The time that we take out of our busy days to spend in the garden is precious, and we should always strive to make it as productive and enjoyable as possible, especially during the very trying times of summer. This week, I’m sharing my tips for having a successful summer in the garden while reducing stress on your plants, and yourself!
There’s always more to do in the garden, and the important tasks that are left for another time — like controlling pests and pulling weeds — can pile up and begin to feel overwhelming. It’s important that we maintain perspective and keep in mind all of the progress we’ve made, but we also need to remember to prioritize the most important tasks — the tasks I call my non-negotiables for summer success.
This week’s episode is an encore of a podcast first presented last year. For a comprehensive overview of the gardening routines, systems and efficiencies contained in this episode, you can read the show notes from the original presentation.
Before proceeding any further with my non-negotiables for a successful summer in the garden, I want to take a moment to remind you that I have a new book coming out in September, and it’s available for pre-order now. The title is “The Vegetable Gardening Book: Your complete guide to growing an edible organic garden from seed to harvest,” and I’m very excited for you to read it. It’s chock full of insider tips and new-to-you information that will help you step up your gardening game and tackle challenges.
And on tap for 2023 is my new Online Gardening Academy™ premium course, Organic Vegetable Gardening. Sign up for the waitlist here.
Get an Early Start
After a day full of work and other responsibilities, we sometimes lose the energy or the motivation to put time into our gardens. That’s why I like to get out into the garden first thing in the morning to inspect, weed, water and troubleshoot. It’s a great way to start the day and feels more like a privilege than a chore.
It’s motivating to notice the changes happening in your garden from day to day and to envision what’s to come. When you make your garden the first stop of your day — or the second stop, after the coffee maker — you’ll really look forward to it, and your garden will be better for it.
A daily check-in is always a good idea, and you will feel accomplished as you make progress in little chunks and, eventually, reap the rewards.
Keep Important Tools & Supplies Near at All Times
When you can’t complete a task because the tool you need is out of reach, it breaks your momentum in the garden. Having to go find a tool in a shed or a garage can stop you in your tracks, and the task may never get done. That’s why I keep all of my most frequently used tools inside the garden, close at hand. This makes a world of difference in my efficiency and momentum. I always know where my trowels, pruners and weeders are because I store them in an oversized mailbox in my garden along with sunscreen, gloves, a hat and other things I know I’ll need.
Avoid a Walk to Dispose of Trash
It can be time-consuming to throw out the littlest things if your trash can is far from your garden, so I keep a trash can right there in the garden in addition to a separate container for organic materials that I can later add to my compost pile. If you have to leave the garden frequently, you are losing valuable time and you may not always feel like coming back. Having the necessary containers right where you need them will allow you to get more done in less time.
Maintain a To-Do List
To stay on task, it helps to have a list — written down, not in your head. You can keep your list on your phone, on a notepad or on a whiteboard posted somewhere in your garden. You’ll have a great feeling of accomplishment each time your cross a task off, and you won’t allow yourself to be as easily sidelined by the small jobs that always pop up.
Create one column for “today” and a second column for the big, weekend jobs, to break the tasks down into something more manageable.
Prepare the Soil Before Your Plant
Having great soil is another non-negotiable for success that I just can’t emphasize enough. Amending the soil with compost and adding fertilizer should be done before seeds and plants go into the garden. Your plants will be off to a great start, and you will have a much easier time topdressing an empty garden than one than putting down amendments around plants.
You can improve soil at any time, but there is no better time than at the very beginning. To learn all about making great garden soil, you can check out my Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class, a standalone mini-course in the Online Gardening Academy™. It covers all aspects of creating the ideal growing environment.
You will save yourself many headaches later if you account for air circulation and adequate sunlight when choosing a site for plants and spacing them out. Providing the proper amount of space between plants will improve their performance and reduce occurrences of diseases.
Tomato plants, for example, require 24 inches between them, and any less just isn’t enough. Those tiny seedlings will grow until they are overlapping each other and competing for light and resources. Crowded plants without enough airflow between them tend to stay damp, which encourages pathogens to take hold.
In addition to proper spacing, don’t neglect mulching. Organic mulch will retain moisture, suppress weeds and create a barrier between the soil-borne pathogens and the plants. And when the mulch decomposes, it will improve the soil.
Pick a Watering Strategy
Proper watering can be put on autopilot with drip irrigation or soaker hoses on a timer. Otherwise, you can create a routine, like hand-watering every other day or every third day during your morning garden visits.
However you apply water, make sure it’s around the base of the plant, right on top of the soil and mulch. Spraying the plant foliage with water leads to wet leaves and stems that are very inviting for plant pathogens.
A good hose makes watering easier and less frustrating. I like my kink-resistant polyurethane hose, which is worth the extra expense for the convenience — and it will last forever. I also use inexpensive hose guides to protect my plants and prevent the hose from getting caught as I make my way around.
Another simple but effective tool to have in your watering kit is a quick shut-off valve. Installed at the end of your hose, before the watering wand, the valve lets you control the flow and turn off the hose without a trip back to the spigot. Just a simple brass valve works best.
To inspect for pests on plants, check early in the morning, when insects tend to hang out on the underside of leaves. If you notice pests or their eggs, it’s time to come up with a control strategy. You may also notice circular or angular yellow or brown areas on leaves that appear to be disease symptoms but are, in fact, damage from sucking insects. Turn the leaves over and you’ll likely find who’s been causing the damage.
Though these pest checks are important, the morning is also when plants tend to be moist with dew. You want to handle wet plants as little as possible to avoid spreading pathogens from one plant to the next. I save my heavy-duty, hands-on inspections for the evening, when I know everything is dry.
Inspections should also include gauging whether the soil has enough moisture. The easy way to do this is the finger test: Stick your finger in the soil, and if comes out dirty, the soil is wet enough. If your finger comes out clean, the soil is too dry.
Keep Control Methods in Place
If you don’t have control methods for pests and diseases at the ready when you discover a problem, you may never get around to treating it, or you may return after the problem has grown out of control. Keep treatments in your garden toolkit and tackle problems right away.
When you notice diseased foliage, remove it right away with your pruners, making sure to disinfect the blades with alcohol spray between cuts. To slow the spread of disease, have on hand copper fungicide, an organic solution for an array of fungal diseases. And don’t forget a pump sprayer to apply fungicides.
You should have floating row cover and shade cloth among your supplies before the gardening season begins because the best time to install them is before pests arrive. Put up row cover at planting time or learn when pests are expected to arrive in your area and get the row cover up by then.
I know eggplant is a magnet for flea beetles, so I use row cover as soon as I put the plants out. For squash vine borer, I know it’s time to add row cover when I see red and black moths scouting out squash plants.
Weed Before It Gets Out of Control
Eliminating weeds is very gratifying while seeing weeds accumulate and grow larger is very stressful. Weeds compete with your plants for water and nutrients and can also attract pests that transmit bacteria and viruses. I hand-weed daily — which is super easy after a rain because the roots come right out — and once a week I use a diamond weeder that quickly slices through stubborn weeds.
Document Observations & Progress
Keeping a record of your frequent observations allows you to tap into your intellect and experience to up your gardening game. Taking pictures and creating notes will make you a more aware gardener. The day-to-day changes, the high and low temperatures, the big wins, the big losses, and the things you have questions about are all worth writing down for later reference.
I hope you found my non-negotiables for a successful summer in the garden valuable. If you haven’t listened yet, you can hear this episode now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
What are your non-negotiables for summer success in the garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course membership opens in 2023. Sign up for the wait list here.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, PittMoss, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally and TerraThrive. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.