Tips for your best garden yet!
For gardeners old and new, the first sunny days of spring incite an industrious fervor that can border on insanity. If ever there was a way to bite off more than you can proverbially chew, it’s planting a garden after a long winter’s amnesia-inducing nap. Weeds? What are those? Canning? It’s heaven on earth!
So you rip up half your lawn and start buying seeds. As paychecks disappear into mountains of seeds and plant starts and bags of compost, may these tips help your (huge) gardens grow, well, huge…
What to grow:
- Grow what you like to eat. Seems simple, but many folks plant what they think they’re supposed to plant rather than what they actually want to eat.
- If you’re short on space, consider skipping things that are inexpensive to buy from local producers and/or that take up tons of space (cabbage, onions, potatoes), and focus on stuff that’s either expensive (kale, greens, herbs) or that tastes infinitely better homegrown (tomatoes).
When to plant:
Gardeners classify crops into cool- or warm-season crops. Cool season crops can handle frost and are generally planted in spring. Warm season crops can’t be planted outside until after the danger of frost has passed.
Some crops are “direct-seeded”—seeds planted right into the ground—while others are generally started indoors and transplanted outside later. The list below tells you which common garden crops are cool or warm season, and which should be direct seeded vs. transplanted.
Direct Seeding Tips:
- Don’t seed too deeply. Plant small seeds no more than ½” deep.
- Keep the ground moist until seeds germinate. Be patient—carrots especially take a long time to come up (sometimes 3 weeks!).
- Be sure to thin! Root crops like radishes especially need space to grow. Be a ruthless thinner, or you’ll end up with lots of leafy tops and no roots! Seriously, THIN like the dickens! Don’t feel bad!
Starting Indoors Tips:
- Light is crucial. It’s the biggest reason home gardeners end up with spindly plants. You can use a regular shop light (no fancy bulbs needed). Suspend it just a few inches above your seedlings and raise the light up as they grow. A window (even a south-facing one) is generally not enough light to avoid leggy seedlings! Keep your light on for 14 hours a day.
- Use potting soil (not regular soil). It is sterile and full of compost to help your plants grow strong!
- Keep seedlings moist, but cut back water if you notice mold growing on the surface.
- Harden seedlings off by setting them outside for a few hours a day for a few days before you transplant
- MAKE SURE TO WATER YOUR TRANSPLANTS! Transplanting is stressful on your plants, so make sure they have plenty of water in their new homes or they will surely perish with their tiny little roots.
- Make a small depression in the soil around the plants as you plant, like a moat, and then fill it up with water to get plenty of water to the tiny roots of your plants. Water deeply and often for at least 2 weeks to help them root deeply. You can also add compost to help feed them!
Dates are for Treasure Valley. For other areas, look up your last frost date and work backwards from there. Some crops are listed for both direct seeding and starting indoors because they work well both ways.
Direct Seed (plant directly into the dirt outside) as soon as the ground can be worked in spring (March-April)
Potatoes (protect tops from frost)
Greens like spinach, arugula, mustards
Chard (April or later)
Start indoors early (Feb, or one month before ground thaws) and transplant outside in spring (March-May)
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage
Alliums like onions, shallots, leeks
Fennel (transplant Apr-May)
Direct Seed (plant directly into the dirt outside) after danger of frost has passed (late May/June)
Squash (summer and winter)
Beans (pole and bush)
Short-season annual flowers
Start indoors in spring (March-April, or 6-8 weeks before last frost) and transplant after danger of frost has passed (late May/June)
Basil (start 4 weeks ahead)
Long-season annual flowers