By Eric Barrett
OSU Extension Educator
This summer’s “monsoon” in the Mahoning Valley certainly challenged our ability to have beautiful container plantings, as well as flowers and vegetables in the home garden. Combined with the heat and humidity, it also has allowed diseases to grow exponentially on several plants. So what does the average garden do to keep plants healthy and productive in such a year?
Make some changes to avoid challenges in the future. Here are some tips to get you started:
Amend heavy clay soils. Anything you can do to keep plants from sitting in water for long periods of time will keep them happy. Mix compost and/or sand with heavy clay soils to help improve drainage. Build raised beds to help water move away from root systems. Use proper planting procedures for shrubs and perennials.
Drain container plantings. Drainage is the main problem most gardeners encounter with container gardening. Be sure there are holes in the bottom of containers to allow excess water to drain away from plant roots.
Raise vegetable garden rows. Next year, consider mounding the soil higher where you will plant. Mounding up soil along the entire row will create a kind of “trough” between rows to divert rainwater, so the roots are not sitting in water. Do this now to plant vegetables for late season harvest. Cool season vegetables can still produce if planted now.
Prune to improve air circulation. Remove any diseased leaves from the plant to slow the spread of disease. Many diseases such as early blight are already in the soil. Raindrops splash these causal agents onto leaves, then farther up the plant. Humidity helps the fungus grow. You can prune off the bottom leaves of tomato plants to improve air circulation, breaking the disease cycle.
Review plant spacing. Overcrowding decreases air circulation. Packed-full gardens are sometimes beautiful, but require much more attention when it comes to disease than a garden with good spacing. By splitting plants in the spring and fall we not only increase air circulation, but the number of plants by giving them all a little more room. In the vegetable garden, use trellis structures/staking to get plants off the ground for proper air circulation.