By: Garden Gate staff
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Whether you sow seeds or nestle seedlings into the ground, caring for plants throughout the season ensures good harvests.
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Vegetables need consistent moisture to grow and yield big harvests. Plants that get too wet or too dry can develop problems. For example, over-watered tomatoes may be tasteless. Underwatered vegetables may not produce. Generally, vegetables need 1 in. of water each week. If you stick your finger into the soil and it’s dry past the first knuckle or plants start wilting, they need water. The best way to quench your garden’s thirst (and also the easiest) is to deliver water directly to the root systems by using drip irrigation or a soaker hose like this one. This cuts down on loss of water due to evaporation and it keeps moisture off leaves, which can lead to fungal problems. If you have a small garden or containers, hand watering works well, too. Water the base of the plants, not the leaves.
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One of the best ways to keep soil moisture consistent is to add a 1- to 2-in. layer of mulch in all exposed areas. Open soil loses moisture quicker than covered soil does and mulch simply covers the ground, locking in moisture. Use whatever type of mulch is local, accessible or appeals to you aesthetically: Grass clippings, in the photo, rotted leaves, pine needles and wood chips are all organic options. You can also use nonplant mulch, such as shredded newspaper or black plastic, to keep soil covered. Any kind of mulch also reduces weeding chores because most weeds can’t push through. Fewer weeds means a clean-looking garden and less competition for water and nutrients for your vegetables.
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Some crops need to grow vertically, which also allows you to conserve valuable garden space. Upwardly mobile veggies, such as pole beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and gourds, all need supports. Most tomatoes also require staking. You can use the wire cages like these, existing fences, tepees, or trellises to keep vines lifted from the ground. Staked vegetables experience better air flow and are easier to harvest, too.
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Protecting from pests
You aren’t the only one looking forward to your ripening produce. Nibbling mammals, such as rabbits and deer, can mow down your beloved garden overnight. The cages in photo 4 are great-looking, but even something as simple as a 3-ft.-tall surrounding of small-mesh chicken wire fencing will protect crops from rabbits. There are a host of chemical and motion-activated “deer deterrents,” but 8-foot-tall fencing is ultimately the best solution (albeit an expensive one). Fruit crops, such as raspberries and strawberries, can be protected with netting to discourage birds.
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