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Michael Wheeler: 12 tips to follow before playing in the dirt
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Can you feel it? It’s springtime in North Georgia.

For many, the thought of the summer vegetable garden is exciting, and the wait for warmer temperatures is unending.

But before you start playing in the dirt, keep a few things in mind. These practices will not only make you a better gardener, but may possibly allow you to use fewer chemicals to control pests.

Test the soil’s health

The first step to a wonderful garden is creating healthy soil.

Insects are attracted to unhealthy plants. The better the condition of the soil, the better off your plants will be.

Perform a soil test and follow the recommendations. It is never too late to have one done, and it probably will save you money in fertilizer costs.

Watch the additives

Adding extra fertilizer will not create healthy soil, because excess nitrogen or phosphorus can promote insect and disease injuries. Instead, add organic matter each year to build it up and improve soil health.

Pest-tolerant veggies

Choose different varieties of plants that have a degree of pest tolerance or resistance

Always look for letters on tomato and other packets. Some of these letters are: V-Verticillium wilt, F-Fusarium wilt race 1, FF-Fusarium wilt race 1 and 2, N-Root knot nematodes, T-Tobacco Mosaic Virus, A-Alternaria, L-Septoria leaf spot
and St-Stemphyllium.

Select healthy plants

Along with a plant having pest tolerance or resistance, choose healthy transplants and buy certified virus-free seed. Go over each plant at the nursery and look for insects, disease or egg cases. The last thing you want to do is bring home a problem.

Pluck out unwanteds

Remove weeds and grass from the site because they compete for nutrients and water. They also harbor insects and diseases and act as breeding grounds.

Add protection

Once your garden is clear of weeds, use mulch to keep them at bay. This will not only reduce how much herbicide is needed later, but will allow plants to take every advantage of rain and irrigation.

Allow for sunlight

Eight to 10 hours of direct sun a day are needed for proper growth. Sunlight also helps to dry foliage and reduce many fungal and bacterial diseases.

Ensure air circulation

Overcrowding plants can cause weak growth and an increase in foliar diseases. Stakes, cages, trellises and pruning all help to increase air circulation.

Plant at proper time

Seeds planted too early are more susceptible to rot. Delay planting until the soil has warmed to allow rapid germination and growth of the young plants.

Examine garden weekly

Check the underside of leaves in addition to giving each plant a general look.

Realistic expectations

Accept the fact that there may be some damage and even an occasional crop failure.

Promote growth

Keep your plants growing vigorously. Rapidly growing vegetables can better tolerate or outgrow insect and disease damage. And they also quickly use up available nutrients

Applying fertilizer and water at critical times during maximum plant growth is essential for producing pest, and disease, resistant plants.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears weekly and on


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