The Q&A Archives: What Do I Need To Do To Prepare A Badly Neglected, Pest-ridden Garden?

Question: We recently moved and the new back yard is in bad shape. I'm still sort of a novice when it comes to gardening, but I've never lived where there was so much to do in the garden. There were all sorts of teeny white flying bugs, small thin brown bugs, and spiders that were in last years tomato/squash garden. A few squash weren't harvestable because of spots of white mildew and rot before they matured. I don't know if it's the bugs or the soil or both. What do I need to do to get it in good shape for planting a vegetable garden?

Answer: Probably the three most important things you can do are a good clean up, crop rotation and proper soil preparation. In the fall after frost, in the spring if needed, and during the summer as needed, pick up and remove any plant debris. This helps reduce the possibility of disease or insect carryover from one season to the next and from plant to plant.

Crop rotation means not planting the same vegetable (or a close relative) in the same spot in succession. There are two main groups to worry about. One is made up of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants; these plants are related and should not follow one another in the same spot. Melons, cucumbers and squash are another group that should not follow each other. By moving these around the garden from year to year you can reduce the chance of disease or pests building up. It also helps your soil have time to recover from providing specific nutrients to the different vegetables.

Soil testing is important because it helps you find out what condition your soil is in and what amendments you need to add such as lime, fertilizer, adn so on. Soil preparation would be based on the test results and would also include adding ample amounts of organic matter. This step helps to feed the soil and in turn results in better plant growth.

I hope this gives you some ideas on where to start. Your county extension (772-8953) should be able to help with the soil tests and may have some additional suggestions as to preferred varieties for your area and suggested timetables for planting and routine care.

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