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Early home gardens boost yield potential
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Some Mississippi gardeners who took advantage of this year’s early spring are already eating the results of their efforts.
Lelia Kelly, consumer horticulture specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said garden plants are at least two weeks ahead of schedule across the state. Some are even earlier than that.
“Bloom times of many vegetables and perennial flowers in the garden are earlier than usual,” Kelly said. “Particularly in the case of vegetables, many gardeners took advantage of the mild spring and got their transplants and vegetable seeds planted early.”
Weather through early June remained mild, and rains came frequently, but Mississippi summers rarely remain this pleasant. Kelly said mulching gardens and the landscape is one way to help plants survive the heat and dryness.
“If possible, mulch all your plantings to help retain moisture in the soil and cut down on your need to water,” Kelly said. “Using mulch also helps control weeds and gives areas a neat appearance.”
Blake Layton, Extension entomologist, said an early garden is one of the best ways to minimize problems for many pests, such as tomato fruit worms, stinkbugs, whiteflies and leaffooted bugs.
“Insect populations usually increase through the summer as pests complete successive generations,” Layton said. “Also, in the late summer and early fall, high numbers of pests move from large agriculture fields into late gardens.”
The best way to prevent excessive insect damage is to treat problems when they show up.
“For many crops, this means checking for pests and treating only when damaging populations are present,” Layton said. “But in some instances, such as fruit worms on tomatoes or curculio on Southern peas, you need to treat preventatively based on the stage of crop development.”
While gardeners need to stay on top of insect problems, Layton urged them not to treat unnecessarily.
“Don’t spray the eggplant just because you are out there spraying the tomatoes,” Layton said. “Unnecessary sprays can create problems with difficult-to-control pests, such as spider mites or whiteflies.”
David Ingram, Extension vegetable disease specialist, said environmental conditions drive all plant diseases.
“Cooler weather will increase the chances of some diseases, and it slows down plant growth and can interfere with pollination,” Ingram said. “On the other hand, most garden plants will become diseased when the weather is warm but stays wet.”
Most Mississippians who have a summer garden grow tomatoes, and the most common diseases are found on tomatoes. These include bacterial wilt, Southern blight and early blight, all of which have already been observed in the state this year, as well as tomato spotted wilt virus.
“Routine scouting for diseases in necessary to maintain a healthy garden,” Ingram said. “It will help keep your garden free of problems if you begin treatment with fungicides at the very first sign of a disease.”