Simple tips can help avoid gardening disasters

By Tom Dominguez

Some lawn and garden mistakes are easily made, but a little bit of information can go a long way. Here’s what not to do in your landscape in the soil, watering and pest categories.

Soil

Don’t till or spade soil when it is overly wet or dry. This destroys the structure of the soil. It takes years to restore the condition and structure of the soil.

Don’t drive, walk or use heavy equipment on wet soil where any type of growing is going to take place.

These activities will compact and destroy the soil structure. It can also create hardpans or soil layers impervious to good water drainage. Protect future gardening sites from men and machinery by putting a 4-6 inch layer of wood chips to help disperse the weight over a larger area and protect the soil.

Don’t use lime or wood ashes on the soil.

Both of these raise the soil pH and our soil is already on the alkaline side.

Don’t use gypsum on a soil unless there is a very high sodium content that is interfering with plant growth and soil drainage. A detailed salinity test can provide a report of the various salts and what their concentrations are in a soil.

Soil tests are available through NMSU Soil & Water Lab. You can pick up forms and soil bags at your local County Extension office or you can go online and download your own forms and use a sealable bag for your soil sample.

Instructions on taking a proper soil sample are included on the form. Once you’ve completed the soil sampling and form, mail it all off to the mailing address on the form. The turn around time is about two weeks.

Soil tests will reveal the amounts of the major nutrients, some secondary nutrients, sulfur and soil conductivity (total salts) as well as soil pH. These tests are helpful because they reveal what nutrients are deficient and which are excessive which is just as important as deficiencies.

Soil tests won’t tell you if there are soil-borne diseases or other pathogens present in the soil. Nor will it tell you if you are watering incorrectly, planting the wrong plant species or planting incorrectly. In other words, many lawn and garden problems stem from incorrect cultural practices and/or pests.

Watering

Drip irrigation: Don’t turn a drip system or soaker hose on and leave them on. Drip is designed to be turned on at a low volume and left on long enough to wet the root zone of plants.

Leaving water dripping constantly will saturate the soil driving the oxygen out of it. Plants roots function best in an environment where there is a balance of 50 percent water and 50 percent air in the pore spaces of the soil.

If the pore space is filled with water, the roots can’t take up water or nutrients and plants tend to wilt. When people see the wilting symptom, their first reaction is to add more water, which makes the situation worse.

Sprinkler irrigation: Don’t water daily with a sprinkler system either. Water every few days when it is hot and dry. Take into consideration; the time of year, temperature, precipitation, wind speed, humidity, soil type, plants being grown, plant’s stage of growth, percent of organic matter in the soil and exposure.

Don’t irrigate or water your outdoor or indoor plants with water that has gone through a water softener. Water softeners work by exchanging the calcium and magnesium salt ions in our water for sodium salt ions.

Sodium is the most harmful salt for plants. Bypass the water softener for watering plants.

Don’t let your irrigation system come on during or too soon after a significant rain. Turn the system off or install a rain sensor to avoid wasting water and damaging plants. Rain sensors are simple to install and will turn the system off. If you manually turn your system off, you have the option of turning the system back on when it is needed.

Don’t forget a running water hose.

Pests

Don’t assume all bugs are bad. Find out what an insect is, what kind of damage it does and how much damage it has done before reaching for a pesticide.

Don’t spray the entire garden if only one plant or species of plant is infested. Mix up just enough spray to treat the infested plants. Spraying the entire space with a pesticide can kill off beneficial insects, which allows bad bugs to flourish unhampered. Don’t let certain pests go without trying to keep them down.

The damage they do is extensive and becomes more and more difficult to get under control when they are allowed to flourish. Some examples of pests to suppress include; nutsedge (nut grass), Bermuda grass, Johnson grass, scale insects and oak wilt fungus. There are others, but these are some of the common tough ones. Even if you can’t get rid of them, don’t let them increase and spread without a fight.

Don’t store pesticides where they are accessible to children, subject to extreme temperatures, in poorly ventilated areas or in containers other than their original container. Read the label. Keep opened containers inside a sealed bag to limit spills and leaks.