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Most gardeners, myself included, would much rather be outside working in the garden than inside doing housework. Gardening also requires some housekeeping, but plant lovers generally donít mind being outside fussing with their plants.
Garden housekeeping is done for two reasons. Keeping the garden neat and clean is done to maintain the aesthetics of the garden, and also to maintain the health of the plants in the garden.
Keeping the garden free of weeds is a simple step that will improve both the beauty and health of any garden. After all, itís difficult to enjoy your beautiful flowers if they are hidden amongst weeds. Weeds also attract and harbor plant diseases and insect pests, both which will happily spread to your garden plants. Not only that, weeds will also compete with your desirable plants, using more than their fair share of water and nutrients.
The best way to keep weeds out of the garden is to eliminate the weeds even before you plant anything. At http://www.freeplants.com youíll find an excellent article on weed control that explains how to eliminate weeds from your garden. Of course, more weed seeds will constantly be blowing or carried in to the garden, but you can stay on top of the problem by pulling or hoeing the young weeds weekly, before they get a chance to grow large and set deep roots.
While youíre weeding, remove any trash and debris that may have blown into the garden. Watch for over-ripe fruit and vegetables and discard them before they rot and attract insects or rodents. You can also take this time to examine your plants for insect or animal damage. After determining what insect or animal is damaging your plants you can take appropriate steps to prevent further damage.
Try to walk through your garden every day that you can, not only to admire blossoms that have opened that day or to harvest any ripe vegetables, but also to keep an eye on the overall health of your plants. This way you can identify and deal with any problems immediately and not give diseases or pests the chance to become established. Carry a pruning shears with you whenever youíre in the garden and deadhead any faded flowers, especially on your annual flowers. Deadheading simply involves removing flowers that have already bloomed and are no longer attractive. For many annuals, this will encourage more blooms.
It is very helpful to keep a garden notebook for a number of reasons. In your garden notebook you can keep track of the names of all your plants and make a map showing where each one is planted. This is especially useful when you want to share plants with friends so you can tell them the name of the plant theyíre receiving. Itís also helpful if you sell your property. The new owners will be grateful to have that information about the plants on their new property.
In your garden notebook you can also make notes to remind yourself when each plant blooms or is ready for harvest, what vegetable varieties you planted and which of those performed best or werenít worth planting again, and how you dealt with any insects or diseases that attacked your plants. If you found that your garden was too cramped, make a note to create wider paths between the rows or beds when you plant again the following spring.
Itís particularly important to make a map of your vegetable garden each year. It doesnít have to be elaborate, a simple sketch would be sufficient. The purpose of your vegetable garden map is to remind you where each crop was planted the previous year so that you can rotate the current yearís crops. Since many plant diseases and even some insects are harbored in the soil, moving your crops from one area of the garden to another will help reduce disease and insect damage.
Some vegetable crops should never be planted in the same area two years in a row. Tomatoes, corn and potatoes are good examples of crops that should be rotated. Several common tomato diseases will overwinter in the soil and will infect tomatoes again if theyíre planted in the same spot as the previous year. Colorado Potato Beetle larvae overwinter in the soil and will have more difficulty finding a potato meal if the potatoes are on the other end of the garden when the larvae emerge in the spring. Corn is a heavy feeder and depletes soil of nitrogen. Where the corn was planted the previous year, beans or peas should be planted the following season, as these legumes will fix nitrogen in the soil, replacing what the corn depleted.
Finally, garden housekeeping involves cleaning up the garden at the end of the growing season. Any diseased plants should be removed from the garden and discarded. Do not add diseased plant material to your compost pile unless you are sure that your compost pile heats up enough to kill any pathogens. Woody material such as cornstalks and sunflower stems should be removed from the garden and composted. You may want to break these down into smaller pieces as they tend to decompose very slowly.
Vegetable plants that are not diseased or infested with insects can either be removed and composted or tilled into the soil in the fall, where they will break down over winter and add organic matter to the soil.
Blooming annuals can be pulled from the flowerbed after the first killing frost. Perennials should be allowed to go dormant before the dead foliage is trimmed back close to the ground.
Garden housekeeping is an important step towards a healthy and bountiful garden. It does require a little effort, but garden housekeeping is still more fun than vacuuming and dusting in the house.
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