For many of us gardeners, observing our garden’s performance is one of the true joys of gardening. Watching as a seedling grows into a mature plant is to enjoy one of nature’s miracles. Careful observation can also help to prevent little problems from becoming big ones.
Here are some garden problems that you can treat early through careful observation:
Virtually all gardeners need to contend with insects. When you notice insect infestation or damage to your flowers, fruits, or lawn, there are both short term and long term solutions. The short term solutions include hand-picking certain insects (like Japanese Beetles) and responsibly spraying to deter other damaging insects. By using certain natural or biological sprays, you can deter nasty insects without having a detrimental effect on your part of the ecology.
Longer term solutions or preventative actions include the use of companion plants that will attract beneficial insects to help keep your garden more in balance. See Companion Planting for a discussion of companion planting, and check out this article Attracting Beneficial Insects for more information on beneficial insects.
Gardeners who live in the country almost always have to contend with deer, rabbits, and groundhogs who appreciate having a lot of free meals at their expense. Even those of us who garden in small towns and cities sometimes need to contend with rabbits, squirrels, and birds that seem to think that our gardens are their buffets. One of our small town gardeners this year encountered his first problem with rabbits, who invited themselves to his cabbage and broccoli garden early this spring. Because he noticed the problem early, he was able to prevent further damage by installing an inexpensive fence of plastic netting that kept the rabbits at bay. The plants that had been nibbled recovered, and the other plants were protected from any damage.
If fencing is not possible or practical, you may want to try a safe deterrent. One of our favorites is Deer Scram a natural, granular product that a couple of our owners have recommended. It creates a barrier around your vegetable or ornamental plantings that deters deer and other animals.
Two classic types of physical damage that you can prevent or treat early are breaking limbs or overlapping limbs of trees and shrubs. When limbs become so long that they can’t support their own weight (as is the case with some fruit trees) or they can’t withstand a heavy snowfall, careful pruning can prevent limbs from breaking on their own. By carefully pruning longer limbs, you can prevent a natural break that might cause damage to other parts of the tree or shrub, not to mention damaging your house or bringing down power lines! Overlapping limbs that rub against each other will scar or peel the protective bark, which in turn invites disease or insect infestation. Treating these kinds of problems early can prevent little problems from becoming big, and expensive, problems later.
Prevent fruit tree limbs from breaking by selectively removing some of the fruit from each limb before the weight becomes too much for the limb to bear. By removing some of the little fruits early in the season, you’ll prevent broken branches and you’ll be rewarded with larger, healthier apples and pears, even though you’ll have fewer of them.
Sometimes physical damage is caused by weather, as many of us in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions experienced last fall when we got a heavy wet snowfall on Halloween weekend. When snow, wind, or some other outside influence causes branches to break, the best solution to prevent further damage is to prune the broken branches so that you create a “clean cut” that will heal faster. Removing any dead wood from the tree or shrub will not only look better, but will also result in a faster recovery.
Rain Too Much or Too Little
If an area of your lawn or garden often tends to suffer from too much rain, there are two good long-term solutions. You can change the contour of your landscape to prevent water from collecting and pooling in low areas. Or, you can create a rain garden that will handle excessive rainfall much better than turf will. See How to Build a Rain Garden for more information on rain gardens.
Too little rain is a more serious and frequent problem for most gardeners. Farmers are very attentive to rainfall, as their livelihood depends on it. Gardeners can be more attentive, and learn to prevent little problems associated with low rainfall before they become bigger problems. One way to be more attentive to rainfall is to install a simple rain gauge and to pay attention to your actual rainfall. You really can’t rely on weather or news reports to know how much rain your lawn or garden has received. Summer storms in our area can result in dramatically different amounts or rainfall between areas less than a mile apart. Knowing how much rain your lawn and garden have received over the last week can go a long way to helping you prevent big problems.
Most cool season lawns require about 1″ of water per week. If you know that you’ve gotten significantly less, you may need to supplement your lawn’s needs by watering. Of course, you need to be aware of any watering restrictions in your area; and, you need to decide whether watering your lawn is an appropriate use of resources. You may also choose to let the grass grow just a little higher, and try to reduce the foot traffic on stressed parts of your lawn.
When your garden receives less rainfall than it needs, it’s even more important to add mulch to help prevent water loss through evaporation. And, if you must add water, it’s much better to water early in the morning or later in the evening, when less water will be lost to almost immediate evaporation.
An Ounce of Prevention
Perhaps it seems like a clich, but careful observation of what’s going on in your lawn and garden really can help you apply an ounce of prevention.