Tend Your Organic Garden

Ever wonder why some people can grow fabulous gardens and others can’t? The answer is simple: they spend more time with their plants and tend to their gardens more. Experienced gardeners know that frequent inspection allows them to see the first signs of trouble, whether it’s wilt, broken limbs, a digging dog or caterpillars. These can be remedied immediately before damage occurs, and without the need for chemicals.

It pays to tend your organic garden for best yields. Great gardeners do it each day. Sometimes it’s with a cup of morning coffee, a glass of wine after work or when the kids are down for their naps. In short, the more time you spend out there the better you’ll tend to the silent needs of the garden. Here are some basics that can make this your best garden ever.

Pick Early and Often

The giant zucchini is a bad idea.  At that size they’re pithy and filled with large seed.  Letting even one zucchini mature on the plant sends a message to the growing tips that next year’s seed has formed.  No new flowers are needed, and that means fruit production slows or stops altogether.

If you pick early while summer squash are small and tender, seeds never form and the plant is never signaled to slow down.  This concept applies to the fruits of other flowering vegetable plants too, particularly snow and snap peas with edible pods. They ripen quickly, then become fibrous, the pod no longer edible.  So don’t be shy about it – the more you pick, the more you get.

Water Deeply

Learning how to water properly takes longer than you may think.  The goal isn’t to wet the ground, but to get water as deep into the soil as you can. Repeated shallow watering leads plants to root in the top inches of soil where they’re vulnerable to heat and drought.  If you water slowly and deeply, moisture percolates down at the rate dictated by your soil type.  Heavy soils with a lot of clay take the longest, sandy soils far less time.  If you’re in a hurry, chances are your soil won’t be properly watered, particularly during hot or windy weather.

Tie and Train

Tomatoes allowed to sit on the ground are vulnerable to rot, diseases, slugs and other fruit eating pests.  That’s why we stake tomatoes to a trellis or a tower.  When developing fruit of any kind weighs the branches down, they can fold over ties or wire.  This cuts off circulation.  Keep training the new growth back into the plant because proper support is the best prevention.  Use green plant tape which stretches as the plant grows.  Don’t hesitate to prune off any unusual or particularly wayward branches to force growth into well behaved ones.


Inspection is more than just a glance at the plant.  It’s more like studying your skin for the first signs of melanoma, because you go over every inch to catch this subtle change of color. Spending time in the garden makes you equally familiar with the look of each and every plant.  Their physical character is a silent language that offers clues when something is amiss.  For example:  You may not see a well camouflaged green hornworm, but you will notice a missing growing tip or the dark pelleted feces that collects on leaves.  Don’t forget that many pests congregate on the backs of leaves and go unnoticed unless you make a point of looking there.

Tending your garden through the summer is the best way to increase yields.  It also ensures a plentiful supply of young, tender organic vegetables on the dinner table.  While everyone else is showing around their giant zucchini, you’ll know better.  After their plants are done at midsummer, yours will keep going strong well into the fall.


About Maureen Gilmer

Maureen Gilmer is celebrating her 40th year in California horticulture and photojournalism as the most widely published professional in the state. She is the author of 21 books on gardening, design and the environment, is a widely published photographer, and syndicated with Tribune Content Agency. She is the weekly horticultural columnist for the Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs and contributes to Desert Magazine, specializing on arid zone plants and practices for a changing climate. She works and lives in the remote high desert for firsthand observations of native species. Her latest book is The Colorful Dry Garden published by Sasquatch Books. When not writing or photographing she is out exploring the desert on her Arabian horse. She lives in Morongo Valley with her husband Jim and two rescue pit bulls. When not writing or photographing she is usually out riding her quarter horse.

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