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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?
Maybe 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.