Regardless if you are new to gardening or have been doing it for years, you have questions. What type of mulch should I use? When should I plant my vegetables? What is the best time to prune my fruit trees? How can I keep my plants insect free without resorting to chemical pesticides? The list goes on and on. Here are a few tips to help your garden grow.
Q: What type of mulch should I use?
A: The type of mulch you use depends on what purpose you’re looking to achieve. Are you trying to conserve heat and protect your plants from early and late frosts? Rocks, cardboard, and newspaper all hold heat very well. Are you trying to set off the color of your flower beds? Recycled rubber and colored wood chips are available to compliment almost any design. Are you trying to fertilize your plants? Grass clippings can be mulched and will fertilize your plants as they decompose.
Q: When should I start planting flowers and vegetables?
A: This will vary widely depending on what kind of climate you live in? Do you have frequent late frosts or even snows? If so you will want to wait on planting until the evenings are warm and the ground is dry in the morning. Do you have extremely high temperatures in mid-summer and no winter freeze? Then you can plant once in late winter and again in early fall. If you’re ever unsure of your timing, just look what the professional landscapers and nursery owners in your area are doing. If they are already planting it is safe for you to plant too.
Q: What do those labels on the plants in the nursery mean?
A: Most gardening plants and trees will come with a light recommendation on them. The common groupings are full sun; partial sun or partial shade; dappled sun; and full shade. Plants and trees marked full sun require 6 or more hours of sunlight a day, they should receive direct sunlight unless otherwise specified. Partial sun or partial shade markings mean that the plant should receive between 3 and 6 hours of sunlight, but the direct light should fall in the early morning or late afternoon instead of during the hottest hours of the day. If the marking says partial sun, the sun allotment should be closer to the 3 hour minimum and the need for shade during the mid-afternoon hours is greater. If partial shade is the labeling then closer to 6 hours of light are needed. Dappled sun marking means the plant should be located under a deciduous tree to provide sunlight filtered through the tree’s canopy. Full shade does not mean the plant needs no light, rather it means the plant requires less than 3 hours of direct sunlight a day.
Q: When should I prune my fruit trees?
A: Fruit trees should be pruned for growth after the leaves drop, in the fall or winter seasons. The deadwood should be removed whenever it is found. The primary purpose of pruning a fruit tree is to allow sunlight to reach the lower leads of the tree and promote fruit growth there. When pruning it is important to cut branches back to a lateral to allow the tree to heal and prevent disease. It is also important to look for branches that are rubbing on each other, remove one of them to prevent an open wound on the tree and structural weakness in both branches. Avoid pruning excessively in the heat of summer, as you can send the tree into heat stroke and ruin that year’s harvest.
Q: What is a good insecticide that will not harm my plants?
A: For most pests, spraying a plant or tree with a detergent mixed in with water will kill the pests and be harmless to your plants. When spraying for pests however, make sure to wet the undersides of leaves and stems because that is where insects lay their eggs and hide. Many insects can be kept at bay by onions, garlic, or chives as well; their strong odor is a deterrent to insects’ tastes. However caterpillars are particularly tenacious and will not be driven off by soapy water or garlic. To rid your garden of a caterpillar infestation get an insecticide with derris, as this chemical will kill caterpillars, but not harm your plants or your family.