“You will have the same problem, in the same place, in your yard next year unless you change your cultural practices.” A garden center manager said this to a listener on a “call in” garden program about a disease problem in her bluegrass lawn. This admonition really stuck with me!!! This warning also applies to black spot in a rose garden, powdery mildew on a lilac bush, blight on your tomatoes, and other diseases in your vegetable and flower garden. If you are having problems, make sure you are not making the problem worse because of poor cultural practices.

          Too often when we have a problem we reach for the sprayer and some kind of a chemical, or a bag of fungus control or insecticide. Usually this only masks the problem and is not a cure. Or we even think maybe we need to fertilize to eliminate the problem. Before you do anything to correct the problem, make sure you have an accurate diagnosis so you know what you are dealing with, and learn about your plant so you know what the plant likes and doesn’t like. And then think about your “cultural practices” and see if you need to change any of them.

Most of us probably are not sure what that includes. Good cultural practices include:

·        Correct soil problems and avoid soil compaction

·        Water only as needed

·        Timely and correct application of mulch

·        Fertilize only as needed

·        Prune trees and shrubs correctly

·        Mow correctly

·        Correct application of pesticides. Right pesticide, on the right plant, at the right time.

·        Rotate plants where needed

  • Practice good sanitation


For new plantings:

·        Soil preparation

·        Select a favorable planting site

·        Plant and cultivar selection (Right plant in the right  place)

·        Plant correct time of year and at correct depth

·        Plant spacing


As you can see there are a number of things you need to think about. If you had a problem this past year, or in the past years, in your lawn or garden, as the garden center manager said, “You will have the same problem, in the same place next year unless you change your cultural practices”.

There are too many topics to cover in one issue so I will cover these topics over the next few weeks. If you know of other cultural practices that need to be covered, please contact the editor who will pass them on to me.           1. Correct soil problems and avoid soil compaction:

Soil compaction is usually caused by traffic over the area. This can be by big trucks at the time of construction, by kids playing on the lawn, or by walking in the garden or lawn. Compaction happens by the riding mower or your push mower going over the same route every time. Soil compacts faster when the ground is wet. Running a tiller at the same depth every time you till, also can compact the soil at the depth of the tines and create what we call a “hard pan”. When soil is compacted, water has a very hard time going into the soil and usually just runs off. With a hard pan the water just collects above the hard pan and acts like a bowl, and your plants drown. Also plant roots have a very difficult time growing in compacted soil. Root crops such as carrots and beets are very stunted when grown in compacted soil or past the “hard pan”. When I first started gardening at our house we planted carrots for the kids but they did not grow very well and were stunted. My wife grows very nice beets and long, straight carrots now that the soil is loose after years of adding compost.

Soil compaction can be corrected by breaking up the soil and by the incorporation of organic material into the soil. In my vegetable garden I have 11 compost piles. I fill a bin with a bag of leaves picked up with a lawn mower, moisten the leaves, and then add used coffee grounds to cover the top. Then I add another bag of leaves, more water and more coffee grounds. The coffee grounds have nitrogen that heats up the mixture. (If you don’t have access to used coffee grounds from a coffee shop, two or three handfuls of high nitrogen lawn fertilizer works fine.) The mixture hopefully will get up to at least 140 degrees F. I let it cook and then wait until the mixture cools down to 100 degrees F. I then turn the mixture to add air and wait for it to heat up again. In the fall I spread the finished compost on my garden and till it in. Some I use to cover my Rhubarb and some to cover the Asparagus.

Hard clay soil in the lawn can best be corrected by core aerating twice a year. Application of fine, dry compost or a soil amendment such as Structure or Profile before aerating and allowing the aerator to push the compost into the soil really helps.

Copyright 2013