The weather over the last few weeks has finally started to warm up and that means you most likely have already designed, if not planted your garden. Today, we’re sharing tips to up your chances of success.
To start, all gardens will need the following to help their plants grow well:
LIGHT – Plants need, full sun, for at least 6-8 hours per day, so make sure you place your garden or container in a spot that will allow for this. Some leaf crops, such as lettuce and spinach, can still grow in partial shade, but even they will not grow as well out of direct sunlight. Vegetables grown in shady conditions will not generally produce fruit, or if they do, the crop will be smaller and less flavorful than those that receive full sun.
WATER – Vegetable plants need water, but you do not want to drown your plants. The goal is to keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. To figure out if your plants need water, stick your finger down into the soil about an inch or up to your first knuckle. If the soil feels dry, add water. At the height of summer, you will probably need to water at least once a day and if you have a container garden, sometimes twice a day. If you are not sure how much water you need, you can use a rain gauge to monitor rainfall and use a drip irrigation system or soaker hose to make up the deficit during dry spells. Plants that are not getting enough water will start to wilt and may have yellow leaves. Vegetables receiving too much water will usually be fine as long as your soil drains well, but if you notice excess water puddles in your garden, your crops will suffer and the leaves will turn yellow.
FERTILIZER – Plants need a little extra nutrition or food over the course of their growing. Besides amending your soil with compost at the start of the planting, it is a good idea to add some additional compost every time you sow or harvest a new crop. Granular, slow-release fertilizers can be used, and will feed your plants for up to 90 days. Simply sprinkle the granules around your plants according to label directions, and every time it rains your plants will get a quick meal. On the other hand, be careful not to overfeed your plants. Some crops such as tomatoes will produce more foliage than fruit if they get too much nitrogen. You can also purchase fertilizer or try making your own compost tea!
Other mistakes that lead to less successful gardens:
LEAVE SPACE – Now that we have covered the basics, it is time to talk about some of the other mistakes that often lead to less successful gardens. When planting, make sure you are not crowding your plants together. Some salad crops, such as spinach, lettuce, and kale, do not mind growing close together. Most other vegetables grow best when they have space between the plants. Tomatoes, for example, require good air circulation to remain healthy, so be sure to space them at least 2-3 feet apart. Other vegetables that need a bit more breathing room include broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, sweet corn, potatoes, and peppers. Read instructions on the seed packages or plant tags before purchasing to see what spacing requirements are needed.
WEEDS – Oh the dreaded weeds! Allowing weeds to grow will affect your plants by competing with them for moisture and food. It is important to eliminate weeds as soon as you spot them. If you allow just one weed to mature and set seed, you’ll find yourself fighting the problem for years. To keep weeds at bay, start by spreading mulch over the surface of the soil right after planting. Then, if any weeds start to break through the mulch barrier, remove them by hand or use a sharp hoe that will cut the plants off at the roots. Avoid using chemical herbicides, especially in a food garden.
TOO MANY PLANTS – When it comes to planting, it is easy to get excited thinking about all the crops that you would like to grow and tempting to put as many plants into the garden as you can. However, all plants require a certain amount of space to grow properly. Over time as these plants get bigger, you will find that not everything has the space that they need to grow. Consider growing the items that you or your family really enjoy and if you are adventurous, try one new plant each year. Also, think about the amount of produce you will get from each plant. For example, if you are a small family, 1-2 tomato plants may be enough. Vegetables will not wait until you have time to take care of them. They will ripen and rot or bolt to seed. You could also consider planting in stages to both ensure you have enough space, and continue to have produce throughout the growing season. Your family may eat lettuce every night, but planting a 10-foot row of lettuce all at once, is not going to keep you in salads all season. You will have to do some planning to stagger your harvest times. You can do this by planting varieties that mature at different times or by using succession planting. Succession planting is a technique of planting seeds of same crop several weeks apart so you can enjoy harvesting a particular plant for longer period or replacing plants that are finished producing with something else that will have enough time to grow – i.e. replacing pea plants with radish seeds. You will be glad you took the time to space things out.
PROVIDE SUPPORT – Vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, and vine plants such as zucchini and melons do best when they can grow up, over, or through a support that keeps their fruit from touching the ground. Tomatoes grow well in sturdy cages designed just for them, and melons and cucumbers can be trained to grow over a mesh tunnel or trellis. Pole beans prefer to twine their way up a trellis, tepee (a great little hide out for kids!), or other vertical supports. These supports help keep crops healthier by providing better air circulation.
GARDEN GUESTS – Keep an eye on insects by inspecting your plants at least once a week. Take a few minutes and examine both the upper and lower surface of the leaves and eliminate any pests you see as soon as possible. Once they get a foothold, it doesn’t take long for insect populations to explode and ruin an entire crop. Remember that most insects only attack a particular kind of crop, so if you do not see any damage on your tomatoes, it does not mean your squash is not under attack just a few feet away. The good news is that most pests can be eradicated by being vigilant and removing the worst offenders by hand. But if you do find yourself fighting an army of pests, use a biological control that’s safe to spray on food crops.
NOT HARVESTING – Some gardeners can be hesitant to harvest when things are ready. Not harvesting when a vegetable is ready to be picked will actually cause your garden to slow down. A plant will not set more cucumbers or peppers if its branches are already full of them. Herbs, like basil and cilantro, benefit from frequent harvesting. Cutting off the tops of these plants encourages them to branch out and get fuller. Enjoy your vegetables while they are at peak.
We hope that these tips covering common garden mistakes will allow your garden to flourish throughout the entire season!
Backyard Gardens – raised bed or in-ground garden?
How Does Your Garden Grow? – basics of home gardening for food
Container & Vertical Gardening – how to grow food in small cases