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Gardening | Diversify garden to confuse pests

The Sun News file

Some of the fun of gardening is not knowing what to expect, or doing something new and different that works. No matter the outcome, it is interesting to watch the results of gardening efforts unfold.

More gardeners grow tomatoes than any other crop. Chances are you have grown tomatoes and encountered a pest or two along the way. Try growing tomatoes in several areas of your yard this year. Mix them with other vegetables, herbs and flowers. By interplanting vegetables with other types of plants, tomatoes will become a less appealing target to damaging insects. Your garden will attract insect-eating birds and beneficial insects, while nearby flowers will attract bees to pollinate your tomatoes.

Pests are usually attracted by smells and colors. They also are attracted by a specific type or family of vegetables. A diversely planted garden confuses them. A mix of plant families encourages pests to seek a better feeding area. It is easier for insects to find a mono-cultural, 20-foot row of their preferred plant than find their target crop when it is mixed among other plants in a diverse garden.

For hundreds of years, gardeners have practiced the art of growing plants together to benefit one another. Try adding companion plants to your garden mix. Three longtime twosomes are tomato and basil, marigolds and eggplant, and nasturtiums and squash. Any of these pairings are an attractive addition to an ornamental garden.

When grown together, basil is said to improve the flavor of tomatoes, marjoram and lovage are believed to enhance the flavor of vegetables in general.

On the flip side, it is harmful to grow onion family members — onions, chives and garlic — with beans and peas. But do grow the onion family together with roses. Garlic repels a number of rose pests. Onions and chives are thought to make roses more fragrant.

Gardeners have used corn gluten meal to control weeds around transplants and mature plants in gardens for years. Its use on lawns is more recent. Corn gluten meal is an organic alternative to weed and feed products. It is typically advertised as a lawn fertilizer or a pre-emergent, but the product actually brings both benefits to a lawn.

Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of the corn milling process. The resultant powdery meal, which is 60 percent protein, is used as animal feed. However, it is about 10 percent nitrogen, by weight, which makes it a good natural source of nitrogen for a lawn. A timely application of meal also works as a short-lived germination inhibitor.

At the time of germination, when a seed breaks open to sprout, corn meal dries out the seed, thereby inhibiting root growth. Corn gluten meal stops small seeds like crabgrass, chickweed, purslane and dandelions (the seeds, not the already established perennial plants). It is most effective in warm, wet conditions.

To be useful as a weed inhibitor, the meal must be applied during a small window of opportunity: in the South when dogwoods begin to bloom and in the North when forsythias begin to bloom. The application yields about four to six weeks of control before it disappears in the soil to be consumed by beneficial microorganisms. Beware: If the weeds have already sprouted, the nitrogen feeds them.

A lawn requires about 20 pounds of corn gluten meal per 1000 square feet. It is important to read the package for application instructions. The product comes in three forms, and amount per square foot varies accordingly. It is more expensive than a chemical product, but it is nontoxic and natural. Don’t skimp on the amount because of cost; it will not be effective in lesser amounts.

Apply corn gluten meal in early spring and late fall. Each year, if applied at the right time, it will inhibit surface seeds and those from the underground seed bank that have been brought to the surface by digging or tilling. Results are cumulative. After two to four years of properly timed applications, you should have good control.

Reach DEBBIE MENCHEK, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.

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