It is easy to have an idealised view of the perfect garden and, on occasion, there is a window in the growing season where everything looks wonderful. However, for the most part, it is a constant battle between the gardener and nature to achieve a perfect looking garden. There are things we can do to make managing the balance of nature a little less of a struggle and more of an enjoyable pleasure.
To save time in the garden and reduce the risk of problems, it is a good idea to grow plants that are suited to your environment and growing conditions. If you have a heavy soil that holds water and has a tendency to be soggy, avoid plants that prefer a free draining soil, or you could struggle with root rot problems. Having the right plant in the right place can avoid a lot of potential problems and create a garden that is easy to keep healthy.
Plants have their own sense of personal space and in order to be their healthiest, they need to avoid unnecessary competition. One of the biggest mistakes is made in the spring, when the plants are small, and the soil is bare - it seems like there is plenty of space to fill in the garden. Often this isn’t the case. A seedling may look small in spring, but many can grow into magnificently enormous specimens in just a few months. Try to avoid the temptation to squeeze in just one more must-have plant that catches your eye at the garden centre.
By planting too close, you are not only limiting the potential of your plants, but also creating poor airflow around them, making them susceptible to fungal diseases. If they are competing for space, light and nutrients that should be freely available to them, there is the possibility that they will also struggle to thrive. Insect pests can do the most harm to weak plants.
Weeds can also be responsible for causing space-related problems, so it is important to keep them at bay. Also, weeds that enjoy similar conditions to your plants are likely to be hosts to similar pests and diseases that can cause harm to your plants.
As a gardener, even in a well-planned and nicely spaced garden, there is always the potential for problems, so it is important to be vigilant. Problems can arrive overnight and become out of control in a matter of days. It is helpful to investigate the kind of problems that are common in your area, that will likely affect your garden, so you know what to look out for and are prepared for any eventuality.
Sometimes there will be a need to spray to resolve the problem, and it is much easier to deal with a small outbreak than a large one. But ensure the spray you choose to use is specific to the problem and will actually fix it without causing further issues in the garden. Make sure to read and follow the instructions on the packet before using. Take care when spraying to cause the least harm to the beneficial communities in the garden and avoid spraying in the middle of the day when the bees and pollinators are out and about.
Hygiene in the garden is surprisingly very important as diseases can be easily spread from dirty tools or hands. If you are working on a plant that you know has a problem or is susceptible to problems, it is good practice to clean tools with a mild disinfectant or sanitiser before moving on to the next one to avoid the spread. To reduce the risk further, clear away any trimmings or fallen fruit from around infected or vulnerable plants and burn or send off with the rubbish. Don’t add them to the compost as most home compost systems don’t get hot enough to destroy pests or diseases.
It is important to remember that not all problems are disease-related though - the leaves on plants can discolour for a number of reasons. Nutrient deficiencies can result in a number of colour and shading combinations that can be easy enough to work out. A good general purpose fertiliser suited to the plant, alongside well-prepared soil with plenty of organic material is often enough to keep plants healthy, but sometimes they need a little extra help.
Environmental problems can also be the cause of a plant’s ill health. Leaves can go purple and roll up if the conditions are too cold. They also have responses for when it is too hot or too wet or not wet enough. Pests and disease can come in and take advantage as a secondary problem, however if the initial problem is addressed the plants are no longer vulnerable to the pest or disease.
Aside from what the weather throws at the garden - such as a particularly humid summer that allows fungal diseases to thrive - no matter how careful, if you find your garden is constantly under siege from one problem or another, it could be time to look at what you are growing and how you are growing it to see if there is room for improvement. No garden is without its problems, but it needn’t be a constant struggle.