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Growing Healthy Garden Plants

Go Directly to:
  SOIL HEALTH & PLANT HEALTH
  ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
  MINERAL DEFICIENCIES
  WHAT TO PLANT
  HOW MUCH TO PLANT
  WHEN TO PLANT
  COMPANION PLANTING
  INTERCROPPING
  PLANT PESTS
  PLANT DISEASES
  GARDEN HYGIENE
  BENEFICIAL INSECTS

The legendary Green Thumb is not the magical ability to easily grow healthy, vigorous garden plants, even though it seems that way. It is really the practical application of gardening knowledge, often an accumulated result of years of experience, of experimentation and observation, and of failure and success. These pages and this website can help you build your knowledge, and if you provide the practical application, you too can acquire the reputation of having the legendary green thumb.

SOIL HEALTH & PLANT HEALTH
As a child you might have pressed a bean into paper cup of potting soil, added water and waited, with hope that it would grow into a big green bean plant. As it broke through the soil's crust and unfurled its pale leaves, you were enchanted. As it grew and became a recognizable plant you were in wonder. How could something spring forth into life from so little; just a small nugget, some dirt, and water?

Even as an adult it seems pretty amazing to do so much with so little. Garden plants are built and grow from four basic resources; the vigor of the seed itself, the water present in its environment, the air, and the health of the soil. Of all those things that make a plant thrive, the soil is the most important. Build healthy soil and grow healthy garden plants.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Garden plants live their lives exposed to the elements, so it should follow that the environmental factors play a key role in their development. Chief among those elements, are air and water. Air, especially air temperature and humidity, shape the growth cycles of garden plants. Gaseous plant nutrients such as nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen are borne by the air, both in the atmosphere and in the soil.

Air temperatures, particularly seasonally extremes, play a role in the activity of plant metabolisms. In the winter, when the air is too cold, plants go into dormancy and survive in a state of suspended animation. In the heat of summer, many plants will shut down many of their normal functions and maintain a resource-conserving stasis until the weather cools.

Water, too, plays a critical role in plant growth and development. Soil-borne nutrients are taken up by garden plants in solution through their porous roots. Also, within plants, cellular functions are dependent on water being available for transport of fuel and waste removal. This is especially important for the vegetable gardening, since seasonal rains are not usually adequate for the metabolic functioning of typical garden plants.

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MINERAL DEFICIENCIES
Healthy fertile garden soil is a balanced living system that sustains garden plants and essential soil micro-organisms. The mineral components of your soil are a result to weathering of the parent rock that is available in your area. To be at its best garden soil should have a mix of fourteen basic elements. If the soil is naturally deficient in one or several elements, or if a particular mineral becomes depleted, plant growth will suffer or become impossible. Mineral deficiencies will manifest themselves in how plants grow. Each deficiency shows itself in identifiable ways. For example, a plant lacking sufficient Nitrogen will lack vigor, will grow slowly, and will exhibit a characteristic yellow color in its leaves.

WHAT TO PLANT
Knowing what you'd like to plant is one thing. Knowing what to grow is quite another. You may be sure that you want to grow tomatoes, because you love to eat them. So far so good! What you don't quite know yet is what kind of tomatoes to grow in your vegetable garden, whether they are right for your locale, and whether they will fit in your garden. It's a matter of refining your general desire into specific decisions. The more specific you can be, the greater your chance for successfully growing your desired garden plants.

HOW MUCH TO PLANT
Once you know what to plant, you'll need to know how much to plant. It's often a more difficult decision that it seems. There are many indirect factors that will need to be addressed to help you decide. Some of the questions you should ask yourself are:

Once you have an idea how much of a harvest you are planning for, then you can determine how many plants to grow, and how much seed to buy.

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WHEN TO PLANT
This is a question that has no one answer. It is entirely determined by the particular location of your vegetable garden and the seasonal climate of your region. Even within your locale there will be variation on this because of the exact micro-climate of your garden. In addition, the conditions and type of your garden soil have an impact on when to grow. Arm yourself with knowledge about your regional climate, your soil, and the vagaries of your local weather.

In a Seattle garden, you might expect as much as five crops of lettuce and one crop of tomatoes, because of the cool climate. In a Houston garden, you might have to plan for only one crop of lettuce, and two crops of tomatoes because of the hot weather.

COMPANION PLANTING
Some garden plants grow well together and seem to reinforce each other's health. Some plants, on the other, hand compete with their neighbors and inhibit their growth. Companion planting is the practice of growing compatible plants together to optimize the growth and productivity. The plants that thrive to together are called companions.

Some plants are simply bad neighbors. In the wild, many have evolved methods to out-compete adjacent plants for limited light and soil nutrients. Many familiar garden plants, exude a chemical substance into the ground around them that actively suppress the germination and emergence of competing plants. The chemical is called a allelopaths and plants that employ them are called allelopathic.

The observation of plant companions and allelopathy has been observed for six centuries, but little scientific study has taken up the subject. As a result, much of what we know about companion planting is anecdotal. Still, the effect is real and knowing how to apply it in your vegetable garden is extremely useful.

INTERCROPPING
Intercropping is a specialize form of companion planting the works to optimize the yield of the each of the selected garden plants, and to maximize the space and resources needed or each crop. Traditional intercropping has been used for centuries, and can be a viable option for intensively planted gardens or for city gardens where space is at a premium. The most widely-known intercropping is the trio of corn, squash and beans. Corn provides the vertical structure of the group as well as producing a crop. Pole beans climb up the corn and bear a crop of their own as well as fixing nitrogen into the soil. Squash are planted in between the beans and corn. They cover the ground area, producing a crop of their own, while shading the soil and choking out weeds.

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PLANT PESTS
Prevention is the first and foremost defense against pests that harm plants. Healthy soil, good air, and ample water will produce healthy plants. The more vigorous the plant the more able it is to resist predation. Typical plant pests will attack a plant that is stressed before they will effect a healthy plant. However, even healthy plants are attacked if the infestation becomes too great. When this happens you know that something in your vegetable garden, or in your locale has gotten severely out of balance. Fortunately, when this occurs there are pest organic controls that can help restore the vigor of your garden plants, thwart the pest attack, or eliminate them completely.

The first step in dealing with plant pests is to correctly determine what is damaging your plants and whether the damage constitutes a danger to your crops. Next, by noting the specific damage to your plants and using our Diagnostic Questionnaire, you can determine which pests are likley to be causing problems in your garden. Then, once you have a good idea of the pest, we can help you decide on the appropriate organic pest control. Read More

PLANT DISEASES
Disease pathogens that infect your vegetable garden are those persistent micro-organisms that infect the human body, namely bacterial and fungal plant diseases. While the overwhelming majority of bacteria and fungus are harmless or beneficial, that small fraction of pathogens can create a real headache for organic gardeners. As with plant pests, prevention is the best methodology for minimizing disease.

When plant diseases occur, it reflects a imbalance in the system of garden plants, or more often the accidental introduction of a harmful agent. Bacterial agents are usually bought in on infected plant materials, or in soils and amendments. Fungal plant diseases are often air-borne, or present in infected plant materials, or on pots and tools.

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GARDEN HYGIENE
While organic gardening practices incorporate the recycling of plant waste and animal manures into the garden, the process is not a thoughtless one. It is a matter of deliberately managing decomposition by means of beneficial fungal and bacteriological agents. It is not simply leaving things to rot. Garden hygiene, much like personal hygiene, is a systematic method of keeping your garden healthy so it doesn't harbor pathogens or create the conditions that will spawn pests and disease. Read More

BENEFICIAL INSECTS
There are far more insects that help the vegetable garden than those that do harm. Ninety-eight percent of all insects are either benign or helpful. It is only the remaining two percent that damage garden plants. This is good news. Because of the hundreds of thousands of indentified insect species, there is a limited number that you should know about. However, the list can still be daunting.

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