How to Keep Your Plants Healthy with Good Habits

Most people know that habits make a big difference in health. If you get plenty of sleep, drink six to eight glasses of water a day, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and get some exercise every day, odds are you’ll be healthier. Good habits are not a guarantee against disease and injury, but they sure do help.

The same can be said of plants. Put them in the right place, give them the right care, and they will likely do well. During the Master Gardener Core Course last Saturday, extension educator Michelle Grabowski noted that less than 10 percent of home landscape problems warrant the use of a pesticide. Good cultural practices (ie, healthy habits) and choosing the right plants for your environment will take care of nearly all potential disease problems, she said.

What constitutes a health routine for your plants?

healthy plants in public garden
These spirea and roses have plenty of space to grow, making them less likely to crowd each other and spread diseases.

Buy carefully, place carefully. Read the plant tag before you buy a plant. Make sure you have the right environment in your yard for that plant to do well. If you have a shady, moist backyard, don’t expect a drought-tolerant, sun-loving plant such as sedum to do well there. While you are in the nursery, do a mini-inspection not only of your plant but the plants around it. The entire group of plants should look healthy before you plunk down your money.

Give them space. Plants need room to breathe. You’ll have fewer disease issues if you space plants far enough apart to get to full size without bumping into each other. Air circulation is a huge factor in prevention of fungal diseases.

Water. Like people, plants need enough H2O. Grabowski offered a few tips on watering, including the advice to water the soil, not the plant; water early in the day if possible; and to mulch to reduce the humidity in the air around your plants. Also, remember that water needs vary — from plant to plant, and season to season. A newly planted tree needs regular watering to establish roots; a prairie grass can tough it out just fine.

Fight germs. Keeping tools, trellises, stakes, and cages clean will help fight diseases, too. Don’t put tomato cages around new plants if they have plant debris from last season. (Oops! I think I did that last year.)

Japanese beetle on healthy rose
Excuse me! What do we have here? Checking for pests, such as Japanese beetles, will help you stay on top of plant health issues.

Regular checkups. As with people, it’s easier to fight a serious disease in plants if you catch it early. When you are out in your garden, take a couple of moments to check the undersides of leaves or the inner leaves on plants — that’s where diseases start.

Get the right diagnosis. You can’t figure out what to do with a plant if you don’t know what the problem is. The University of Minnesota has a fabulous plant diagnostic on its web site. If you aren’t sure what’s wrong with your plant, go to the what’s wrong with my plant site.

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