By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia
Focus your attention on water management first. Most gardens need at least 1 inch of water per week. If it doesn't rain, apply a half-inch of water twice a week.
Some vegetables may need a little more water, depending on the soil type and temperature. If you can, use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to avoid wetting the foliage. Wet foliage can lead to diseases.
Overhead irrigation is okay if it's all you have. As with all watering, though, run irrigation at night or in the early morning hours so as to allow the plants time to dry during the day.
Using a watering can or hose can be effective ways to water small gardens. They make it easy to target the moisture directly to the plant, and no water is wasted between the rows.
Weed and mulchWater isn't the only thing you need to stay on top of this summer. Attention needs to be focused on weeds, too. They can rob moisture and nutrients from vegetables and create competition for space.
It's always easiest to control weeds when they are young and not yet fully rooted. Hand-pulling and hoeing are still the most effective ways to do this task.
Small mini-tillers can be used to quickly chew up weeds found in vegetable rows. Be very careful not to get too close to the plants and injure their roots. For safety’s safe, I till the middle of the rows and then hand-weed closer to the plants.
After weeding, place a few inches of pine straw, wheat straw, old wood chips or other mulch material around your plants to help conserve moisture and keep weeds away.
I use about three sheets of newspaper around my tomato, pepper and squash plants as a base mulch. Then I cover the paper with straw to provide an extra layer of protection against weeds. The newsprint eventually breaks down into organic matter.
Be careful when using grass clippings as mulch, as many people do. You may be introducing more weed seeds into your garden than you ever imagined. Especially if your lawn contains weeds and weed seed heads.
Watch for good, bad bugsDon’t forget to scout your garden for pest problems.
Tomatoes, especially, have a hard time with disease in Georgia’s hot, humid climate. Hand-pick any infected, suspicious-looking leaves. Remove plants completely that are heavily infected with disease. Take samples to your University of Georgia Extension Service county agent if you need help identifying a problem.
Insects can attack your garden during the heat of the summer, too. Inspect your plants carefully for signs of insect damage. Be sure to check the underside of leaves and fruits, as insects often hide there to take advantage of the shade.
Remember that most insects in the garden are actually beneficial and cause no problem to your plants. Make sure you properly identify the insect pest before you spray an insecticide. Again, your county extension agent can help you develop a control regime. Sometimes hand-picking bugs is all it takes if only a few harmful insects are present.
Finally, harvest vegetables as soon as they're ripe. Leaving them on the plant too long will lead to poor quality and attract more diseases and insects. Picking squash, okra and indeterminate tomatoes frequently can also extend your harvest. If you allow the fruit to stay on the plants too long, they'll actually shutdown production.
(Bob Westerfield is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)