At Home Garden Basics
Updated: May 18, 2019
Gardens will reward you with the fruit
(and vegetables) of your labor!
Have you considered starting your own garden? Don't be intimidated by the unknown. We'll cover the basics of how to get started anywhere, what to do as the seasons change, and how to maximize your growth!
Think of your favorite produce - sure it's convenient to buy it from the grocery store, but if you had the option to walk into your backyard and take it straight from the plant - would you choose to spend a little time cultivating your own? In this day and age of GMOS, imported produce, and chemical based pesticides or insecticides, there are plenty of reasons for people to consider growing their own produce. The reward of knowing exactly what you're eating is something you can't buy.
Let's get serious about growing our own food! There is an endless supply of information and resources.
A garden can be grown ANYWHERE. Use sunlight or buy grow lights. Plant outside in the yard, use a greenhouse, take a little space on your patio, or even grow on your kitchen counter. The options are endless. Anywhere you can have water and light - you can have fresh food!
First, you'll need to make some decisions to make a plan that is best for you.
Take a moment to think of WHERE you will be growing. The size of your space will determine the functionality and how much you can grow. Once you've decided on where to start, you'll need to consider WHAT to grow. Think of your favorite herbs, fruits and vegetables, and choose things you prefer. Obviously you'll need to consider where you're growing since corn can't be planted on a kitchen counter! Now that you have an idea as to the where and what - it's time to make a plan on HOW to get started! Counter top growers are readily available in stores and online. They are easy to use and tend to do well for fresh herbs. If you have room on a patio, you could start with simple things like tomato and pepper plants. If you have room in your backyard for a raised garden or greenhouse, then your options are nearly limitless!
It’s very easy to think big in the spring and then find that you can’t keep up. This can lead to frustration and the urge to give up on your garden. Don’t dig up your whole backyard and plant a large garden if you don’t have the time to water, weed, and harvest. Gardening can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby if you plan it right. Begin a smaller-scale garden instead of a large one. You can always expand in the future. Plus it is easier to learn about your unique growing area and how to care for your garden on a smaller scale.
Grow Only the Foods You Will Eat
There is no reason to put the energy into growing a crop if no one eats it. Consider growing vegetables based on what you and your family like. When you purchase produce from the grocery store or farmers’ market, what to you pick up week after week? If you love salads, then tomatoes, greens, and lettuce would be obvious choices to grow in your garden. If you enjoy fresh salsa, then peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro should be on your list. Vegetable gardening is fulfilling when you are rewarded with foods that you enjoy.
Build a Raised Bed or Square Foot Garden
Raised-bed gardening is a great way to grow vegetables. You don’t have to worry about digging a garden because the raised beds are placed on top of the ground. The square foot garden concept is a quick and organized way to get a garden started. You simply build a raised bed out of 2 x 6 inch boards, layer cardboard on the grass, fill the bed with a growing mix, and plant right away using the charts in the book. Since you begin with fresh, nutrient-rich soil, you often don’t have to worry much about weeds for the first few years. Growing in raised beds with healthy soil also allows you to plant closer, which helps shade the soil preventing moisture loss.
Choose Easy Vegetables to Grow
Grow vegetables that are easy to maintain and won’t need a lot of attention other than watering and harvesting. There are two different types of vegetables: cool season and warm season. Cool season crops can handle light frosts and thrive in the cooler part of the growing season in early spring and fall. Warm season crops need both warm soil and high temperatures to grow and produce fruit. They are killed by frost. Plant them after the last frost in spring. Cool Season Crops: Consider these for spring and fall: beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, radishes, spinach, chard, onions, peas, and potatoes. Warm Season Crops: Try growing these in summer: bush beans, cucumbers, peppers, bush tomatoes, and zucchini. Herbs: Fresh herbs add lots of flavor to meals, and they are easy to grow. Many herbs are perennials, which means they come back year after year. Some examples are oregano, parsley, thyme, sage, mint, and marjoram. Other easy herbs to grow include parsley, cilantro, and basil.
Starting transplants from seed can be fun, and you will have more variety to choose from. However, it does require some time to sow and care for the seedlings indoors under lights until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. If you are short on time, purchasing transplants from a nursery or garden center is a faster way to get your garden growing quickly. A $3 tomato plant can provide 10 pounds of produce over the course of a growing season. Well worth the investment. If your transplants come from inside a warm greenhouse, be sure to harden off your seedlings before planting.
Minimize the Need to Weed and Water
Grow in Containers: Growing vegetables in large pots on your deck or patio is an easy way to cultivate edible crops. Even if you have a garden, you may find that keeping additional containers around your yard is beneficial. You won’t have to do a lot of digging or weeding when growing in containers, but you will have to devote time to watering the containers because they tend to dry out quicker during hot spells. Use Self-Watering Containers: To solve the water maintenance issue, consider using self-watering planters. A self-watering container is made up of two chambers, the growing chamber and the water reservoir chamber. The growing chamber contains a wick that descends into the water reservoir that pulls water up into the growing chamber as needed for the plants. You simply fill the water chamber, and your plants will have water available to them for a longer period of time. Mulch the Soil Surface: Mulching your garden will help you save time in two big ways: weeding and watering.Mulch is any type of material that is layered on the surface of the soil. It helps hold in moisture and shades the soil surface preventing weed seeds from germinating. Organic mulches break down over time, enriching your soil as they decompose. Mulching helps reduce weeds, but you will still have to put some effort in weeding. Removing the weeds early when they are small is much easier than later when they are large. Use Soaker Hoses: Stringing soaker hoses around your plants takes some time and effort in the beginning, but they do make it much easier to deliver moisture directly to the soil surface and the plants. Adding a layer of mulch on top of the soaker hoses reduces the water evaporation.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at their location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.
These tolerate hard frosts (usually 25 to 28 degrees F). They are good for spring and fall gardens. The hardiest–kale, spinach, and collards–can tolerate temperatures in the low 20s and high teens. All taste best when they mature in cool weather, so they are very well suited to late summer planting for fall harvests. Harvest extends into winter in the Southeast, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. Many of these hardy vegetables will continue in the garden for weeks after the first hard frost.
*Swiss chard and collards taste best in the cool of spring and fall, but will hang on during summer heat, too.
Plant these in high spring, after the threat of frost has past. These tender vegetables need warm weather (65 to 90 degrees F) to grow and are killed by frost. They are for summer gardens only.
A Monthly Garden Guide
Get a start on planning for this year's garden. Cut the branches off of your Christmas tree to use as mulch. Scout tree branches and limbs for signs of egg masses.
Keep tabs on your houseplants. Make sure they are getting enough humidity. Check for pests. Cut branches of flowering trees and shrubs like fruit trees, azalea, forsythia, quince and magnolia to bring inside for forcing. The hardest part is probably getting outside in the cold weather to cut the branches and bring them indoors. However, the reward is worth it. Inspect hemlocks for overwintering wooly adelgid.
Prune non-stone fruit trees, grapes, and raspberries. Start all-purpose spray regimen.Start seeds of slow-growing and cool-season vegetables like onions, leeks, parsley, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant and peppers. Begin removing mulch from around rose bushes. Plant your peas on St. Patrick's Day. Begin horticultural oil (dormant oil) applications where needed to control pests.
Harden off and move cool season crops to the garden. Plant asparagus roots and onion sets. Apply pre-emergent crabgrass killer after forsythia bloom. Remove mulch from on top of flowers. Re-mulch beds as necessary. Remove tent caterpillars and webs. Begin monitoring for signs of disease.
Once your last frost date has passed, warm season crops can be planted. Start seeds for melon and squash. Hold until the end of May to avert squash bugs and borers. Begin pinching annuals and perennials to make the plants fill in and produce more bloom. Prune evergreens when the new growth starts to turn a darker shade of green. Prune stone fruits (cherry, almond, peach, nectarine, plum) at bloom time. Stake tall perennials. Remove and dispose of azalea leaf galls before they turn white and release their spores.
Prune flowering shrubs after the flowers begin to fade. Continue pinching flowers until July 4th. Deadhead and remove fading leaves from spring bloomers. Divide and transplant perennials. Take softwood cuttings from trees and shrubs to propagate new plants. Remove fallen fruits from below trees to prevent insect egg laying. Place red sticky sphere traps in apple trees to control apple maggot flies. Check undersides of rose leaves for rose slugs. Watch for scale infestations on Euonymus and pachysandra. Move houseplants outside.
Stop pinching back flowers. Divide oriental poppies and bearded iris. Keep deadheading. Remove leaves infested by miners, to control spread. Succession plant beans, lettuce, radishes, and corn. Water newly planted trees and plants as necessary. Start seeds of fall crops like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Seed a fall crop of peas. Gather herbs and flowers for drying. Keep deadheading and harvesting. Begin taking cuttings for new plants. Sit and enjoy your garden in all its beautiful glory.
Start moving houseplants indoor as needed. Check for pests first. Seed a fall spinach crop. Seed cover crops on bare spots in the vegetable garden. Plant new trees and shrubs, to give them at least 6 weeks before frost. Plant spring flowering bulbs. Begin "dark treatments" with your saved poinsettia plant. Dry and store tender bulbs before a frost.
Plant garlic and shallots. Have your soil tested and amend as needed. Harvest brussel sprouts after a hard frost. Clean up garden debris. Remove all vegetable plants and fallen fruit. Remove dead annuals from the garden, after a frost. Cut back perennial foliage to discourage overwintering pests. Leave flowers with seeds for the birds. Start raking and composting leaves.
Finish amending the soil.Cover exposed garden soil with a layer of shredded leaves, for the winter.Wrap screening around fruit tree trunks often damaged by mice and voles.Keep watering until the ground temperature reaches 40 degrees F. Buy bulbs for winter forcing. Mulch rose bushes.
If you can get to them, harvest any remaining root crops. Start rotating your houseplants so they get equal light on all sides. Check your stored tender bulbs for rotor dryness. Start paperwhites and amaryllis for winter blooms.