Updated: Jan 16
Gardeners should watch their plants for signs of stress from too much or too little water, disease and pests. Pest control starts with creating and maintaining a healthy garden. This includes preparing a healthy bed of composted soil that is not compacted. Grow Your Soil has loads of tips on maintaining a robust base for a productive garden.
Carefully choose what, how, when, and where you plant in order to avoid insect attack. Florida is rated as a short season zone (and climate zone 9a and b), meaning it’s best to select plants that can be harvested in 8 weeks. This will reduce the opportunity for disease and insect infestation. See the VISTA Garden Insect Pest Guide for more detailed information about controlling specific pests. Also, the book Plant Partners suggests specific plant combinations that improve soil health and weed control, decrease pest damage and increase biodiversity.
Immediately remove any diseased area of your plant, place it in a bag and take it home to throw away. It’s important to keep any diseased plant material out of our compost pile.
Pull weeds. The never-ending battle with weeds will be less painful if you’ve spaced your plants closer together, because the dense canopy helps reduce weed growth. Also, a layer of coco coir or clean leaves (no grass clippings) spread over your soil will help keep the weeds at bay and better retain moisture. The mulch at VISTA is great for our pathways at the garden, but it may contain herbicides, so it isn't suitable for the garden beds.
Also important is harvesting your produce before the bugs get to it. Don’t let your produce rot and remove plants that are at the end of the life cycle when they are most susceptible to bugs and disease. (Bugs and disease will hang out in the area waiting for the next season or next year’s crop.)
If you’re unsure about when to harvest, the VISTA Vegetable Information Sheets will help you know how long it takes for your veggies to mature and even suggest when to replant for an ongoing harvest (carrots, onions, etc.).
After harvesting all of the vegetables from a plant, cut the plant at the soil level, allowing the roots to compost and add nutrients to your soil. You can add the cut plant to the compost pile and it will become part of the black gold that helps us grow future gardens. (Please note: if your cut plant is diseased or has pests, you should pull it up, put it in a bag and throw it in the garbage.)
Next, plant more of the same vegetable variety for an ongoing harvest, or plant something new in its place. To know which replacement plants are suitable for your planting month, you can use one of the handy UF/IFAS monthly planting guides. Remember, planting the right plant at the right time goes a long way to keeping your garden healthy and productive.