Everything in our garden is prepped and planted, and I’ve already been able to use some herbs and lettuces for few recipes. The other night I made our first garden salad using Anel’s crunchy lettuce, kale, and some spinach. The next few months are very exciting for New England gardeners because soon we’ll see a lot of yield!
Anel’s tips this month are all about shopping at the nursery and getting your plants in the ground.
Nursery Shopping Tips
Healthy appearance: Look for seedlings that appear healthy and vigorous, with bright green leaves, firm stems, and no signs of wilting, yellowing, or other damage. Avoid seedlings that look pale, spindly, or stressed. (Julia’s note: If I’m looking pale, spindly, or stressed, can you take me to a nursery?)
Good root system: Check the roots of the seedling to make sure they are well-developed. Gently remove the seedling from its container and inspect the root system. Look for white, healthy-looking roots that are not root-bound (i.e. circling around the bottom of the container).
Size: Choose seedlings that are an appropriate size for their age and the size of the container. Avoid seedlings that are too small or too large for their containers, which can indicated problems with growing conditions.
Harden-off seedlings: Before you plant seedlings outside, gradually expose them to outdoor conditions over the course of a few days. This helps them get used to the wind, sun, and changes in temperature, reducing the chance of shock when you transfer them into the ground.
Plant at the right time: Different plants have different ideal planting times depending on the local weather and how they grow. The Old Farmer’s Almanac site lets you put in your zip code to create the ideal planting calendar for your area which is very cool and very specific.
Use plant supports: Many veggie plants can benefit from having support structures like trellises, stakes, or cages. These help them grow upright and produce more fruit. You want to install them when or before you plant to avoid harming the plants later. Many beans and peas need something to climb and vine crops like cucumbers and melons and produce better fruit if you grow them on a trellis.
Water deeply: Instead of watering your plants frequently with small amounts of water, water them deeply but less often to encourage strong root growth. You can use a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system to deliver water directly to the roots.
I have a drip system and set it to this amount for reference:
- Spring: 30 minutes 1x/day usually morning
- Late spring: 30 minutes 2x/day. Morning and evening
- Summer: 60 minutes 2x/day. Morning and evening
Use companion planting: Some plants grow better when planted together. For example, planting herbs like basil or cilantro near tomatoes can help keep away pests that often attack tomatoes.
Mulch as needed: Applying mulch around your plants helps prevent weed growth, keeps the soil moist, and regulates its temperature. It keeps your soil from drying out in the hot summer. You can use organic materials like straw, leaves, or compost as mulch. When you first plant your garden for the season, cover all of the soil with mulch. I like to use hay or leaves personally because wood mulch is often too heavy and takes too long to decompose which can then change the pH of the soil.
Throughout the season, re-apply mulch when you start to see soil getting exposed.
Monitor soil pH and nutrient levels: It’s a good idea to check the pH and nutrient levels of your soil once a season. This helps you make informed decisions about fertilizing and improving your soil. Adjust the pH if necessary to create the best conditions for your plants. In general, the ideal pH for your soil is between 5 and 7. That said, some plants need a more specific pH to thrive like blueberries which need more acidic soil. In that case, I add peat moss, wood chips, and fertilizers when planting them to make the soil more acidic.
You can buy kits online to test soil pH yourself.
Prune and train plants: Many plants, like tomatoes and peppers, benefit from regular pruning and training to encourage more fruit production and stronger stems. Learn the proper techniques for pruning and training your plants to avoid causing harm.
Rotate crops: To prevent soil-borne diseases and pests from building up, I suggest rotating your crops yearly. Plan your garden layout accordingly and rotate your crops as needed.
Keep a gardening journal: Writing down important information like planting dates, yields, and other observations can help you make better decisions in the future and track your progress over time.