Planting Your Summer Garden

It’s time to get this garden party started!

Welcome to the third installment of our Summer Garden Series. If you’ve been keeping up with our Planning and Prepping posts, you’ve already picked your garden spot, readied the soil, gathered your supplies and tools, started seeds indoors, and are possibly in the process of hardening them off! In this post, we’ll be discussing how to plant those pretty babies and get them on their way to being happy, healthy, and bountiful. Remember: planting your garden is an investment, and successful gardens are cared for daily. Think of your garden as your new pet: fill it with love, attention, and patience, and it’ll reward you with deliciousness while making your hood a more beautiful and life-sustaining environment.

Planting Your Summer Garden

Step 1: Consult with your timeline

Your plants are hardening off outside, your seed packets are ready to burst on your counter, your tools are piled up and ready to get filthy. So what are you waiting for? Most likely, you’re actually waiting for the right time. Because all plants grow at different rates and like to be planted at different stages of the spring (or fall!) season, timing your transplants and outdoor sowing is key to a great and long summer and fall harvest.


What Can I plant, and When is Too Early?

planting your summer garden blog post 13Maybe you want to grow Red Russian kale, which can be sown outdoors 1–2 weeks before your average last frost. You might also be dying to get your Black Krim tomatoes in the ground, which cannot survive frost and should only be planted when the soil is at least 60°F. As you can see, transplanting and sowing varies by weeks and even months depending on the plant and your USDA growing zone. For best growing results, we recommend drawing a timetable for planting. As an expert, a gardener’s knowledge becomes intuitive and is based on seasonal changes from year to year. For the beginner, however, you can simplify the process by grouping certain types of plants together: greens and herbs, frost-tolerant veggies, non-frost tolerant veggies, and fruits. Check our Phytotheca for outdoor planting information to group your plants into a timeline.


Step 2: Planting your starts

With your hand drawn garden plan, your meticulous timeline, and your starts and seeds eager to get into the ground, you’re ready to plant! For each round of planting you do, we recommend transplanting seedlings before sowing any seed directly into the soil so that you don’t accidentally step on them. Starts are easier to avoid when stomping around the garden. We’ve also found that laying some well-placed paving stones or bricks will be beneficial to stand on while gardening and harvesting if planting in a large plot.


Dig them holes.

Starting from the most inaccessible portion of your garden and moving towards the most accessible, dig holes where your starts will grow into full, fruit bearing plants this summer. Be sure to check any info on the plants (if bought from a nursery) or check out depth information in our Phytotheca for how deep the holes should be. A general rule of thumb is to dig a hole a couple inches larger on each side of the root ball and a couple inches deeper than the original height of the soil in your growing pot. Then, mound some extra soil in the bottom of the hole: this will be the seat where your plant will plop its bottom. Add any amendments necessary to make sure your plant’s roots grow strong during the first week of living outdoors.


Prep your rootball — or Leave em be!

After your holes are ready with their little seat, you’re ready to plant. Now, you may have two different types of transplants: ones in plastic growing pots, whose rootballs need a bit of massaging before planting, and ones in compostable pots. The latter are usually plants that don’t transplant well and should be sown directly outdoors. However, not all of us are lucky enough to have long, hot growing seasons (especially me, at 8300′). Plants in compostable pots should be planted, pot and all, directly into the hole, mounding dirt in the sides of the hole until the ground is even.

Plants that do transplant well need a bit more love. Remove the plant from its pot, being careful to not break the stem or tear any leaves. If using plastic pots, we recommend gently squeezing the pots on each side to loosen the soil and roots. Once the rootball and soil come loose, gently take the plant out of the pot and, with one hand, gently break apart the rootball and remove excess soil. More vigorous starts can be shaken for this purpose. For large rootballs, gently massage your fingers into the center of the ball to loosen the roots. Don’t worry if some roots get broken: this can actually help the plant grow more vigorously when in the ground! After this, place the now-loose roots over the mound in the hole, and fill it with soil until the ground is even. In both cases of transplanting, pat the soil down with your hands to give your plant stability and avoid a sinkhole when watering.


Mark your beauties.

Make sure to mark your transplants with a small sign so you can track how different varieties and cultivars fare in your garden! For the frugal gardener, write the names of each type of plant with a marker on popsicle sticks that you can plop into the ground. For a more esthetically-inclined grower, there are many fancy garden signs you can purchase, some with thin metal flags where a plant’s name can be etched into the surface! Either way, it’s great to be able to compile information on each plant to make you a better gardener each year.


Step 3: Planting your seeds

Now that your starts are in the ground, you can begin to see all your hard work paying off! Take pleasure in the new colors of your garden and enjoy knowing your babies will be growing large, full, and strong in the coming months. It’s time to take your seed packets, or self-harvested seeds from last year, and put them in the ground.


Visualize your garden seed plots.

Take a look at the plant profile for each of the plants you are directly sowing into your garden in our Phytotheca to determine depth and spacing for your seeds. Some plants, like Vertissimo chervil, will be gently pressed into the soil surface in a group of 3 seeds every 6″ or so apart. Others, like Antigua eggplant, will be planted 1/4″ into the soil, with one seed every 18″. We never said plants weren’t particular! Luckily, we’ve compiled all this information for you so you don’t have to worry.


Plant your seeds.

For “press into soil” seeds, lightly spread seeds above the soil and pat into the ground. These seeds usually need sunlight to germinate, which is why they don’t want to be stuck deep in the ground. For the seeds that do need deeper planting, simply stick your finger into the soil at the intervals suggested across the plot that you want filled with this specific variety of plant. Plop the seed or seeds into the holes, cover with soil, and lightly press down to make the area firm so that seedling roots can grow strong and thick. You can also dig a small trench for your seeds to maintain a straight row of future sprouts. Don’t forget to mark these beauties as well! Putting up signs for your sown seeds is even more important than your starts because it can be difficult to determine what’s what as they sprout from the ground!


Step 4: Mulch, Sturdy, Thin, Care

The plants are in, and now you get to sit back, relax, and enjoy your bounty, yeah? Well, not so fast… healthy harvests depend on constant care and attention throughout the growing season.


To mulch or not to mulch.

Mulch is a necessary, but often overlooked, growing aid for gardeners and can be made of anything from leaves to grass clippings, wood chips, bark, straw, and even plastic chips (however, we recommend NOT using plastic for sustainability reasons). These mulches are added on top of the soil of your garden to help retain moisture, improve fertility of the soil (as they decompose, each adds a different nutrient or nutrients to your garden bed), suppress weeds, and beautify your plot. Mulch can also help protect delicate plants from freak frosts or late cold snaps before a final harvest. Make sure to wait until your seeds begin to sprout before covering them with mulch, since the added layer of darkness may slow or stop germination.


Sturdy those big growers.

For larger, sprawling plants, such as tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, grapes, and other fruit-bearing friends, we recommend using a trellis or some type of support to keep heavy fruits off the ground and away from critters. It’s important to insert your trellis or cages at this stage in growing, so that you don’t damage the roots of your plants when they get bigger. This goes for stakes and other support systems as well: adding these later in the season can puncture or sever roots underground.



CARing is Key — Doting is preferred!

Keep an eye on your plants as the season begins to turn warm. Everyday, check your transplants for new growth: when you begin to see new leaves sprouting from a node, you can be sure the plant has anchored itself and it on its way to deliciousness. After a few weeks, you should start seeing your seeds sprouting out of the soil. Take note of thinning information in our phytotheca. Since most plants are sown closer together than necessary (in order to maximize healthy numbers of seedlings), you will need to pluck out or clip the weaker sprouts. But don’t be sad! These sprouts can be thrown in to a salad or sandwich, and allowing ample space for the seedlings you leave in the ground creates the perfect conditions for vigorous and healthy mature plants.

Congratulations! You’re now the proud guardian of your very own garden! You’ve done the most labor-intensive part of the process. Now, you get to become the inspector of leaves (watch for aphids and other pests), the green thumb doctor (our phytotheca has information on remediating weak soils, noticing deficiencies, and strategies to mend your sick plants), and the giver of life (water water water!). And don’t forget to sing and talk to your plants: a little love goes a long way.

Keep up with our gardening blog to read all about different aspects of care and growing as the season continues into what we hope is a beautiful, safe, and productive summer.

Prepping Your Summer Garden

Feeling ready to take advantage of this delightful spring weather and start getting your hands in the dirt? We sure are!

So hopefully you’ve had enough time to get through all the steps lined out in part one of our Summer Garden Series. If so, you know what you are going to grow, where or in what you will grow it, and, if you’re starting in the ground, what your soil type is. Our next steps are going to be preparing your soil or other growing medium, getting your gardening supplies, and starting seeds or buying transplants. So let’s dive into our second edition!

Prepping Your Summer Garden

Step 1: Prepping Soil or Site

dirt ground placeholder


Your soil test is good and you’re going to grow directly in the ground.

dirt garden sprout plantLucky you! You’re in the Goldilocks zone of soil with a nice loamy, rich ground. All you’ve got to do with your site is make sure to get rid of any weeds, and you should be good to go. Some organic weed control options to get you going are sheet mulching (to smother the weeds) or hand pulling (if you’ve only found a few).

If you’ve got a space that’s super overrun with weeds and are patient enough to wait to start growing there, you can solarize your garden area by covering it with a sheet of clear plastic for 1 to 2 moths of hot sunny weather, usually starting in the late summer. This process should kill most weeds, weed seeds, and soil pathogens and will have you ready to start some fall crops or green manure cover crops that will set you up great for growing veggies next year.


Your soil needs some amending

gardening mix soil scoopSo if your soil is in need of some love, first you’ll need to determine what it needs. Generally, the addition of organic matter is a good solution for soils that are either too sandy or too clayey. However, each requires a different type of organic matter.

Sandy soils will benefit from well-aged compost or manure in order to help increase the water holding capacity of these loose and quick-draining spots.

Clay-heavy soils will be helped by the addition of fibrous organic matter like composted mulches, straw, or well-rotted manure. These materials will improve aeration and drainage in this soil type.

No matter which type of soil you are amending, it is good to have a mix of short and long term solutions. Things like grass clippings and manure will decompose rapidly, breaking down and feeding your plants quickly in the first few years. Other soil components like straw and mulch will stick around for much longer and provide benefits well into the future. Similarly, calcium additions like gypsum, dolomitic limestone, or calcitic limestone will quickly provide this nutrient to plants, but using other materials like eggshells or oyster shells will provide a longer-term solution.

One important caveat is to not over-amend your soil. It may take years to get the ideal soil, so don’t try to rush it and create more problems for yourself. For annual vegetable and herb gardens, it’s likely that you’ll be able to keep adding more amendments each year or each season, and overdoing it in one year can result in nutrient imbalances which stunt plant growth (too little available nitrogen) or burn them (too much available nitrogen), or even cause salt build-up in your soils (this is particularly a problem with the use of manures). Uh-oh.


You’re growing in a container or raised bed 

raised bed gardenIf you’ve decided to build your own raised beds, you’ll need some materials. We recommend picking sustainably certified wood or using re-purposed materials like you might find at a used building supply store. Here in Boulder, we’ve got ReSource Yard, but many communities have a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, another great place for finding gently-used building supplies. You could also make a garden by finding discarded pallets and using those to build your raised beds. Just make sure that their wood hasn’t been treated with any chemicals: if you find a stamp with the letters HT, meaning heat treated, then you’re good to do. A second option would be buying some pre-built raised beds or ready to assemble building kits.

Once you’ve built your bed, you’ll need to clear and level the site it will go on, and it’s best to incorporate some sort of organic weed barrier at the bottom. We recommend layers of burlap and/or cardboard at the bottom of the bed, and a thick layer of mulch around the outside path area to keep weeds down.

If you’re going to go for container gardening in a smaller space, you’ll have to find some large containers and a soil or soilless mix to fill them with. Most plants like to have at least 6–10” of depth for their roots, with root crops needing more. There are plenty of self-watering planter designs to check out that will keep your maintenance time down if you’re feeling busy.

pots pile containersOnce you’ve picked your container, you’ll need to find a soil blend to fill it with. Look for a complete potting mix that is well drained and contains organic ingredients like topsoil, coco coir, perlite, and/or vermiculite, and make sure your mix contains an organic nutrient source like compost or worm castings.

For some extra fun, you can make your own by buying individual components for a custom mix. Use clean and sanitized topsoil, compost, sand, coir, bark, perlite, vermiculite, limestone, and a natural fertilizer source.


 Step 2: Get Your Gardening Supplies

tool garden
All gardeners need a tool set, so pick up some good quality hand tools for a start. A shovel and rake will be helpful for spreading and mixing those amendments into the ground, and a hoe will make weeding go quickly. A wheelbarrow or cart is great for hauling amendments and moving flats of transplants from their nursery location to the planting area, if you’ve got a large space.

You’ll also need flats or small containers to start seeds in. Buy some pots or find your own DIY or upcycled solution, but make sure that each container has adequate space for roots and is large enough that it won’t dry out too quickly (egg cartons are not an ideal choice here). Be ready to transplant seedlings into bigger containers as they grow.

If you’re starting seeds and/or growing indoors for season extension, a lack of outdoor space, or for a fun and air-purifying experiment, you’ll need some growing lights. We recommend using high output fluorescent bulbs for starting seeds and for growing herbs, root veggies, or leafy greens. If you want to get some fruits (tomatoes, peppers, squash) out of your indoor garden, you’ll need a brighter and more powerful lighting system to make plants switch over to flowering and fruiting. Here, we’d recommend an LED setup or HID metal halide lamps. You’ll also need a timer system for the lights and some fans to keep air flow going and promote healthy plants.

All plants need water, so get a watering can based on the size of your growing space. Small indoor herb gardeners can get by with a cute little watering can, or go for a bigger one or an irrigation system for your outdoor garden.


Step 3: Getting your plants ready



Starting seeds

No matter what and where you’re growing, you will need plants! Seeds or starts should be chosen based on your timeline, average frost dates, and what you’re growing. Check out our extensive Phytotheca database for the plants you’ve chosen to see how easy or hard they are to start from seed, how long they take to germinate, and whether we recommend that you plant inside or outside. Based on this information, you can easily decide which seeds are worth buying, which to start on your own indoors, and which can be sowed directly in your soil or growing media outdoors.

sprout start tomatoIf you’ve decided to buy starts from a local farm or grower, you can skip this next step! But we recommend trying at least a few seeds indoors on your own for a growing experiment.

First, fill your flats, containers, or small cups with a seeding mix. This soilless mix does not need any nutrients, as seeds actually contain all they need to grow in their first set of “seed leaves.” The mix also needs to be sterile, so that your baby plants can germinate in a clean and healthy environment. This initial phase of development is super important for plants, so they need to be kept moist and in a well-lit and stable temperature environment. Check out the Phytotheca entries for information on what temperature each seed needs to germinate, and use a heat mat if your growing conditions indoors aren’t adequately warm.


Caring for Starts and Transplants

Most seeds don’t need light to germinate, but once they’ve sprouted leaves, they will need a light source, as will any transplants you’re not quite ready to put in the ground yet. Keep lights close to the plants to avoid seedlings getting too leggy and weak stemmed, and adjust the light up as plants grow to keep them from burning. They’ll also need some nutrients as they get larger. Once a week, you should water little plants with a very dilute solution (half to quarter strength) of liquid seaweed, fishmeal, or balanced liquid fertilizer. Keep the soil evenly most at all times, and provide air flow for plants with a small fan to strengthen them.

Before planting transplants, whether you’ve grown them or bought them, they’ll need to adjust to outside conditions. This process is called hardening off and requires you to set your plants outside, in a shady location at first, for gradually increasing time periods during each day. You can also slowly increase the amount of direct sunlight that plants receive each day, until they are ready and well adapted to the conditions you will be planting them in.

pumpkin sprout 01

OK, that’s it for this edition. Check back in soon or keep an eye on our Facebook page for the next edition in our summer garden series, and what might be the most exciting phase of your gardening process: Planting Your Summer Garden! We can’t wait.