Walkabouts catch garden problems early
Benjamin Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and that certainly applies to gardening. Plant problems don’t just happen overnight. Spotting a problem early can make the difference between an easy cure and a dead plant.
“Walkabout” your garden regularly to assess each plant’s health. Here’s what to look for:
- Pest damage. Odd colored leaves and insect damage (among other things) could be indication of a pest. If you can’t identify the problem (a magnifying glass can help) cut off a small sample to take to the plant clinic.
- Pests aren’t the only reason plants get sick. Sometimes the plant isn’t in a place that it likes, because sun or shade or soil moisture conditions aren’t right. Perhaps the soil is lacking in nutrients or has the wrong pH (a soil test can determine this.) Too much fertilizer or pesticide may have been applied, causing injury. Or the plant may have been inadvertently damaged by a mower, tricycle or 9-iron.
- Areas that require pruning or weeding. Small jobs can be done while you’re walking around; taking a garbage bag along makes it easier to get the clippings back to the compost pile.
- Other tasks that need to be done, like adding mulch to a bed or reseeding bare spots in the lawn.
My walkabout kit is a carpenter’s apron containing gloves, hand pruners, paper and pencil, garbage bag, penknife and magnifying glass. When my garden was new I included a tape measure to get the dimensions of each garden area; this is essential for calculating the correct amount of fertilizer, lime, sulfur, etc., for each application.
Every couple of months take along a small digital camera to get pictures of each area of the garden. Print them out on plain paper and transfer your notes directly to the pictures. Use this visual record of what is working (and what could be better) when planning landscape improvements.
When you discover a pest don’t automatically reach for the sprayer. Identify the pest first, so you can choose a remedy that interrupts its life cycle. Try cultural methods before using chemicals. Monitor the situation frequently to insure that the cure is working and that other problems aren’t being created.
Soil sample boxes and forms are available at the Extension Center on Raccoon Road. Soil testing is free in North Carolina (except during the peak period of December through March.) Remember to read the label completely and follow those instructions for any pesticide (whether organic or not) used in the garden or around the home.
My garden tours last about 90 minutes.That’s a lot shorter than the 18-month walkabout taken by Crocodile Dundee. When he returned, his garden and spouse were gone. They both probably felt a tad neglected.
Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information, call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575. © 2013 NC State University.