Lauterbach: Before you plant your garden, take time to plan it out

Special to The Idaho StatesmanMarch 7, 2014 

Do you plan or plant a garden? Many of us have a tentative plan, but plant whatever is available at the moment, next to the wrong plants, suffering some harvest disasters at the end of the growing season.

To plan a garden, you should take into account eventual height of plants, growth habits, water and fertilizer needs, and plant history of the garden. The history may require attention to plant rotation because of soil disease or prior insect attacks on other species in that family.

One family, for instance, is the Solanaceae family, consisting of tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, petunias, peppers, and many other important plants. One destructive insect often found on several of these species is the tomato hornworm. Colorado potato beetle, though, is only found on potatoes.

Another important consideration is companion planting. Books may claim enmity or amity between two different plants that differ from your experience planting them together. Pay attention to your experience.

For instance, USDA experiments indicate hot pepper plants inhibit growth of Asian greens, so they should not be sited next to one another. Planting beans near potatoes may repel Colorado potato beetles.

You also need to locate plants with similar water needs in the same bed, or at least on the same water circuit. This may be difficult in some cases, since you should cut off water supply to potatoes after they begin to die back, but unless they’re on a dedicated water source, you may have to continue the water for other plants on that system.

By the time the vegetable garden is in full swing, the sun is pretty much overhead, so sun angle is not an issue. But some plants grow taller than you expected, shading other plants too much for them to thrive. Seeds advertised as “bush beans,” for example, may turn out to have a semi-runner habit instead of bush, and they’ll shade out most of a four foot wide bed.

TAKE CAUTION

Nitpicking or not? It may seem like nitpicking, but there are good reasons behind these cautions.

One is to keep your potting soil covered, especially if you start seeds indoors. Flying insects may lay eggs in potting soil and eggs hatch into larvae that will eat the roots of your tiny seedlings, killing them.

Also, you may want to put out mousetraps around your new seedlings. They eat new leaves off, the stalk won’t produce more.

Another caution is about dispersing a pile of compost or soil. Many people start by inserting a shovel at the top of the pile. By the time they get to the bottom, it has been spread by footprints, wind, and other means so that you end up with a “soil surface” an inch or two higher than surrounding ground, perhaps more than a cubic yard essentially wasted for the purpose you originally bought or built that pile.

Instead, lay the scoop of the shovel on the ground and shove it into the bottom of the pile each time you draw from that pile. Gravity fills the shovel, letting you maintain the same level of soil you had before the introduction of the pile, without waste.

STINK BUGS EMERGE

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I did some spring cleanup in some of my raised beds February 26, when I saw (and smashed) three adult stink bugs.

I’ve had some in my garden for years, but since I quit growing raspberries, there have been fewer. Even so, three moving about in winter is horrible. I’m sure there are adult squash bugs, but they have not yet come into view.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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