Summer Garden Care

There are many steps necessary to ensure a successful vegetable garden. Most importantly after all of your hard work during the spring you want to ensure the cultivation of a thriving garden. One of the most important factors for successfully growing vegetables is the care given the garden during the summer. In order to accomplish this, the gardener must have a basic knowledge of how to properly irrigate, control weeds, use mulches, and control diseases and insects.


Most full-season vegetables need about 20 inches of water during the growing season for good growth. The water in the soil may come from rainfall or from irrigation. The following guidelines will help determine the amount and method of irrigation necessary for your garden.

Amount and Frequency of Water

After seeds have been planted, they may be misted with a hand-held hose until seedlings emerge during May and June, garden plants will use about one inch of water each week. In July, August, and September, they require about two inches of water per week for best growth. An inch of water is 62 gallons per each 100 square feet of garden area. Water consumption for a garden will gradually increase up to two inches of water per week during hot weather and then taper off as the weather cools. Remember that it is much better to water the garden well once a week rather than to sprinkle it daily. Light, frequent waterings are not recommended. The garden may be watered by using sprinklers, letting water run between rows (furrow irrigation), or by using trickle irrigation or porous irrigation hoses.

Weed Control

Weeds rob vegetables of valuable water, light, and nutri­ents. Weeds often harbor insects and diseases that can damage vegetables and greatly reduce yields. Mulching, hoeing, and hand weeding can be used to control most of the weeds in the garden. Good soil preparation, adequate control of weeds before planting, and planting crops when the soil is warm enough to get them up rapidly are all good practices that will help maintain a minimum amount of labor for weed control.

Cultivation and hoeing should be done when weeds are small because weeds compete with the crops for light, water, and nutrients. Also, when weeds are large, they are much more difficult to remove without damaging the plants. Weeds may also be controlled with herbicides. It is hard to find a herbicide that is selective enough to remove a specific weed without the potential that it will also kill or damage some of the crops in the garden. However, there are a few available now which make them safer and easier to use. Visit your local garden center for information on current herbicide products. The best weed control in the home garden is a sharp hoe and good mulch.


Mulch is a layer of any type of material spread on the surface of the soil around and under plants. The application of mulches has many advantages, such as improving plant growth, enhancing the appearance of the garden, and reducing time spent in maintenance. The most common reason for using mulch is to help control weeds. Where the mulch is thick enough, usually four to six inches, very few weeds will grow. Mulches also help conserve moisture during periods of drought.

Mulches also aid in maintaining a uniform soil temperature. They act as insulation, keeping the soil cooler during the warm months of the year.  Mulch aids in preventing surface soil erosion, particularly if it has been established for a few weeks. In addition, it helps keep leaves, flowers, and fruits free from soil which is important with strawberries and tomatoes.  Mulches should be applied after the soil is warm enough for active root growth. Straw, grass clippings, sawdust, leaves, newspapers, and black plastic sheeting all make excellent mulches for the home vegetable garden. If black plastic is used, it is best to cover the plastic with lighter colored organic mulch to reduce the temperature around the plants.

Plant Treatment

Various fungicides are available for foliage treatments. Fungicide materials should be sprayed on all exposed parts of the plant. Fungicide treatments for foliage diseases are usually used on the following vegetables: pepper, eggplant, potato, tomato, watermelon, cucumber, muskmelon, squash, and beans. Read and follow all label directions and precau­tions, especially the time interval between application and harvest. Diseases of vegetables can be prevented by a combination of good management practices to achieve good control.

Insect Control

Insects are always a threat to home vegetable gardens. Check plants frequently to detect the presence of injurious insects and be ready to control them as soon as damage is evident. When checked frequently, many garden insects can be controlled successfully without the use of insecticides. Do not forget that hand-picking, traps and attractants, water pressure sprays, and insect vacuum controls are effective methods for controlling pests.

Many insecticides are available today. Insecticides should be selected with care and chosen with a specific pest in mind. A mixture of compatible insecticides can be used on most vegetables and will give excellent protection against many garden pests. Insects that live in the soil and damage roots and under­ground portions of the stems cannot be effectively controlled by treating the above ground portions of plants. Routine treatment for soil insects is generally not warranted; rather, it should be based on a history of the garden area. Control of soil insects on a “rescue” basis after planting is usually not successful. Also, remove weeds in and around the garden to help eliminate sources of insects. If an insecticide is used, effectiveness is increased by banding the insecticide at the base of the plant, preferably at dusk or shortly before. Watch for plants that wilt and do not respond to additional water. First, check for damage to the stem at the soil line, if no damage to the stem is visible; inspect the soil near the roots for grubs and wire-worms.