Friday, June 19, 2009

Dr. Doug Welsh's Top 10 Gardening Mistakes

Local garden celebrity (not to mention author, radio host, professor of Horticulture, and Master Gardener Coordinator) Dr. Doug Welsh spoke at the Bryan Library last night on a topic I just could not afford to miss: Top 10 Gardening Mistakes.

Needless to say, the room was packed and lucky for me, I had planned to arrive super early and just lounge in the library until it was time for the lecture to begin. Welsh is a charismatic speaker and with almost three decades of gardening experience, eager to help the rest of us newbies out. The talk was primarily geared towards lawn landscaping, but a few of us veggie growers asked some great questions too. Thank you, Dr. Welsh!

And now, without further ado, Dr. Doug Welsh's Top 10 Gardening Mistakes...
  1. Overwatering - Forget what the programmable watering systems tell you. Watering 20 minutes, 3 times a week is NOT what's best for your lawn. Water when your lawn needs it and when it needs it, water all at one time (giving it approximately 1" of water per week). For veggie gardens, his recommendation is... using a drip irrigation system. If you don't have one, get one! And use it every other day for 3 hours.
  2. Over-fertilizing - Our ground here does not need phosphorus. It's nitrogen that makes things happen (although phosphorous' one substantial use is making those beautiful 1015 onions so wonderfully big). If you're going to fertilize, fertilize with nitrogen.
  3. Misusing pesticides - More is NOT better. Neem oil is a great organic pesticide for soft-bodied insects. Use spinosad for hard-bodied insects.
  4. Improperly identifying a plant problem - ask nurseries, master gardeners, or locals can even get plants tested by the diagnostic team at TAMU. Often times it's not disease that is affecting a plant, but stress/trauma from wind, temperatures, or water fluctuations.
  5. Using plants that are unproductive and/or poorly adapted to your area - Keep in mind what you can grow in your area. Some things grow well here, others don't. Don't rely exclusively on what seed manufacturers say. A seed company in Illinois saying that a particular plant is heat resistant may not have taken into consideration Texas heat. Ask around. Of course, the old adage is (since land here really sucks), "if you can grow it here at TAMU, you can grow it ANYWHERE!"
  6. Planting the right plant in the wrong place - keep in mind the ultimate size of your plant when placing them in the yard or garden.
  7. Failing to prepare the soil before planting - Again, the soil here in Central Texas is awful, containing less than 1% organic matter. Supplement! For veggie gardening, always add organic matter anytime you replant or rotate a crop.
  8. Failing to use mulch - Mulched beds use 25% less water and gives you better weed control. You can even mulch your veggie gardens! And the Bryan compost facility offers it for free in bulk. Just ask for chipper material.
  9. Planting at the wrong time - Follow area guidelines, but use a little common sense too. The freeze here this past spring surprised everyone (including the pecan trees, which are rumored to never be wrong).
  10. Failing to think long-term - Think about what you envision for your garden in the long run, the environmental impacts, upkeep, etc.
Not on the list, but covered in follow-up questions, I also found out that if a fruit tree tries to produce within the first 3 years, you should knock the fruit off to prevent it from growing. This will give a greater yield later on.

I hope this helped you out as much as it helped me. If nothing else, it'll make us think about how to make our gardens better and more efficient. For you locals, you can find more information about local gardening, as well as upcoming garden classes, at the Brazos Master Gardener website.

Have a great weekend!


Farmer's Daughter said...

I find the water thing is always an issue with my students in the greenhouse, especially with experiments. They always want to measure an exact amount and timeline to water, but in reality I make them "water as needed" because if I don't, their plants will often die and the experiment is ruined!

Theresa said...

Very useful tips, even for my northern climate -thanks! I would so love to get a drip irrigation system. Wow, you have pecan trees - that is so cool. :)

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

These are very useful tips. We used to go out and water our plants on a "schedule" and then notice that a lot of them were droopy, dark, or had yellow spots on them. When we started to just use the "stick your finger in the soil to test the moisture" method, the plants really benefited from it.

One little bit of feeding advice I have found to be really helpful in container gardening is to set up a feeding schedule for those plants, add a bit of fertilizer (I recommend worm poo) every 2-3 weeks. Container garden plants need to be fed more often as the nutrients wash out upon watering more quickly.

I think I have a bit to learn about planting the right thing in the wrong place. I didn't plant my squash on hills this year, so I'm not sure they will do as well as they could have.

Heather @ SGF said...

Farmer's Daughter - I have trouble with watering too. Last winter, I don't think I was watering enough. Now maybe too much. Ahh. I don't know...

Theresa - Yeah, we're going to put drip irrigation in eventually. No pecan trees on our property, but this area of Texas has lots of them. Local pecans are so yummy!

Jennifer - The fun part about growing things is that you learn something new all the time. Something that worked last year may not work this year. It's this wonderful puzzle that we have to grow and adapt with. Very cool! I hope your squash end up making it. Mine haven't started producing yet, but they went in late in the season.

story girl said...

Hey Heather, this is off topic, but tell all your local readers to vote for the Brazos Valley Farmers Market at care2:

Heather @ SGF said...

story girl - Cool! I just voted. I'll send it out to the farmers' market customer email group this week. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

installing irrigation systems said...

thank you for the great tips you gave us. this is definitely things we must pay attention whan we work at the garden