The frosty accumulation of ice crystals on these spruce needles resulted from the wafting spray of an adjacent (untreated) roadway and serves to illustrate how salt spray can accumulate on plant parts.

Deicing salts are essential to winter travel in Illinois and provide necessary safety in a landscape setting by melting dangerous ice on precarious steps, sidewalks, entryways and other areas of frequent foot traffic.  However, winter damage from salt can be a major problem in some landscapes by negatively impacting plant health or sometimes outright killing plants from overexposure. 

This bumble bee dangles from a flower of crimson clover, which is an attractive and valuable soil-building cover crop that can be easily hand-seeded into vegetable garden beds.

Cover cropping is a practice we often associated with larger scale farming, but they have the same great benefits in our home vegetable gardens.  A cover crop is a crop that is grown for protection and enrichment of the soil rather than for harvest.  Since they are not harvested for use as food, growers plant them for other valuable qualities they provide while in the ground.

New Vegetable Garden Maintenance

Vegetable gardening takes some forethought and planning to ensure your garden space is ready, select the best crops, and get everything planted while working around spring rains.  Our enthusiasm and planning in early spring typically culminates in the planted garden and often wanes as the work and heat of the growing season sets in. 

I am as guilty as the next gardener for not thinking enough about garden maintenance later in the year during the excitement of spring planting.  However, there are some things we can think about now to setup of the rest of the season for success.

Raised garden beds are a great solution to a variety of common soil issues.

In last week’s blog, I covered the basics of site selection for a new vegetable garden.  Finding the best location in your yard, or understanding that containers may be the winning option is a really important part of setting up your growing space for success.  I would like to continue the discussion this week by taking a closer look at the growing medium, or soil, we choose for gardening. 

Tomatoes are one of the most planted garden crops in the US, with several common problems here in central Illinois that can be managed through fairly simple cultural practices.

Nothing beats a homegrown tomato!  Even when in season, the store bought varieties just cannot compare to a fully ripe tomato harvested at its peak from your own garden.  So many gardeners across American choose tomato plants for their garden each year for this reason, making it the most planted garden crop in the US. 

Fall is an excellent time to reflect on the past growing season and look toward next spring’s gardening opportunities with the lessons from this year in mind.  I often look back with spite on the insects and pathogens that caused problems or ruined crops, but there is one aspect of our gardens that is often overlooked and my underlie many of the problems we experience….. our soils! 

It’s beginning to be that time of year again, when our vegetables gardens become less productive and most of the season’s bounty has been realized.  Before you begin to look toward next year’s plans, why not consider planting something for the winter season?  A hard-working cover crop is the perfect selection to fill in your garden and improve soil for next year.