches. Roots must breathe to stay healthy, so small root systems need less mulch. Mulch volcanoes are not good for trees, as they can hold water and smother roots.

8. Plant a diverse palette of plants to bring color through the seasons, and to nurture a variety of insects. The good insects will take care of many of your bad insect problems if the environment is hospitable.

Diseased plant

Diseased plant / by Jeana Myers

9. If insect or disease control is needed, start with the least toxic option. Experiment with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap for insect control, and with some of the organic options for disease management. Remember, plant diseases are not easily cured.

10. Don’t fight a recurring problem – change something. If moss is growing in your lawn, you have a wet or shady area. Grow moss or ferns, fix the drainage problem, or cut down the tree if you want grass.

For more research-based information on how to address your garden questions, call the Extension Master Gardeners in your county. To find your county’s Master Gardener program, visit www.ncstategardening.org.

Featured photo by Jeana Myers.

Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email [email protected]