Okay, I admit it- I’m a newsletter junkie. I subscribe to any newsletter that might possibly have a single tidbit of information that interests me. And then they get filed into my email folders, often never to be opened. The primary exception to this is the gardening-related newsletters- they at least get skimmed through somewhere around 75% of the time. At this time of year, every year, there is one topic that rings through them all, almost without fail. That topic is rookie gardening mistakes. And they all boil down to one thing- a lack of basic knowledge and failure to plan according to that knowledge.
There’s a lot of information out there, and it would be impossible to memorize it all with a single read-through… not to mention that there’s a lot of bad or inaccurate information out there, and rookies are unlikely to be able to tell what’s good and what’s not since they don’t have the baseline knowledge. So here are a few tips that I think might be helpful to the novice gardener…
There are a few pieces of information you need to know before you decide where you’ll be growing your plants. Will you grow in containers? In a garden bed? If so, where in your yard will it be? Near a fence and or trees? Here’s some helpful info to have before you decide.
Is your plant shade tolerant, or does it need full sun?
Full sun generally means it needs a good 6-10 hours of direct sunlight, with at least some of that sunshine happening during the mid-day hours. Shade tolerant means that it will likely be happy to grow with just a few hours of morning or afternoon sun, or in constant, ‘dappled’ shade. If you grow a full sun plant in the shade, it may produce lots of flowers, but odds are high that the flowers will just bloom and then drop off, without producing any ‘fruit’. (I’m using the term fruit to refer to any vegetable that comes from a flower- that means tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, etc.)
The easy way to know which plants want direct sun is this- if you grow it for a ‘fruit’ or berry that deveops from a pollinated flower, as is the case with squash, peppers and tomatoes, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, shoots, or roots, like lettuce, cabbage, beets, and most herbs, then it is shade tolerant. I’m sure that there are exceptions to this rule, but I have yet to find any.
Is your plant invasive?
There are some wonderful food stuffs that come from plants that are highly invasive. Horseradish? Invasive. Onions & chives? Invasive (their seeds spread like crazy). Mint? Crazy invasive. Thyme? Spreads quickly! If you make the mistake of planting them in the ground, you will likely spend several years battling their attempt to take over any and every bit of dirt they can reach (and in some cases, that includes cracks in the sidewalk or driveway!). You can, however, grow these things in containers. They’ll still need to be watched closely to make sure they don’t make a break over the sides of the container or through the drainage holes in the base, and as soon as you see any flower buds, I strongly advise snipping those babies off before they even bloom. (Seriously, I made the mistake of letting a single chive flower go because I thought it was pretty. There are now chive patches all over my back yard!)
How much space does your plant need?
Every plant has different space requirements, and if you overcrowd them, they will not yield as much as they will if you give them sufficient space. This is why thinning is so incredibly important. Plants need enough space to be able to flourish and grow fully, without having to compete with their neighbors for nutrients from the soil. Not to mention the fact that if you grow them too close together it will make harvesting much more difficult! If you grow carrots or parsnips too close together, those lovely roots that you’re growing them for are going to become entangled with each other, making it near impossible to harvest them when the time comes. Grow tomatoes too close together and the branches and vines will tangle up, making it a real trick to find and harvest the fruits.
Does your plant need mulching to help the soil at its roots moist or does it prefer to dry out a little between waterings?
While you definitely want to avoid over-watering, since that will drown the plant and risk root rot, some plants don’t do as well if the soil is permitted to go dry between waterings. Tomatoes usually like to stay damp. Squashes usually like to be allowed to dry a bit.If your plant likes to have moisture maintained at a steady level, then consider rigging up a drip irrigation system- there are how to’s on inexpensive methods all over the web. If your plant likes to dry out a bit, then consider growing it in hills.
Companions and Antagonists
What are good potential companions for your plant?
Certain plants like certain other plants, and they will grow well together, while others just do not get along. Did you read my post about the 3 Sisters? Well, that is a prime example of companion planting. Corn, squash, and pole (aka ‘climbing’) beans/peas will grow great in a single hill. Corn likes to have some sort of ground cover, which the squash provides. The beans/peas need something to climb, and the cornstalk is great for this. Corn and squash like good nitrogenous soil, and the beans/peas provide that. It’s all very symbiotic!
There are certain plants that can also repel common garden pests. Basil repels aphids and hornworms from your tomatoes, so it’s a good companion for your tomatoes. (Basil is a member of the mint family, though, so use caution if you’re considering planting it in the ground!) Nasturtiums repel squash bugs and cucumber beetles, so they’re a great companion for your cucurbits (squashes, cucumbers, melons, and the like)… plus their flowers and seeds (aka capers) are edible, which is a very happy thing! Marigolds and alium family plants (onions, chives, garlic, shallots, etc.) repel larger garden pests, of the furry variety (mice, rabbits, deer, etc), so they might be worth growing as a border around your garden. As long as you keep a watchful eye on the aliums and snip the flowers when they appear, they will not turn invasive.
So there you have it- the basics that you should know when you’re planning what you’re going to grow where. There is a ton of other info that could prove helpful to getting the best yield from your plants, but those are the simple basics of what you should know before you grow.
Happy planting & planning!
And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips! (Also, please let me know if you find any typos! I proofread everything twice before posting, but sometimes I do miss one or two.)