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Tips for successful gardening

By Staff | Apr 21, 2014

Denny Schrock, left, coordinator of the Iowa State University Master Gardener program, visits with Esther Van Dyke, of Sioux City, an attendee at Schrock’s March 28 Siouxland Garden Show presentation in Sioux City.

SIOUX FALLS, SD – Small 1-cent seed packets, shared by a resourceful grandmother with her grandson, are credited with igniting what has become the boy’s continued interest and dedication to horticulture.

Denny Schrock, coordinator of Iowa State University’s Master Gardener program, said he is grateful for his grandmother’s gift.

“Yes, that’s where I have to say it all started,” he said, following a presentations on the “ins and outs” of successful gardening on March 28 at the Siouxland Garden Show, in Sioux City.

He said his enthusiasm includes helping others find their own best paths to successful gardening.

He noted a growing interest in combining seeds and soil for successful home-grown food production. He said this is also evident among ISU horticulture students.

“We’re seeing more of our students expressing their interest in food crop production,” Schrock said. “This is bringing a whole new generation of people into the field of horticulture.

“A number of years back, student interest was more into landscaping. Today, the focus is on growing edible foods, fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“This younger generation may not be interested in this as a career field, but it is a generation wanting to know where their food comes from and have a connection with the earth. This may be their way of doing it.”

Schrock said the public’s interest in local food production is on an upward swing, which requires more expertise for successful gardening.

“Knowing the soil you have for your garden is really where it all starts,” he said. “If you’ve poor soil you’re going to be fighting problems all the time,” he said.

“A plant under stress is going to be more likely to have disease and insect problems all the time.

“It’s always a good idea to have a soil test before you get started. It’s not unlike going to the doctor and asking what’s wrong with you.

“Vegetables are generally high nitrogen-using plants. So you need to build up organic matter to get aeration and moisture retention.”

He suggested composting for garden use.

While rural area gardeners often have adequate manure levels available for garden purposes, urban residents can rely on municipal leaf composting sources or their own yard compost. He said a good source are composted leaves.

Schrock said fluctuating Midwestern weather temperatures and moisture is another gardening challenge. But the secret to this, he said, is a simple one.

“A lot of it is picking the right plant for the right garden location,” he said, noting the need for six hours of sun daily with a good uniform moisture supply.

Anticipating pest problems are essential “to nip them in the bud” before they become severe.

Growing conditions vary within any one particular part of a yard, he said.

“This is where it’s a matter of doing your home work,” Schrock said, “to get to know your plants and matching these plants to the right place.

“What usually happens is that people will see a plant. They’ll fall in love with it and want to plant it.

“They don’t know what it requires to grow and put it in the wrong spot. It might be the right climate spot, but they won’t know how big the plant grows or the care it will need.”

While on visit to a nursery, Schrock said, gardeners will see a crab apple tree blooming and wanting it in yard.

“Many times people will overload their landscape with spring blooming things that can be somewhat drab the rest of the time,” he said.

Even the No. 1 vegetable people grow, the tomato, Schrock said, can mean a dilemma for the non-knowledgeable gardener.

“What you need is not necessarily the latest and greatest hybrid,” he said. “The tried and true plants often work better in Iowa than a new variety bred somewhere else.

“There are lots of problems than can show up in tomatoes. We need to think first of the goal,” he said.

“Do you want fresh tomatoes to use with salads? Or to you want to can the tomatoes or make salsas? Do you want one plant for fresh tomatoes or maybe 50 or so for canning?

“Another factor to be considered is how important is the tomato flavor versus yield,” he continued. “Heirloom varieties have fantastic flavor with colorful produce as with Purple Prudence or Cherokee Pride, but are generally lower in yield.

“If you’re concerned about getting lots of fruit you may want to consider a disease-resistant variety.”

He advised selecting varieties with resistance to verticilum wilt, fusarium wilt and nematodes.

Some field crop production management practices, Schrock said, are becoming viable possibilities for the garden.

Among them is what he terms square-foot gardening in which the crop bed is marked out in square-foot blocks depending on the type of vegetable to be planted – precision planting for the garden.

As for gardening with GMO vegetable varieties, he said, opposition often stems from a lack of understanding the issue.

“In many cases,” Schrock said, “the GMO process is inserting something into a plant that is turning on a gene already in the plant, but is suppressed because of DNA.

“People have used selective breeding for plants for thousands of years.

“For me, coming as I do from a plant-breeding background, GMO development is just another of the tools for advancing the development of crops.”

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