Modern Farmer Discussion started by Modern Farmer 4 months ago
Maintenance.  Just reading that word makes some peoples’ eyes roll back. Designing a garden sounds fun, active and enjoyable. But “maintaining” a garden sounds like something they force prisoners to do on a chain gang.
Not true!  Because once you realize that maintenance makes the difference between having a lush, beautiful container garden and a scraggly, withered one that’s over-r un by pests, you’ll learn to love maintaining your garden.

You’ll start to look forward to the five or ten minutes you spend daily checking your garden for problems. You might even start talking to your plants (which is fine, as long as you don’t hear them talk back).
So let’s go over the basics of watering, weeding, pest control and other maintenance issues…
 
Watering
If you’ve looked around at any gardening-supplies stores, you may have noticed that you can go high-tech with just about any aspect of your garden, including watering.  That’s because there are water meters (AKA moisture sensors) that you can use to let you know when it’s time to water your plants.
But you know what? Nothing beats the old-fashioned way of looking at the plant and feeling the soil or soilless mix.  What you do NOT want to see are wilted plants. If the plants are starting to wilt, then they’re literally dying for a drink of water.  You’ve waited too long to water them.
Instead, put your finger into the container and feel the soil or soilless mix.  The very top of it may feel dry.  However, if you brush aside the top layer and feel that it’s also dry below the surface, then it’s time to water.
You’ll need to monitor your plants carefully and regularly (on a daily basis), because container gardens tend to dry out more quickly than a regular garden.  This happens because your soilless mix doesn’t tend to hold the water as well as the regular soil in your garden.

How often you water your plants depends on several factors, including:
What type of plant it is.  Some plants just need more water than others.  For example, you’ll need to water tropical plants more often while watering a plant like a cactus much less often.  Check the instructions that came with your plant to get an idea of how much water it needs.
The growth stage of the plant.  Seedlings, big plants and those that are fruiting or in the process of developing big foliage often need more water than mature, smaller plants.
The conditions the plant is exposed to.  If your plants are sitting outside in hot and windy conditions, then they’ll need more moisture than those plants that aren’t exposed to such harsh, drying conditions.
TIP: If your plants are outdoors, try pushing them closer together to slow moisture loss. This works because the plants will help shade one another. Just be sure you don’t put tall plants in front of smaller plants in such a way that the small plants don’t get enough sun.
 
The growing media. As mentioned, a soilless mix has a tendency to dry out quickly as compared to regular soil.  You can slow down the drying somewhat if your soil includes a wetting agent or gel. These are typically crystal-like pieces in the soil that turn into gel when they get wet, thus trapping and holding some of the moisture.
Here are three points to keep in mind when you water your plants:

1.      Be careful about “top” watering. If your climate is somewhat cool and humid, then your plants are likely to stay moist for some time after you water them.  That’s why you want to be sure to put the water directly into the container, rather than letting the water spray over the plant’s leaves.  That’s because water that sits on your plant’s leaves can lead to problems like mildew.
2.      Water thoroughly. This means you can water the plant until you see the water draining out the bottom.  Not only does this help ensure that you’ve given the plant enough water, but it also “washes” the growing media.  Things like fertilizer can leave accumulated salts which may interfere with plant health, so it’s good to wash away the extra from time to time.
Which brings us to the next point…
3.      Apply fertilizer as needed.  As mentioned before, you can use a weakened liquid fertilizer as often as every time you water your plants or every other time you water them.
If you have your containers sitting in plates or saucers, be sure to pour the extra water out of these plates. That’s because your plants will likely get too much water if they’re immersed in standing water.
On the flip side, if your growing media has become too dry – to the point where it’s pulling away from the

edge of the container – then you can help wet it again by immersing the bottom of the container in water.  Once you see the top of the soilless mix show signs of moisture, then you can remove it from the water.
Now let’s turn our attention towards another important maintenance task…
Weeding
One of the big advantages of having a container garden is that you’ll have very few problems with weeds. In fact, you probably won’t have ANY weed problems with your indoor plants, unless you’re re-using containers, re-using a growing medium that previously carried weeds or a similar situation where you accidentally introduce weeds.
Outside it’s a slightly different story, simply because birds, pests or the wind can carry weed seed into your containers.  Still, you’ll never have to worry about your garden getting overrun with weeds, simply because the problem literally will be contained to the individual containers.
Nonetheless, you should check all your containers regularly for signs of weeds.  This is particularly important when your seedlings are just getting started. You don’t want your young plants fighting against weeds for nutrients and moisture.  If you do find a weed, take it out by the roots. If you neglect to get the roots, it’s just going to come back up.
While you’re weeding your garden, you might also tidy it up by grooming your plants.  That’s our next maintenance topic…

Grooming Your Plants
In order to keep your container garden looking its best, you need to groom your plants. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: you need to trim them, toss out the dead parts and even occasionally wash your plants.
Truth is, plenty of gardeners neglect this task. Some of them neglect grooming simply because they think it’s not important. Still other gardeners neglect grooming because they’re scared to do it. They’re afraid of killing the plant.  If that sounds like you, relax. If you follow my instructions below, your plants will not only survive, they’ll actually thrive.
 
Basic Grooming & Maintenance
Most plants have a tendency to turn towards the sun.  So if you have containers sitting under windows, slowly but surely the plants in those containers are going to start leaning towards the window.  That’s why I suggest you give your containers a quarter turn every time you water them. This will keep them growing evenly and beautifully.
TIP: If you have large plants that are leaning because of their weight, then you should consider staking these plants. You can purchase stakes that blend in unnoticed into your container, yet it will leave your plant looking much more healthy and stable.
The next thing you want to pay attention to is whether you have any dead leaves or flowers sitting in the containers. If so, toss them out.  This dead vegetation can promote plant diseases, including carrying fungus and mold. Plus, it’s just not all that attractive to have dead leaves scattered about your plants.

It’s also not attractive to have dead vegetation still hanging to an otherwise healthy plant.  This includes dead leaves, but it especially includes dead flower heads.  You can cut these dead heads off (which is referred to as deadheading).  Not only does it make the plant look better, but it also helps conserve the plant’s energy. And that means your plant will remain healthy.
Another pruning task is referred to as “pinching” your plants. This is where you pinch off new growth between your fingers.  You can also use pruning shears if you prefer.  You’ll want to pinch those plants that have a tendency to get lanky and tall.  Pinching tends to make your plants more “bushy,” since you’ll usually get two new branches for every one that you pinch off.
Still another grooming task you’ll need to attend to is thinning out your plants.  You’ll recall earlier in this guide where I talked about planting more seeds than necessary so that you have more plants than you need. As your plants start to come up, you can pick the strongest, healthiest starts and pull up the rest.  This process virtually guarantees that you’ll end up with healthy, beautiful plants.
Finally, the last grooming task on your list is to check your plants for dust and dirt two or three times per year.  Yes, this grime is unattractive. But it’s also dangerous.  If it’s thick enough, it could be filtering the sunlight and affecting the health of your plant. But even a little dust or a cobweb can trap fungus, moisture or bacteria, all of which can lead to health problems for your plants.
All you have to do take a soft cloth and gently cleanse the leaves and stems with water. You can use a soapy mixture if you like, such as adding a bit of dish washing soap, but generally it’s not necessary. You’ll also see special “leaf polishers” at gardening supplies stores, but generally you should avoid these since some plants can’t handle the harsh chemicals.

TIP: For “hairy” leaves (like those on African violets) you might use a soft toothbrush to gently clean the plant.  Emphasis on the word gentle – don’t go scrubbing your plants like they’re made of granite.
Whenever you’re grooming your plants or otherwise attending to them, you should also keep your eye out for signs of trouble such as pests or disease. Which brings us to our next topic…
 
Getting Rid of Pests
If you have an indoor container garden, it’s pretty easy to keep pests under control.  If you’re diligent, you can get rid of the pests before one or two bugs turns into an infestation. This means, of course, that you’ll need to regularly check your plants for problems – preferably every day.  If not daily, then inspect them carefully every time you water them.
However, with outdoor gardens you’ll need to keep an even closer eye on your plants, just because pests can easily crawl or fly into your containers and start feasting.  Sometimes you’ll see the bugs themselves or even their eggs sitting on your plants.
In other cases, you may see signs that they’re invading your plants, such as chewed leaves, holes in your leaves, poor growth, leaves that are yellowing or turning brown, and other signs of poor health.
The types of pests you’ll deal with depends on what you’re growing and where you live.

If nothing else, talk to your neighbors whom are also gardeners. All of these experienced sources can tell you what types of pests you’re likely to encounter in your neighborhood. Then you can go online in order to get photos of these pests so that you know exactly what they look like.