With late-summer’s warmth on your side, you can get plenty of flower seeds off to a flying start by sowing in August.
It’s also a good time to take note of any bare gaps in beds and borders. Many seeds can be directly sown in these areas now, ensuring glorious colour next year. Ideas to consider include a mini wildflower meadow, or a bed of hardy annuals.
Check out five flower seeds to sow in August, below.
Calendula ‘Fruit Twist’
Colourful and easy to grow, calendulas can be sown in August and September, for flowers in late spring. They’re hardy, so simply direct sow them where they are to flower.
As with calendulas, you can sow cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) in August and September, for May flowers. Cultivars to sow and grow include ‘Black Ball’, which has deep chocolate-coloured blooms, and ‘Blue Ball’.
Most people tend to think of fall as the end of the gardening season. It’s when you pull all the spent crops, clean up debris, and get ready to put plants to bed for the winter. But there’s also an opportunity to harvest some edibles late in the season. Some pros even plan carefully enough to be able to harvest all winter long.
The key to planning a fall harvest is to get everything in the ground early enough. In most areas, that means planting in late July or early August. That gives plants enough time to grow before the days become too short. Make sure you know your average first frost date, so you seed or transplant far enough in advance to see plants mature. Planting schedules will vary depending on a person’s USDA hardiness zone.
Carrots are an excellent choice for the fall garden because they’re easy to grow and can withstand frosty temperatures. Leave them in the ground when there’s a freeze, and their flesh will taste even sweeter. Most varieties mature in about 70 to 90 days. However, if you’re cutting it close with your planting dates, opt for a dwarf carrot variety like Paris Market.
These pungent veggies are one of the fastest-growing edibles in the vegetable garden. Most varieties take less than a month to mature. If the timing is right, you might even get to harvest them twice. A hardy variety that responds well to changing weather is Plum Purple. Pink Lady Slipper radishes are another great choice for the fall garden because they stay fresh for weeks in storage.
Swiss chard isn’t as hardy as kale, but it’s still a solid pick for late summer planting because it can tolerate light frost. Most varieties require 50 to 60 days to mature. And even if you don’t plant early enough, you’ll just end up harvesting slightly smaller leaves at the end of the season. Plant Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard for a colorful fall display in the garden.
Beans are tender crops, but they grow and produce quickly. That means there’s usually enough time to plant a second batch of these nitrogen-fixing plants. Stick with bush beans since they’re hardier than pole and runner beans and usually mature quicker. A fast-growing bush bean variety is Bountiful, which matures in 45 to 50 days.
These nutritious leafy veggies are hardy and easy to grow. Some varieties have been bred specifically to withstand freezing temperatures, allowing gardeners to continue harvesting during the winter. Many types mature within 60 days, but you can also harvest leaves in their baby form. Cold-hardy kales include Siberian, Westlander, and White Russian. Like carrots, kale also gets sweeter after a freeze.
As a cool-season vegetable, broccoli grows best at the tail end of the season. Most people have trouble growing broccoli because they plant it at the wrong time. Heads that mature in cooler weather are tastier and better in quality than those picked during the hot summer months. Broccoli tends to mature within about 90 days, give or take, so it might be too late to plant if you’re in a northern zone. Otherwise, consider varieties like Broccoli Raab, Santee Purple Sprouting Broccoli, or De Cicco for your fall garden.
Many gardeners struggle to grow heat-sensitive plants during the summer because plants send up flower stalks and become bitter as soon as it gets too hot. When it’s ultra-hot, some plants—like bok choy and many Asian greens—will bolt as soon as they sprout from the ground. These quick-growing greens are better suited to cool-season growing and don’t take long to mature. Varieties perfect for fall harvesting include Chijimisai (55 days), Yod Fah Chinese Broccoli (55 days), and Prize Choy (50 days).
Another vegetable that isn’t a fan of the heat is lettuce. Seeds and plants tend to do better in cool conditions. By picking the right varieties, you might even be able to enjoy lettuce far past the end of fall—with the help of some protection like row covers or cold frames. Cold-hardy lettuce varieties include Rouge D’hiver (60 days), Winter Density (55 days), and Merveille Des Quatre Saisons (48 days).
Because onions are sensitive to changes in daylight hours, it’s not possible to plant them at the end of the season and harvest their bulbs in the fall. Most onions need a long growing season. But, you can still plant green or bunching onions because they don’t usually take much more than 60 days to mature. Varieties suited for late-season planting include Ishikura Onion (40 to 50 days) and Parade (60 days)
Fall squash is what people usually harvest when the leaves are changing colors. But it takes a long time to grow fall squashes like butternut or acorn squash. Summer squash, on the other hand, matures impressively fast. If you plant now, you can surely enjoy another harvest in time for fall. Squash doesn’t like frost, so plant ASAP to ensure fruits can form and mature before the first frost date.
Seasoned gardeners know that a diverse mix of plants makes for a healthy and beautiful garden. Many believe that certain plant combinations have extraordinary (even mysterious) powers to help each other grow. Scientific study of the process, called companion planting, has confirmed that some combinations have real benefits unique to those pairings.
Companions help each other grow and use garden space efficiently. Tall plants, for example, provide shade for sun-sensitive shorter plants. Vines can cover the ground while tall stalks grow skywards, allowing two plants to occupy the same patch. Some couplings also prevent pest problems. Plants can repel harmful organisms or lure the bad bugs away from more delicate species.
These combinations of plants do way better, together:
Roses and Garlic
Gardeners have been planting garlic with roses for eons since the bulbs can help to repel rose pests. Garlic chives are probably just as repellent, and their small purple or white flowers in late spring look great with rose flowers and foliage.
Marigolds and Melons
Certain marigold varieties control nematodes in the roots of melon without using chemical treatments.
Tomatoes and Cabbage
Tomatoes repel diamondback moth larvae, which can chew large holes in cabbage leaves.
Cucumbers and Nasturtiums
The nasturtium’s vining stems make them a great companion rambling among your growing cucumbers and squash plants, suggests Sally Jean Cunningham, master gardener and author of Great Garden Companions. Nasturtiums reputedly repel cucumber beetles, but they can also serve as a habitat for predatory insects like spiders and ground beetles.
Peppers and Pigweed
Leafminers preferred both pigweed (also called amaranthus) and ragweed to pepper plants in a study at the Coastal Plains Experiment Station in Tifton, Georgia. Just be careful to remove the flowers before the weeds set seed.
Cabbage and Dill
“Dill is a great companion for cabbage family plants, such as broccoli and brussels sprouts,” Cunningham says. The cabbages support the floppy dill, while the dill attracts the helpful wasps that control cabbage worms and other pests.
Corn and Beans
The beans attract beneficial insects that prey on corn pests such as leafhoppers, fall armyworms, and leaf beetles. The vines can also climb up the corn stalks.
Lettuce and Tall Flowers
Nicotiana (flowering tobacco) and cleome (spider flower) give lettuce the light shade it grows best in.
Radishes and Spinach
Planting radishes among your spinach will draw leafminers away from the healthy greens. The damage the leafminers do to radish leaves doesn’t prevent the radishes from growing nicely underground.
Potatoes and Sweet Alyssum
The sweet alyssum has tiny flowers that attract delicate beneficial insects, such as predatory wasps. Plant sweet alyssum alongside bushy crops like potatoes, or let it spread to form a living ground cover under arching plants like broccoli. Bonus: The alyssum’s sweet fragrance will scent your garden all summer long.
Cauliflower and Dwarf Zinnias
The nectar from the dwarf zinnias lures ladybugs and other predators that help protect cauliflower.
Collards and Catnip
Studies have found that planting catnip alongside collards reduces flea-beetle damage on the collards. The fragrant plant may also help repel mosquitoes.
Strawberries and Love-In-A-Mist
Tall, blue-flowered love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) “looks wonderful planted in the center of a wide row of strawberries,” Cunningham says.
Perennials are a must-have in your garden because of their ability to come back year after year, usually growing even stronger and more beautiful with age. But unlike annuals that can bloom non-stop for months, most perennials have a relatively short bloom season, lasting from just a few days to a few weeks. You can still ensure plenty of flowers from your perennials through the seasons by choosing varieties with staggered bloom times. And don’t be afraid to pack in the plants for the best color show: Where three or four types of annuals can brighten a bed all season long, you might need a dozen different perennials to make sure something is blooming from spring to fall. Start planning your continuously blooming garden by selecting a combination of these spring, summer, and fall-blooming perennials for sun and shade.
Spring Seasonal Perennials for Shade
These spring flowers will brighten any shady area. Planted in low light, these seasonal perennials are low-maintenance and low-risk in attracting pests. You can count on these early-bloomers to kickstart your garden every spring.
Candytuft produces masses of snowy white blooms. | CREDIT: DENNY SCHROCK
Spring Seasonal Perennials for Sun
Need a little something more to liven up your sunny space? These sun-loving perennials spring back year after year with dozens of blooms and beautiful color. Equipped for growing in the hot sun, many of these pretty perennials are also tough and drought-tolerant.
Astilbe produces colorful wands of small flowers, held above its foliage. | CREDIT: DENNY SCHROCK
Late Spring to Early Summer Seasonal Perennials for Shade
Say hello to the first days of summer with these perennials that love the shade. Bright colors and lush foliage make for exciting accents in a shady corner spot. Park a bench near your shade garden, grab a book, and relax with a view of your gorgeous perennials.
Peonies come in an assortment of colors, including several shades of pink. | CREDIT: KARLA CONRAD
Late Spring to Early Summer Seasonal Perennials for Sun
Welcome sunny days and warm weather with plants that can beat the heat. There’s plenty of variety among these low-maintenance early summer flowers, so it should be easy to choose a few that fit into your dream garden plan.
The soft purple flowers of catmint combine well with the pink blooms of bee balm in this garden. | CREDIT: PETER KRUMHARDT
Summer Seasonal Perennials for Sun
When the heat starts to set in, it’s time for hardy, drought-resistant perennials to take over. You’ve got dozens of choices for summer flowers that can beat the heat, so go ahead and plant as many as you can fit in your yard.
When in bloom, Russian sage looks like a purple haze. | CREDIT: JOHN STRAUSS
Late Summer and Early Fall Seasonal Perennials for Sun
Summer is coming to an end, but autumn is just around the corner. Feel the soft, cool breeze and smell the fresh scent of these beautiful fall flowers as the leaves start to turn. Add these colors to your space to help the summer season live on just a little longer.
The dainty flowers of toad lily light up shade gardens in fall when not much else is in bloom. | CREDIT: DENNY SCHROCK
Late Summer and Early Fall Seasonal Perennials for Shade
The sunny days may be dissolving, but these seasonal perennials will still thrive. Enjoy a few last blooms through the changing leaves with these shade-loving fall flowering plants. These seasonal perennials will perfectly complement a fall garden color palette.
Most gardeners are aware of the slugs, bugs, and other pests that can destroy their plants. This includes many caterpillars, but a few can hurt the gardener as much as the garden. Their stings or hard spines might smart enough to warrant steering clear and taking extra precautions to keep them away from your leafy greens. Some are unmistakable, and others take a little know-how to keep them out of the garden and away from working hands.
Flannel Moth Caterpillar (The Asp)
The flannel moth caterpillar, also known as the puss caterpillar, or “the asp,” is covered in fine silky hair that hides its poisonous spines. Once those spines pierce the skin, they cause a painful stinging rash that can last for several days. They’re found in Texas and a few other Southern states. However, they’re not common and live mostly in trees. Their furry bodies are hard to mistake. As long as you know what they look like, you should be able to avoid them.
Saddleback Moth Caterpillar
The brightly colored saddleback (moth) caterpillar is far more striking than the moth it becomes. Found in Alabama and Florida, these little guys have a fleshy pair of horns on both ends of their bodies with a bright green back and dot in the center. Once you’ve seen a picture, it’s easy to see where they get their name. The hairs on their horns contain an irritating venom that causes swelling and a painful rash.
Io Moth Caterpillar
The Io moth caterpillar’s green body is covered in black-tipped venomous spines. These caterpillars live in the eastern and midwestern United States. They can be seen living together and “marching” in single file in their early stages before they venture out on their own to enter the cocoon phase. Their intense green bodies blend very well with summer foliage, making it easy to accidentally brush against the body and get a painful sting.
Stinging Rose Caterpillar
The stinging rose caterpillar’s strange appearance might attract attention but avoid this brightly colored, striped, and horned caterpillar. The stinging rose is found only in the eastern United States, and it’s relatively uncommon. These caterpillars prefer rose foliage (hence their name), dogwood, apple, cherry, oak, poplar, maple, hickory, and bayberry. Some develop red or orange stripes, while others are yellow. They’re hard to miss, and their bright colors warn enemies of their venom.
The spiny oak slug has stinging hairs on its many extended lobes. Their body features mottled stripes, making them a striking specimen. They typically hide on the underneath side of foliage, so they are difficult to detect until brushing the hairs. Most people experience a painful sting. However, there’s a small percentage of people who have a more serious reaction to the sting and may require medical attention. The good news is that these caterpillars are not particularly common, even though they are found throughout North America.
The black, yellow, and red-colored white flannel moth caterpillar has tufts of long hair coming out of its yellow mounds. Those long black hairs don’t sting, but the short hairs at the base of the tufts do. These caterpillars come out in late summer throughout southern, midwestern, and eastern areas of the United States. Once the caterpillar goes through metamorphosis, it comes out a silky white moth that’s not venomous whatsoever.
The monkey slug caterpillar doesn’t look much like a caterpillar or a slug, really. In a way, it resembles a crumbled, dying leaf. Its tentacles and thick hair disguise the sharp spines that house its venom. Most people wouldn’t want to pick up this strange creature because of its odd, arachnid-like appearance, but the stinging spines seal the deal on avoiding this New England native.
Buck Moth Caterpillar
Buck moth caterpillars love the oak trees predominantly found in the eastern United States, but they also show up in some midwestern and southern states. These dark-colored caterpillars feature tufts covered in venomous spines that cause a red, stinging rash. They come out in the spring and are readily found in and around oak trees.
A well-kept lawn is a beautiful sight and a standard attribute of residential yards. But it’s also very one-dimensional. Grass may be the largest irrigated crop in the country, but it’s also sadly inedible. All of the time and energy that goes into creating and maintaining an ornamental lawn, shrubs, and assorted plants would be better spent tending to an equally eye-catching landscape filled with food! With some helpful tips and tricks, you can transform your yawn of a yard into a produce-producing powerhouse.
The process of gardening should be enjoyable, so be sure to start small. Rather than dig up the yard and transform every inch, choose a family-favorite food to add to existing flower borders, or pot some herbs and use them to fill out empty spaces in the landscape.
Beware of Foot Traffic
Be mindful not to place your edible garden too close to passersby on the sidewalk or street, or too tight to walkways leading to the front door. Dogs will see your plantings as an opportunity to pee, while kids may wind up stomping over your veggies. Direct foot traffic away from the garden with rocks, solar lights, a small fence, and other landscaping accessories.
Choose Low-Maintenance Edibles
Be honest with yourself about the amount of time you’re willing to spend tending to the garden. Swapping out a lawn for edible landscaping that requires a ton of maintenance defeats the purpose. Prioritize perennials, which require less upkeep than annuals.
Plant spreading varieties for an easy way to turn a yard into an edible garden. Nasturtiums, for instance, are self-seeding annuals that add a pop of color in the spring. Herbs like oregano, thyme, and marjoram can withstand foot traffic, and they release a delicious fragrance into the air.
Not everything has to be edible! When building out an edible garden, create dimension and intrigue by incorporating shade-tolerant ornamentals in areas that don’t see enough sunlight for edibles to thrive. Break up the greenery with garden structures like trellises and statues.
Take Note of Size, Texture, and Shape
Without proper planning, an edible garden will look messy. Different edibles vary in size, texture, shape, and even color. Keep these variations in mind as you design your garden. Group together like plants, ensuring that low-growing ones are situated at the front of the flower bed and high-growing ones in the back.
Know What You Like
Incorporating edible plants into your landscaping should be about taste as well as looks! If you’re not a fan of zucchini, why plant it? Figure out which foods you desire most, and consider how those plants can be used. Blueberries, for example, offer beautiful spring flowers, vibrant color, and delicious flavor, and they also make for great hedge plants.
Be Mindful of Sunlight
Be sure to plant edibles in locations that receive enough light. Most edibles do best with 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight. Cool-season plants like lettuce and cabbage can tolerate a little more shade.
A number of edibles are known for their bounty as well as their aesthetics. Vining edibles such as beans, peas, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons can be trained to grow vertically (and beautifully) along a trellis.
Welcome Wildlife Allies
Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies are just some of the pollinators that improve the success of a vegetable garden. They help plants set fruit, ensuring a bountiful harvest. Welcome wildlife allies by planting attractive flowers like lavender and providing sources of shelter and water for these busy workers.
There’s no arguing that a healthy, green houseplant looks good just about anywhere. Something about those lush leaves or beachy palm fronds can really amplify the vibe in any space. But when it feels like you’re only seeing green, adding a pop of color from a flowering indoor plant can be a sight for sore eyes.
Before you go running off to the closest greenhouse, keep in mind: Your new blooming buddy might require more TLC than that snake plant in your corner. Like any species of plant or flower, each has its own set of “rules” for ensuring it blooms and grows to its fullest potential. While these vary, Erin Marino, plant expert and director of brand marketing at The Sill, has some general tips:
For light: “Indoor plants that bloom usually require more sunlight—bright direct to bright indirect—and frequent waterings than other plants,” she says. “You’ll want to make sure your space receives enough bright light for your new houseplant to thrive and support its flowers, or that you invest in supplemental lighting.”
For water: According to Marino, you’ll probably find yourself watering flowering plants more often than those that don’t bloom. That means you may want to invest in a good self-draining pot: “It depends on the specific plant whether it likes to dry out between waterings or remain semi-moist,” she says. “Either way, good drainage is key.”
For soil: Fertilizing your blooming houseplants can also help encourage more flowers. “Fertilizer isn’t food but nutrients, similar to those your plant would get out in its natural habitat,” Marino says. She suggests always checking the fertilizer label for directions and notes that some flowering plants, like orchids, even have their own fertilizers developed just for them.
Ready to add some color to that green thumb? Below are six flowering indoor plants to check out (as if you needed another reason to expand your collection…)
6 pretty flowering indoor plants for beautiful blooms
You likely wouldn’t be surprised to learn rock gardens originated in East Asia, but many of the modern iterations we see today have their roots in 17th-century Europe and America. Early Asian rock gardens were focused on unusual rock forms, while Western rock gardens were inspired by beautiful mountain ranges that people wanted to recreate on their own properties. Either way, both sides of the world developed rock gardens to bring joy, peace, and tranquility into their daily lives, and these rock garden ideas will assist you in doing just that in your own backyard.
Whether you have sprawling green space or a minuscule patio, there are plenty of rock garden varieties to fit your landscaping needs. From classic Japanese gardens to modern outdoor art fixtures, our favorite rock garden ideas below are sure to inspire.
Ryōan-ji is Japan’s most famous rock garden, residing in the capital city of Kyoto. This garden is enclosed by clay walls and serves as a meditation space for monks studying at Myoshin-ji school of Zen Buddhism.
This desert scene is from Moorten Botanical Garden, an iconic Palm Springs destination for exploring the area’s unique flora and fauna. Several varieties of cacti offer a fun twist on the classic rock garden.
Creating stunning borders is the highlight of having a garden. Seeing those rich beds in full bloom and bursting with colour is what makes all of those hours of weeding and digging worthwhile. But thriving, luscious flower borders can be expensive – especially when you are starting from scratch.
Fortunately there are ways to get rich herbaceous borders on a budget. So let me share my top money-saving tips for frugal flowerbeds that can still take your breath away.
FRAMEWORK OF FEATURES
When designing any flower border, you need a framework of strong, reliable specimens that will anchor the planting. These are your permanent fixtures – once these are in place you can work around them with seasonal varieties.
Shrubs, trees and evergreens provide a great base for your flowers, as well as giving the border structure in winter. Plant a few feature specimens throughout the border.
A few smaller garden trees that are sure to brighten up your borders are:
• Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)
• Prunus (cherry)’Kiku-shidare-zakura’
• Salix caprea (Kilmarnock willow)
• Prunus (cherry) ‘Amanogawa’
However, these are not always cheap. You can save money by buying young plants and letting them grow to size, if you have the patience. Or for an instant effect you can try fast-growing shrubs that will quickly fill the empty spaces such as:
• Rosa glauca
• Spiraea japonica
For fast results, sow annual flowers. These germinate, bloom and set seed all in one season, so they act fast and can transform a bare plot.
They come in all sizes, shapes and colours imaginable, so it’s worth scouring your local garden retailer for seeds that you love.
• Sweet pea
• Sweet alyssum
The cheapest way to buy new plants is from seed. But they can take a long time to reach maturity, leaving you with a half-empty bed.
However, there are some varieties that grow fast. These are all strong perennials that will flower in one season:
Sow them in early spring and you can have striking, flowering plants by the summer.
These popular herbaceous border plants will flower the second year after sowing, so it’s worth getting them in the ground too:
DIVIDE PERENNIALS AND BULBS
Make more plants for free by dividing what’s already in your garden. Large perennials and groups of bulbs can become congested, which reduces their flowering.
“Don’t get too attached,” said my friend Kathleen. My first sugar snap pea plant was suffering an infestation of some sort, and it looked faded and thin. “Gardening is rife with heartbreak,” she added. This was one of many tidbits my friend offered during my first tentative foray into gardening. While this was not the advice I wanted, embracing failure was exactly the insight I needed to succeed.
As a writer, I’m intimately familiar with the phrase “murder your darlings,” a reference to letting precious turns of phrase surrender to the delete key in service of the larger work. But when it came to attempting a garden of my own, overwhelm and fear of failure immediately shrouded me in doubt. Did I want to build raised beds or sow directly into the ground? What could I plant where? What if critters ate everything?
During the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, my friend and I conferred about gardening via the Marco Polo video messaging app. I’d pepper her with questions and she’d offer abundant gardening know-how and encouragement, taking obvious delight in mentoring a novice. Her advice to not give up if a plant didn’t survive—the ultimate fate of my sugar snap pea plant—gave me the gumption to keep growing.
If you’re a novice, the idea of designing your own garden might feel daunting, as it did for me. This is especially true when comparison-itis strikes; how could my seedling of an idea compare to the lush, sophisticated bounty of experienced gardeners like Kathleen? For me, the trick to getting started was letting inspiration be my guide and dividing the project into achievable steps, nurtured with patient advice from other gardeners.
GIVE YOUR GARDEN A PURPOSE
It might seem like gardening is simply a matter of choosing a location and creating a grid for planting. However, it can be inspiring to start by giving your garden a purpose. Do you want to grow your own food, herbs or flowers—or all of the above?
My friend Kathleen is an “all of the above” gardener, her front yard a head-turning neighborhood floral oasis, complete with bird feeders and bright, chalky-blue Adirondack chairs. Her gardening aesthetic runs in the direction of nuance and detail, Latin plant names embedded in her memory like those of treasured friends. She even created a spreadsheet for me to plan my next garden, including what supplies to buy and when.
In contrast, my plant vibe tends more toward instincts and appetites: ”How hard will it be to grow a rainbow coneflower bed like my neighbor around the block?” or ”Will this taste good in a salsa?” In fact, “pico de gallo” was my first garden theme, a nod to my insatiable appetite for summer-grilled steak and shrimp fajitas and an idea that felt simple, achievable, and delicious. I planted zesty serranos and jalapeños, cilantro, and Roma tomatoes bursting with bright summer flavor, supplemented with red onion from my farmers market and grocery store limes.
DECIDE WHETHER TO START WITH SEEDS OR PLANTS
There’s no right or wrong way to go when deciding whether to start from seed or purchase plants. Neither method is necessarily better except in two respects: timing and space. Timing matters because seeds need more time to grow and often must be planted indoors a few weeks before the last frost of the year. That’s where space comes in – you’ll need somewhere indoors to start seeds under a grow lamp until the seedlings are hardy enough to plant outdoors.
Because I got started late in the season, seeds were not an option. My small town northwest of Chicago has a quaint Victorian town square with a bustling farmers market, so I got most of my plants there. However, the “Fourth of July” slicing tomato plant I scored for two bucks at the local hardware store turned out to be a family favorite, too—including my tomato-averse middle child.
Tip: Wherever you get your plants or seeds, chat up the growers who work there. Experienced local gardeners can be invaluable assets who are often happy to share their knowledge.
START WHERE YOU ARE: DESIGN YOUR GARDEN BASED ON YOUR NEEDS
If you don’t feel ready to plant a full-scale garden on your first try, that’s okay. Consider a kitchen window herb garden, or plop a cherry tomato plant into a hefty pot and see what happens. Whatever your available space and knowledge level, you’ll want to give some thought to which type of garden to plant.
CONTAINERS, RAISED BEDS OR IN THE GROUND?
The sizable garden my dad grew during my childhood seemed effortless—probably because I wasn’t the one doing the bulk of the work. He’d till the soil with a pitchfork, shirtless under the optimistic rays of Midwestern spring. By late summer, we’d stand in the garden before dinner, unable to resist savoring crisp green beans and the tender tang of deep red slicing tomatoes plucked straight from the vine.
Because I wanted to start on a smaller scale, I opted for a container garden. Buoyed by early success with spring lettuces and herbs, a couple of pots quickly grew into a collection that claimed half of our brick patio. Easier to weed, container gardening is ideal for people with limited space or mobility issues, where bending down to tend plants can be challenging. The potted plants are convenient to move around to capture sunlight throughout a day or season. You can add cages to support tomatoes and potatoes and trellises for climbers like cucumbers and beans. However, container gardens require more frequent watering and are not ideal for larger produce like melons or squash.
For my second growing season, I ordered pre-made raised bed kits recommended by Kathleen rather than build them myself, since I’m about as handy as Homer Simpson. A raised bed garden has sides made from wood or metal and is a good option for areas where the ground is nutrient-poor or dense from clay composition. Once you’ve done the work of building and filling the raised beds, you’ll want to amend them with compost each season before planting. Raised beds are easier to access for weeding and harvesting. Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and turnips like the extra depth of raised beds full of fluffy soil for setting down roots. If you’re not handy, you can order raised bed kits from garden centers like I did.
Gardening directly in the ground like my dad used to do is a great choice for people with ample growing space in a sunny spot, but you may need to add nutrient-rich topsoil and compost. Your local cooperative extension service is an invaluable gardening resource for learning about additions you may need to add to the soil. This national network of university departments provides help to farmers and gardeners, answering questions about plants, pest control, and soil quality. Once you’ve dug your garden, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can grow within your hardiness zone.
KNOW YOUR GROW ZONE
Not every type of plant thrives in every environment due to variations in soil type, amount of annual rainfall, and length of growing season. The U.S. is divided into 13 plant hardiness zones developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on average annual minimum winter temperatures.
To find your planting zone, the USDA has a searchable plant hardiness zone map. Seed packets and plant tags list the optimal zones for planting; if you’re unsure, check with local garden center staff, online gardening websites and your local cooperative extension service are good resources.
Accepting that gardening can at times test your will or even break your heart wasn’t the only thing my friend taught me. Gardening is also inherently about generosity, both from the plants themselves and the people who love growing them, ready to share advice, suggestions and homegrown produce.