The idea of homegrown fresh produce making its way into summer salads is appealing to just about anyone, but the thought of planning, planting, and harvesting an early spring garden can be overwhelming to many.
With some basic know-how, anyone can garden, even those limited on outdoor space. Compact urban gardens have popped up everywhere, from balconies to rooftops, and for those lucky enough to have larger backyards, an oasis of fresh produce and herbs can be yours with some simple and effective planning. Read on to learn our six steps for successful spring garden planning.
|1||Understand the basics of soil, spacing, watering, and light for successful spring garden planning.|
|2||Consider using raised beds and containers to maximize space and optimize growing conditions.|
|3||Choose vegetables that you and your family enjoy eating and are suitable for your climate and region.|
|4||Decide whether to use starter plants, seeds, or tubers based on your gardening experience and preference.|
|5||Check the weather and plant at the appropriate time to avoid frost damage and ensure optimal growth.|
|6||Maintain your garden by watering, weeding, and managing pests, and harvest produce at the right time for the best flavor and continuous production.|
Step 1: Study the Basics
You do not need a Ph.D. in the pH levels of soil to successfully plant a spring garden, but you do need to understand the basics when it comes to soil, spacing, watering, and light. So while you might be tempted to grab your garden shovel and go, take some time to understand what will work best in your climate as well as any garden space constraints you may have.
Plants need good soil with nutrients, water, and light to survive and thrive, and your local garden center will be a great resource for what’s best for your particular circumstances. The basic points to remember as you get started on your vegetable garden are:
Soil and Nutrients
Your own “dirt” may not be ideal for growing. Sandy soil will drain too quickly, and clay compacted soil will allow too much water to stand, leading to disease and root rot. You need well-draining soil with organic matter that gets your water and nutrients to the right place—the roots.
The pH level of the soil should fall in the “neutral” category to ensure the nutrients can be effectively delivered to the plant (try a soil test to make sure you get this right!). Organic compost and premade soil mixes will ensure you start with the right foundation for your garden space.
Use your thumb (or finger) to test when it comes to watering: if you stick your finger into the soil and it is dry two inches down, it’s time to water. Vegetables need consistent watering to thrive, especially in hotter temperatures. Beware of overwatering because it can lead to disease and root rot.
When growing vegetables in your spring garden, most crops need at least six hours of sunlight daily. This will be an important component of your plan as you consider where to place your beds or containers. Be sure to observe your outdoor spaces’ light and shade patterns before making final placement decisions.
Step 2: Choosing Your Sites and Containers
Raised beds and containers are two of the most popular ways to grow vegetables in a spring garden, and you may have enough space to do both. For example, you might opt for a raised bed to accommodate plants that need more spacing and a few containers on your patio for shallow root vegetables like lettuce, carrots, spinach, and spring radishes that take up less space.
One of the reasons gardeners opt for raised beds is that the raised soil will drain better and warm up more quickly in the spring. You must ensure your bed is spaced appropriately with north-south rows to maximize sun exposure and create enough room between the plants.
Containers and vertical gardening work well on balconies or patios, where you can easily grow a variety of options, from tomatoes to lettuce to peas.
Step 3: Picking Your Plants
While tomatoes are often a popular choice for first-time gardeners, there is no need to plant them if your family won’t eat them! Think about what you consume regularly and will eat often.
You may be surprised by how much produce comes out of your small garden, and you do not want to waste healthy and nutritious food, so be sure you are growing what you will actually use.
Your climate and region will also dictate what grows best in your area, so this is another topic to discuss with an expert at your local garden center when you come up with a garden plan. Start small and play it safe: try your hand at two or three vegetables in your first planting season, and you can grow your garden from there.
Step 4: Seeds, Starters, or Tubers?
A starter plant is the best and easiest way for a new gardener to find success during the growing season. This means the plant has been “started” by your garden center, and you will nurture it to harvest time.
Plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash are great starters for the warmer months—and you can try your hand in the cooler winter months with broccoli, cabbage, and celery.
Seed packets are how we most often think of gardening from the ground up, and this method will require more careful planning and spacing. Tubers (such as potatoes) will take longer to grow and harvest.
Step 5: Check the Weather!
Resist the urge to plant too early if your region is still prone to frost and a long winter. Warm season vegetables grown in spring gardens typically need an average minimum temperature of 60 degrees.
You want to be sure you plant at the appropriate time so you do not risk watching your hard work go down the (garden hose) drain if the forecasts are not working in your favor. A spring garden in South Carolina will be quite different from one in South Dakota!
Step 6: Maintenance and Harvest Time
After careful planning and planting, you will need to maintain your garden with proper watering, weeding, and pest management to ensure a good harvest.
Be sure to keep the area free from weeds and use mulch, pine straw, or compost around the plants to keep the weeds at bay. This extra ground cover will suppress them and also retain moisture. Pest control will vary by region and plant; seek out natural methods to control pests to protect your crops.
Make sure you harvest on time to enjoy the best flavor from your homegrown spring garden produce and also to ensure the plants do not over-mature and stop producing. With careful planning and care, your spring garden should yield delicious foods you can enjoy all summer long!
For 15 years, Hellen James has worked in the gardening industry as an expert and landscape designer. During her career, she has worked for a variety of businesses that specialize in landscaping and gardening from small firms to large corporations.