May: Seven Tips for a Successful Vegetable Garden

If you are like many vegetable gardeners, you have transplants growing in your basement under artificial lights and are chomping at the bit to get those plants out into your garden.

Before you do that, here are a few things to think about to make your summer vegetable garden more successful.

Finish any last minute garden clean up.

If you have leftover vegetable plant debris in your garden, remove it now.  These leftovers are where disease-causing fungi and bacteria overwinter and they can serve as a source of pathogens that can infect your new garden plants.  Burn (where allowed), deep bury or hot compost these materials.

Clean other gardening items.

Disease-causing organisms can survive the winter on gardening tools, stakes and cages.  These items should be decontaminated before using them again:

1.   Remove any clinging soil or plant debris.

2.   Use 70% alcohol (e.g., rubbing alcohol, spray disinfectants) or 10% bleach to complete the process:

  • Treat metal items with alcohol, either dipping them for 30 seconds or spraying them until they drip and allowing them to air dry.
  • For non-metal items, soak in bleach for 20-30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly to remove bleach residues.
    Tip:  Be sure to wear old clothes, rubber gloves and eye protection when working with bleach.

Invest in a soaker or drip hose.

If you use a sprinkler to water, you are getting leaves wet and this provides an environment that is perfect to get diseases started.  Soaker and drip hoses keep water off of leaves and apply it into the soil where it is most useful.

Map out your garden.

One way to reduce disease problems is to make sure you move vegetables around in your garden each year.  This is called rotation and helps prevent buildup of disease-causing organisms in the soil.

For details on how to use rotation most effectively, check out the University of Wisconsin Garden Facts fact sheet “Using Crop Rotation in the Home Vegetable Garden.”  Each year make a map of where you have specific vegetables and keep these maps so that you know where to rotate your vegetables each year.

Keep a journal.

Write down observations of what goes on in your garden and when.

  • When did you plant?
  • When did seedlings emerge?
  • When did plants bloom?
  • When did they set fruit?  When did you harvest?
  • Did you see particular diseases or insect pests?
  • When did they start?

All of this sort of information can be helpful in planning your garden in the future.  After several years, you will also get a sense of what disease and insect problems are common and when they typically arrive.  Armed with this information, you can more efficiently and effectively develop  management strategies.

Enjoy growing the old standards that you love, but also do not be afraid to try new (and what may seem like exotic) vegetables.  Trying new things keeps gardening fresh and exciting, and exposes you to new flavors and cuisines.

Have fun!

That’s what gardening should be all about.

Additional Resources

To learn more about plant diseases and their management, explore the Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic (PDDC) website ( or follow the PDDC on Facebook and Twitter @UWPDDC.