Some plants like it hot and sunny, while others like it cooler or moister or both. That being said, virtually all plants require a few basic ingredients:.
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Sun : Plants are pretty magical, as they harness energy from the sun and, through photosynthesis, convert that energy into their tissues. Because plants need the sun to grow, many plants, including most fruits and veggies, need a good amount of direct sun during the day.
Have a shadier plot? Research which plants prefer shady conditions if you have less light available. In many places, it may be necessary to water your garden regularly in order to keep plants happy. Plants perform best when they have optimum temperatures for growth —like Goldilocks, the conditions need to be juuuust right.
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Understanding your climate will help you decide which plants to grow. This information is generally provided for seeds and plants online and when you purchase them to help you decide what will work best. To better understand your climate, get familiar with the plant hardiness zones. Growing season length is another handy piece of information. Growing season length is particularly useful for planting annual plants—including most garden vegetables and many flowers—which live for only a single year.
You can choose to grow plants directly in the soil which is an easy and affordable option , to build raised beds, or to grow plants in containers. Raised beds which are basically large wooden boxes filled with soil are often six to 24 inches off the ground; they can be very productive, but it will cost extra money for the materials to build the beds. For smaller spaces or starter gardens, containers are a fantastic way to go because they provide so much flexibility.
Watering is especially critical for containers because they dry out faster than garden beds. Luckily, these gardens are often pretty small so watering only takes a few minutes. The wonderful thing about gardening is that there are so many potential plants out there to grow. Here are some things to think about as you plan your garden:. How much you need to water plants will depend on a few things.
Hotter and drier air will pull moisture from plants and soils more quickly, so more watering will be necessary as the temperatures go up. The type of soil you have in your garden will also affect how much water is available to plants. An easy test to see if plants have enough water available is to put a finger in the soil and make sure it feels moist two to three inches below the surface.
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Container gardens are super-simple to get going. For these, containers, potting soil, a watering can, and a small trowel or even a sturdy kitchen spoon! Many vegetables and flowers are easy to grow from seed , making that the simpler and more affordable choice in many situations. Buying plants, rather than seeds, is especially useful when a plant is difficult to grow from seed, if the growing season is particularly short, or if a larger plant is going to make that garden look great. To combine the best of both worlds , lots of seeds can be started inside in pots and later transplanted outdoors.
Seeds can be planted in rows or geometric patterns that use space more effectively. Just put seeds in the soil depth varies by plant , cover them back up with dirt, and water. Soil should be gently packed around the roots so that the plant stays at the same level above the ground that it was in the container.
For many beginners, the selection of what to grow is the most confusing aspect of gardening. Yet, for the experienced gardener the selection of seeds is perhaps the most important part of gardening! It's important for beginners to start with easy-to-grow varieties of easy-to-grow vegetables because a little success goes a long way toward one's understanding of the essentials of plant growth. In my experience, the easiest-to-raise crops are loose-leaf lettuce especially Oak Leaf , radishes Cherry Belle is my favorite , zucchini squash Burpee Hybrid , carrots Royal Chantenay , snap beans try the new bush Romano's , tomatoes Supersonic is tops , peppers such as Tasty Hybrid , parsley any kind , and cucumbers Marketmore 70 for disease resistance.
I planted each of these varieties — except for the cucumbers — in my own by foot vegetable garden in southeastern Pennsylvania last year, along with the following varieties which I also consider easy to grow : Boston Bibb head lettuce, Yellow Bermuda onions, a new All-America spinach called Melody, a hybrid broccoli with the appropriate name of Premium Crop one head measured 10 feet across! I've found the widely available peat pellets invaluable for starting healthy seedlings indoors. These peat disks — which expand to something like seven times their original height when you add water to them — offer an excellent medium for the germination of seeds.
You can sow tomato, pepper, cabbage and other seeds directly into the moistened peat patties and easily fit them by the dozen along your windowsills. Provided you follow a regular watering schedule so that the peat doesn't dry out, you'll very quickly have whole sets of hardy seedlings that you can then transplant directly into the garden.
The only drawback to peat pellets is that they come encased in a plastic netting which must be carefully removed before you set each seedling into the ground. For this reason, I'm happy to report that new peat pellets do not have the net stocking, and that the few I've used to start pepper seeds have given commendable results. All vegetable gardens need sunlight and moisture.
Six hours of sunshine per day should be considered minimum, and the more the better. If shade falls on your garden during the peak daylight hours, the maturation of the plants will be slowed and the garden's yields drastically cut. Likewise, a little too much moisture — in my opinion — is better than not enough. On the other hand, this certainly doesn't mean that you should go overboard and keep your garden completely saturated all the time, either.
Most vegetables cannot stand to have their roots permanently surrounded by water. There is a happy medium.
At the slightest sign of a dry spell, give your vegetable patch a good soaking with the garden hose and, if possible, keep the ground moist for as long as the drought lasts. An ordinary lawn sprinkler set in the garden overnight is an excellent way to provide adequate moisture during dry weather, and — of course — a thick mulch always helps to conserve water.
The feeding of plants seems to be a greatly misunderstood subject.
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Some gardeners are able to maintain a nutrient-rich soil by the use of compost alone If you're using a nutrient-poor compost one made, say, mostly from leaves or grass clippings , you're going to have to resort to the use of a commercial fertilizer. That's not as bad as it sounds, however. As long as you use a slow-release fertilizer in combination with a composting program, you should obtain satisfactory results without grossly upsetting your vegetable patch's balance of nature.
Only weeds and pests thrive on neglect. Spend a few minutes in the garden every evening — before sundown — pulling weeds and looking for signs of pests, and you'll discover that the plot will almost take care of itself. Leave the vegetable patch unattended for a week or two, however, and you'll find it much more difficult to catch up later.
Mulching, of course, helps enormously to control weeds. And if you can maintain a layer of compost between the rows of vegetables throughout the season, you'll find that the decomposing material will nourish the earth, promote even soil temperature and limit weed growth as effectively as any mulch.
I've found that a regular daily inspection of my garden enables me to spot pest problems early. If you develop this habit and you should , you'll automatically find yourself picking off enough potentially harmful insects and egg clusters — especially those of bean and Japanese beetles, tomato hornworms, and cabbage loopers — to prevent these particular pests from ever getting a chance to overpopulate the vegetable patch. Last summer was a dry one for me, so slugs weren't a problem.
The season before last, however, my garden was utterly plagued by the slimy little villains. And, as a last resort, I did have to buy — and use—some slug pellets to bring the situation under control.
In general, though, I hate to use pesticides. I'm a great believer in protecting young seedlings with wood ashes. Naturally, there's more — much more — for the beginning gardener to learn, if he or she wants to be a spectacularly successful horticulturist. That's why people like myself have written books about vegetable gardening! Here's hoping this discussion will help you grow bigger — and better—vegetables this spring! For several years now, I've been harping on the virtues of keeping gardens small and manageable to achieve high productivity. And — as a result — I've had to practice what I preach.
I'm happy to report, however, that this practice has paid handsome dividends Here's how it went:. Before sowing anything — when the garden, in fact, was still frozen — I spread some 3-year-old horse manure over the tiny plot Then I began to plant seeds. Hardy spinach, onion sets, and garden peas were the first things to go into the ground, about six weeks before the last frost date in my area.
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These were followed — in turn — by radishes, parsley, carrots, Swiss chard, beets and lettuce, all of which were direct-seeded during a warm spell that hit about four weeks before the last frost date. I also set some transplants — of broccoli and cabbage — into the garden at this time. Note: I confined all of these cool-weather crops to one half of the byfoot plot, and saved the other half for those tender vegetables — such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini squash, and snap beans — that I knew would have to be planted after the last frost date.
Once all my seedlings were up and growing well, I mulched the entire garden with pine needles which I gathered from the forest at the edge of my property. These needles make an excellent weed-smothering mulch, and — because they create a beautiful reddish brown background for the lush vegetable growth — are highly decorative. Then, after harvesting my rows of spinach, radishes and beets, I planted sweet potatoes Centennial in their place.
And — after I'd picked the full yield of broccoli, peas, onions, carrots and lettuce—I put down a row of cocozelle squash and second sowings of lettuce, beets and spinach. Every crop came up To this day, I can hardly believe that I actually grew such luscious vegetables! They sparkled like jewels And, they all sprang from a plot just 12 feet wide by 20 feet deep. Derek Fell is a world-renowned garden writer, photographer and designer.