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Four ways to avoid those common mistakes

February 28, 2009

Be careful with compost



Don't add homemade compost when it's not fully composted, says Steve Bogash, with the Penn State Cooperative Extension. Compost needs to be well-mixed and broken down as opposed to just raking vegetable scraps into the soil.

Be careful not to over-till



Something that often surprises and frustrates beginner gardeners who have created a new garden plot is the abundance of weeds that sprout up, Bogash says. When soil is tilled, millions of weed seeds are exposed to fresh air and sunlight and start germinating. If you don't stay ahead of them, the garden can become a weed patch, he says.

But over-tilling damages fungi and microbes in the soil that are important for healthy soil, says Annette Ipsan, with the Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Plan early for the weeds



After tilling the soil and mixing in any needed additives, lay a soaker hose on the soil in the garden. Then cover the soil with black plastic or single layers of overlapping newspaper, Bogash says. Bury the edges so the plastic doesn't blow away, or place a layer of fluffed straw about 2 inches thick atop newspaper.

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When you plant, cut holes in the plastic or newspaper, so plants receive proper sunlight. Weeds will still sprout, but the weeding will be more manageable.

Don't forget to rotate your crops



Vegetables within the solanaceous family - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes - should not be grown in the same area year after year because they have similar disease and insect problems. And don't just swap places between members of the solanaceous family. Plant a different kind of vegetable.

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