2016-09-22 / From The Garden

Breaking Bad Gardening Habits

By Cynthia Gibson

The fungus that causes blight needs living tissue to survive over the winter. The fungus that causes blight needs living tissue to survive over the winter. For the devoted gardener, it’s never too early to think of spring. As you weed, toss hay or collect your tools, take a good look at your flower beds. Are you happy with them? Planning ahead is a good gardening habit. It’s also time to see if there are bad habits that need breaking.

Gardeners tend to repeat themselves in choice, color, vegetable, flower or shrub. It is so easy to have a combination of flowers in a pot that works. However, this can become monotonous, not only to you, but your neighbor. Predictability in choosing plants is not the worst of gardening habits, but is certainly one of them.

Some of the worst things you can do to your gardens, however, are fall-related.

Is your vegetable garden full of weeds? There is something about getting in the last of weekend fun in August and early September that – temporarily, at least – takes fastidious gardeners away from their garden beds.

Do not neglect the dried-out remains of your tomato plants until next spring. If left to fester in the ground over the winter, you will be preparing the soil for the finest case of tomato blight. It first turns the leaves of tomato plants yellow, then brown, and they ultimately fall off. The plants die and you will have no tomato harvest.

Not only will you have to dig up the plants, roots and all, you will also have to pick up the rotted tomatoes and seeds left behind, including the leaves. If tomato waste is left on or in the soil, the fungus will survive the winter and in fact thrive in the organic material of your garden soil. It will blossom with the heat of spring, ready to attack your new plants next May. Adding new soil over dead tomato plants will not help either.

Do not be in a rush to toss the old plants into your compost heap, as the fungus will grow there as well. Old tomato plants should go directly into the trash.

Once your vegetable garden beds are clean, do not walk away – the job is not quite done. Buy a bale of seedless straw and toss it over the top of the beds. The top layer of the soil in your gardens is the most fertile. Straw or salt marsh hay will protect topsoil from winter snows and rains, and prevent it from washing away.

It is also important to take care of your garden equipment. Don’t leave your garden stakes or tomato cages in the ground; pulling them up and storing them for the winter will prolong their use. Tomato cages seem to be getting more exotic and expensive every year, so preserve the ones you’ve got.

I am the first one to admit to leaving the occasional trowel out all winter long, but as I drive around during the winter, I see garden carts, shovels, rakes and other types of garden tools strewn about yards. This is one of the worst of bad gardening habits. The less expensive tools will just rust. It takes so little time to just take them into the garage.

A friend met this problem half way by building a tool box she just leaves in the corner of her garden. She places her tools right in the box when she’s done gardening. It works like a charm!

The old expression, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” applies to the home gardener as well. There is actually more that is “broke” than meets the eye, and now is the time to assess how you make your garden grow.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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