Keeping your garden looking it’s best will require some maintenance, and the benefits far outweigh the work. The result is a beautiful, healthy, organic garden that you will be proud to show off to family, friends and neighbours. Here are some simple steps to follow to keep your garden happy for years to come.
1. Create Healthy Soil
Without healthy soil, your plants will struggle to grow. Healthy soil is rich in minerals, nutrients, and microbes; and the soil structure should be fluffy and moist. Healthy soil is incredibly valuable and should be protected, so make sure you mulch your soil and keep foot traffic to an absolute minimum.
Even if you start your garden with weed-free soil, weed seeds will always appear, they blow in with the wind or are dropped by birds. Avoid the use of herbicides to get rid of weeds, these products pollute the soil and destroy important healthy microbes in the soil. The best defense against weeds is a good offense, top-up your mulch every year or two to suppress weeds and be sure to make time to pull the weeds while they are still small. My personal rule of thumb that motivates me to pull weeds before they go to seed is:
“One year of seed = 3 years of weed”
So, get out and pull weeds while they are young.
2. Maintain Plant Health
Dead-head flowers weekly: Most flowering plants need deadheading this will encourage the plant to continue flowering. To do this simply snip the spent flower heads off with scissors or your thumbnail. Compost the spent flowers, this ensures you are cycling the nutrients back into the system and into the plants.
Feed your plants monthly: For best results give your plants a shot of liquid fish emulsion or liquid kelp monthly. Just mix the recommended ratios in a watering can as per the package directions and apply to the plants. This is best done in the evening, especially if the weather report is calling for rain overnight.
Add compost seasonally: The best way to care for your plants is with nutrient-rich, organic compost. Side-dress plants each spring, summer, and fall. Gently pull back the mulch from the base of each plant and add a handful or two of compost around each plant, ensuring not to smother the stalk of the plant, then replace the mulch.
3. Use Good Pruning Practices
Berries such as Haskaps and Blueberries need basic pruning to maintain their shape and fruit production. Prune healthy branches to maintain good shape and in the early spring. Dead branches can be removed any time of the year without risk of damaging the plant.
Non-Fruiting and ornamental trees like flowering plum need to be pruned to maintain a nice shape. Remove broken or dead branches, clear out branches that are tangled, crossed or are growing back towards the trunk of the tree. This should be done once a year in early spring after the risk of hard frost has passed.
Fruit trees need to be pruned to ensure a bountiful crop. Pruning should be done in late winter while the trees are dormant. There are many pruning guides available online but a few good rules of thumb are:
Maintain good pruning hygiene: Always use clean, sharp, sterile pruners when working, this helps prevent the spread of damaging diseases between your plants; I use a sterile wipe or a rag with a few drops of bleach to clean my pruners before moving to another tree.
Keep an open canopy: Remove any branches that are growing back towards the trunk of the tree or tangling with each other. The goal is to allow light and air to circulate through the canopy, this helps the fruit ripen evenly and helps prevent airborne diseases.
Evaluate your work: Periodically take a step back and evaluate your work for form and shape. Work a little bit at a time, step back and view the tree from multiple angles to ensure a balanced shape.
Just take a little off the top: It is easy to get carried away with pruning, it’s better to prune too little than too much. Over pruning can damage a tree and cause stress and invite disease. Never take more than 1/3 of the over all tree size off at once.
Espalier and Multi-Graft fruit trees require additional maintenance. Pruning espaliers is much like pruning a bonsai tree, it takes patience but with time it can become less of a chore and more of an artistic outlet. Multi-Graft trees are beautiful but require a careful eye, different fruit cultivars grow at varying rates. When pruning, work to maintain a uniformed shape and growth pattern; some branches will require harder pruning than others. Be sure to sterilize your clippers when moving from one cultivar to another.
4. Use Organic Pest Control
Maintaining an organic garden is about supporting an eco-system, but organic pest control is sometimes necessary. A great all-purpose insect spray can be made from these basic household items.
Earth Friendly Insect Spray
- 4 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Medium Hot Pepper
- 1 L Water
- 1 Tsp Eco-Friendly Dish Soap
Finely chop or blend the garlic and hot peppers add water and let stand overnight. Strain and pour into a spray bottle and add dish soap.
Apply to affected plants, for up to a week; it is best to apply in the early morning or late evening to avoid sunburning the plants, left over spray will not keep for long so make it in small batches.
Watering might seem obvious, but it’s often underdone. Learn to read your plants, they will show signs of stress due to lack of water. Curled leaves, drooping plants, poor production and stunted growth are all signs of a plant that is suffering from lack of water. Test your soil moisture with your finger and water often, usually early in the morning or late at night, your plants will have the best moisture uptake at these times.
Rainwater is the best option for your plants, it is rich in nitrogen and trace minerals that your plants need to grow. Whenever possible, harvest your rainwater and share it with your garden.
Ok, so remember:
1- Focus on healthy soil for a healthy garden
2- Keep your plants maintained through the seasons
3- Use good pruning practices
4- Use organic methods of pest control
5- Water your plants regularly to help them thrive
All of this being said, the best way care for your garden is to interact with it, cut flowers for a vase in your house, cook with fresh herbs and graze on the berries you grew yourself. But most importantly enjoy!