Preventing disease is often much easier than the treatments and cures. This is true for our own health as well as our garden's health. Just as eating right and getting regular check-ups is vital to preventing health issues with ourselves, providing a healthy environment for your plants is also essential to maintain plant vigor.
In this article, we'll introduce you to gardening best practices that promote a healthy growing environment that can prevent diseases from infecting your plants.
Much of this advice comes down to really knowing your garden: take time to get up close and personal with your plants so you detect problems early and take appropriate action.
Follow Good Sanitation Practices
Good sanitation is important in all parts of your garden, but it is absolutely crucial in your vegetable garden. Good sanitation includes removing plant debris, trimming away dying or unhealthy foliage, and keeping weeds to a minimum.
Always discard diseased foliage in the trash; do not add it to your compost pile. Compost piles typically don't generate enough heat to kill disease pathogens.
Fertilize to Keep Your Plants Healthy
That is, fertilize just enough to keep plants healthy, and no more than that. Over-fertilizing often leads to more problems because it can result in weak, fresh growth that encourages pests and diseases. The right amount of organic fertilizer (or regular applications of compost or composted manure) will help your plants stay healthy. Healthy plants are better able to fend off diseases.
Inspect Plants for Diseases Before You Bring Them Home
This is an easy way to keep diseases out of your garden: make sure you're not introducing a disease on new plants. Before you bring plants home from the garden center or nursery, inspect them carefully to make sure they're healthy. If you see signs of fungal diseases, insects, or yellowing or wilting foliage, take a pass.
Allow the Soil to Warm Before Planting
Some fungal diseases get their hooks into our gardens because we plant when the soil is still too cool. Our plants are stressed, which makes them less able to fight off diseases, and before you know it, you're dealing with unhealthy plants.
An easy way to eliminate this problem is to ensure that you're not planting until the soil has warmed in the spring. Warm weather plants need soil temperatures to be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Seeds for cool-weather crops won't germinate if the soil temperatures are cooler than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a soil thermometer is an inexpensive gadget that can prevent plant problems later on.
Ensure a Healthy Vegetable Garden By Rotating Crops
Crop rotation is probably the number one way to prevent diseases in your vegetable garden. Planting vegetables that are members of the same plant family in the same location year after year increases the chance of fungal diseases and other pests that overwinter in the soil.
It's important to know the members of each vegetable crop family so that you can practice effective crop rotation.
Water in the Morning and Don't Wet Foliage
This is one of those old tried-and-true bits of advice that just makes sense. Many fungal diseases need damp, cool environments to thrive. The best practice for watering any kind of garden or lawn is to apply water as early in the day as possible so that the plants can dry off before nightfall and are hydrated all day.
Plant foliage does not absorb water so do your best not to wet it with overhead watering. Apply water to the base of plants so that it soaks into the soil, which is where plant roots absorb it. This is best achieved by hand watering with a hose, drip irrigation, or soaker hoses. If you use an overhead sprinkler system, run it as early in the morning as you can, before 9 a.m. is recommended.
Spread Mulch to Reduce Weeds and Conserve Moisture
Mulch is useful for maintaining soil moisture and reducing weeds, but mulch can also keep gardens disease-free. Mulch prevents soil that is infested with soil-borne fungi from splashing up onto plant foliage.
If you've had issues with a black spot on your roses, spread a one- to-two inch layer of mulch around your rose bushes in spring and you'll likely have fewer issues with this annoying disease.
Always use an organic mulch material such as shredded leaves, mature compost, straw, or shredded bark because it breaks down over time and adds nutrients to the soil
Provide Good Air Circulation
Fungal diseases like powdery mildew and black spot are more likely to be a problem if your plants don't have adequate air circulation. If plants are growing too close together or up against a wall, they might not receive enough airflow. This stagnant environment is perfect for many fungal diseases to take hold and thrive. Some types of plants are more affected by poor air circulation that others. Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is a prime example.
Depending on the type of plants that are being affected by poor air circulation, several methods can help achieve better air circulation: follow spacing guidelines on plant tags, prune out excess growth, divide large plants into smaller plants, or transplant affected plants to an area where is has more room to grow and better air flow.
Be Observant for Insect Pests
Insect pests, with their chewing, sucking, and burrowing habits can be challenging to treat, But many of them, such as aphids, are a double-threat because they can also transmit diseases between plants.
Don't just plant and walk away. Be observant and stroll around your garden often to look for any signs of insect activity. Eliminate insect pests as soon as you see them or the damage they cause.
Remove Diseased Plant Parts
It's not always easy or possible to cure a disease, but you can slow down its spread. If you notice spotty tomato leaves or foliage with powdery mildew on it, remove the diseased plant parts as soon as you see them to prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the plant. Discard the diseased foliage, do not add it to your compost pile