Spring doesn’t arrive everywhere at the same time, but it always arrives, and a little strategic planning ensures that you’ll be ready and your garden will be right on time.
Anyone willing to nurture an edible plant until it produces something good to eat can be an organic vegetable gardener. These gardeners never stop believing that tiny seeds and wee plants can grow up to be healthy plants that produce something delicious, without synthetic chemical intervention, because healthy, happy plants are naturally pest and disease resistant. Spring is the season of hopes and dreams for any gardener, the time to make fun, creative, and necessary plans that turn wishful thinking into thriving production. Here are a few springtime projects and ideas to help launch this year’s garden. Spring doesn’t arrive everywhere at the same time, but it always arrives, and a little strategic planning ensures that you’ll be ready and your garden will be right on time.
Draw up a plan
No matter the size and scope of your garden, no matter your experience and ambitions, a detailed plan lays the necessary groundwork and helps you make the most of the space you have. Thoughtful, detailed planning helps connect the dots between what you envision and what you can pull off with success and enjoyment. Draw a sketch of your garden and label where your plants will go, trace how you’ll get water to the plants, and create checklists and timelines.
Revise your plan until it’s workable for you and the realities of your garden.
Embrace your springtime gardening ambitions and exuberance, but be honest with yourself about the strengths and weaknesses of your garden space and about the time and energy you’ll have to tend your garden. A perfect harvest isn’t a function of size, but of satisfaction. The best garden (for any gardener) is one that balances work and reward.
Get ready to take notes, keep simple records, and snap photos as you work your plan throughout the growing season.
A smart way to improve your garden each year is to pay attention to how plants grow. Your sketches and pics will remind you where things grew, and your notes will teach you how to repeat your successes or do better next time. Gardens are continual experiments.
Keep on the sunny side when establishing or expanding a garden.
All gardens must have plenty of direct sunlight. Plants that we grow for their leaves (such as salad greens) need at least 6 hours. Those we raise for their roots (such as radishes and beets) do best with at least 8 hours. Plants that we grow for their fruit (such as tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers) do better with 10. If you’re creating small raised beds or using containers, you can take advantage of more than one bright spot. Depending on the size and weight of any containers, you can move them as needed to chase the sun (or a little shade on hottest days) throughout the season.
Awaken your established in-ground plot or raised beds from their long winter’s nap.
Clear the debris. Loosen soil to break up clods and snarls. Get your soil back up to speed by replacing or replenishing what you have with a reliable product, such as Miracle-Gro Performance Organics All Purpose In-Ground Soil. If you’re establishing new beds, you’ll still need to clear, assess, and optimize the soil, because yard dirt is not the same as garden soil, and it can’t give your burgeoning garden the nutrition it needs. You’ll never regret investing in the best soil you can give your garden.
Amending soil means nothing more than adding what’s needed to create a nutrient-rich environment for your vegetables and all of the beneficial creatures that inhabit a thriving organic garden ecosystem. Most vegetable garden experts recommend applying a top-quality organic fertilizer (designed for use on edibles) before spring planting.
Inventory your pots.
Containers makes vegetable gardening feasible for almost everyone, including those of us with very limited sunny pace. Even large gardens usually include a few containers in their plan, creating a cozy, confined home that’s perfect for some plants. Determine the sizes and number of pots will you need for this year’s garden. Empty any pots you’ve used in the past and give them a good scrub to remove dried-on salts and debris. Container vegetables usually deplete their soil by the end of the growing season, so refill the pots with fresh soil designed to be used in containers (which is different from garden soil), such as Miracle-Gro Performance Organics All Purpose Container Mix, which you can also use to fill any new pots. Place heavy, unwieldy pots on wheeled trolleys so that you can move them easily, if necessary.
Pick what to plant, and how.
There’s more than one way to plant a garden: You can sow seeds directly in the soil, raise your own seedlings to transplant into your garden (often begun indoors to get a jump start on the growing season), or buy transplants. Don’t waste your time and money trying to grow something that simply cannot survive in your garden spot because of your climate and circumstances. But take heart; there are hundreds of cultivars available to us, so keep searching for the perfect plants and vegetables for your growing area.
Figure out when to plant.
A planting calendar helps you determine the optimal time to plant each item in your garden, such as after spring’s final frost. A smart first step is to determine your USDA hardiness zone (via a quick Google search using your zip code), and then compare your zone information to the recommended zone information you’ll find on most seed packets and plant tags, which will also spell out the plant’s need for sunlight or shade, and the average number of growing days until harvest. Use that information to guide you to choices with the highest probability of success in your particular garden. Unless you plan to grow only one variety of vegetable and aim for a single harvest, you probably won’t have only one planting day. Space out your plantings to meet the needs of your plants and make your tasks smaller and more manageable.
Dream up new ways to add delicious variety to your garden.
Add a new vegetable to the lineup (such as a new type of tomato, perhaps a delicious, reliable heirloom that flourishes in your community) or try a new cultivar of a familiar favorite (such as tucking a purple basil plant among the tried-and-true green, or planting cute patty pan instead of ordinary crookneck summer squash.) Everything is tempting on the pages of a seed catalog and in the brimming aisles of a big-box garden shop, so when in doubt, turn to your local gardening experts for friendly advice and suggestions on what grows best where you live. Good gardeners are eager to share their success stories. Your best source for seeds and plants that will flourish in your spot might come from farmers’ markets, local seed and plant swaps, local nursery, or nearby botanical gardens instead of big-box stores that must cater to a national market.
Make sure that watering will be as easy and efficient as possible.
If you’re creating a new garden, its proximity to water is nearly as important as ample sunshine. If your garden spot is already set, inspect the watering equipment you already own to make sure it’s in good working order, and then shop for any replacements or upgrades to keep pace with the needs of your garden. Remember that the goal is for water to reach deep into the soil to encourage healthy root systems. Simply spraying water over the tops of plants isn’t efficient; it either evaporates away too quickly, or leaves soggy plants that are vulnerable to disease. An old-fashioned watering can might be all you need if your garden is small, but water is heavy and difficult to move, so it might become burdensome to hand carry sufficient water during times of rapid growth or on hot days when plants stay thirsty, and is too time-consuming in a large garden. An adjustable spray nozzle threaded onto the end of a sturdy hose that stretches easily from a spigot to your garden (without disturbing your plants) might be an effective, affordable solution, but that means you (or someone else, in your absence) must be available to apply water as needed. Sprinklers are easy to use (and can be set to timers), but they aren’t efficient because they spray water over the tops of the plants instead of soaking into the ground, and wet foliage encourages disease. If you have a large in-ground plot or multiple raised beds, consider investing in drip lines or water-saving soaker hoses that run alongside the plants, sending water directly to the root system with no run-off.
Gather your tools.
Make sure that any gardening tools that you already have are clean, sharp, and ready to use. Think about whether any new tools would make your work easier and more efficient. Gather them into a box or basket so you’ll always know where things are when you need them. Fun tip: Paint the handles of your tools a bright color to help you find them among your plants out in the garden.