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Return to basics to get garden through summer

About the midsummer mark, vegetable gardens can start to look a little tired. I consider it halftime of my warm-season garden. With so much yet to do, plants have already been through a lot.

You have to admire plants for their perseverance as they battle the elements while pushing on to complete their job. In my garden, the hornworms have found the tomatoes. The ever-present squash bugs and the requisite leaf blight on cucumber plants crashed the party weeks ago. And yet my plants and I forge ahead, barely breaking stride.

For the uninitiated gardener, common occurrences like this can be discouraging. The fresh, picture-perfect garden of only weeks ago now seems like a distant memory. As the garden shows signs of wear, so does the gardener. Revisiting some of the basics of garden maintenance through proactive attention now will do wonders to restore the vitality and health of most plants in your garden.

Let’s take a look:

Visit your garden. The best deterrent to preventing or minimizing garden problems is to catch them early. By getting out to your garden as often as possible, you can stop problems from becoming bigger. Early intervention is the key. Halftime is not too late.

Aggressively look for pests. While Mother Nature has fantastic ways of dealing with pest challenges, we, too, can help. Look closely, and under leaves as well. Manual controls, such as removal by hand, is effective. I prefer this option since my actions are targeted specifically to only the offending pests. No beneficials are therefore harmed in the process.

Remove diseased leaves and plants. One of the most effective ways of keeping plant diseases from spreading is to remove existing problems before they have a chance to. Cut, pull or remove any and all signs of disease. Dispose of them and don’t put them in your compost.

Refresh your mulch. Even over a short time, mulch can break down and become less effective. Add more, if necessary, to keep a 2- to 3-inch layer over your soil. It does wonders in so many ways, from suppressing weed growth, to keeping soil-borne diseases off foliage, to holding moisture in the soil.

Give plants an energy boost. Over time, nutrients added to the soil at the start of the season disappear. Now is an important time to feed the soil. A 1-inch layer of compost or an organic slow-release fertilizer, or a liquid form that can provide a quick source of nutrition, should be added now.

Keep pruning. Many plants produce unrestrained growth, far more than necessary to sustain an appropriate balance between roots and fruits. Use your judgment to cut back as needed.

Cut your losses. While some added attention now will be just what is needed to reinvigorate plants for the second half, some may be beyond hope. For those, cut your losses and pull them from the garden. Personally, squash is my summer challenge.

After a couple weeks of heavy yields, my plants turn to mush at the base and it’s time for them to go. Yet, new replacement plants are already in place and growing to fill the void.

The longer you garden, the less deterred you’ll be by these bumps along the way. Taking proactive steps at halftime will provide just the encouragement you and your plants need to finish strong with the celebration of the victory of an abundant harvest.

Joe Lamp’l, host and executive producer of ”Growing a Greener World” on PBS, is an author and a paid spokesman for the Mulch and Soil Council. For more information, go to