In the spring, a gardener’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of seeds and plants. Well, that’s not quite how the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem goes, but the sentiment rings true. Instead of dreaming of spring flowers, or corn and tomatoes that ripen in the summer, you might dare to think bigger. Why not plan for a garden that produces and puts on a show all year round? Dig into these tips for extending your growing season.
1. Know Your Climate
What you can grow depends, in large part, on how much rain you get as well as the temperatures in your region. The USDA provides a map of hardiness zones that serve as a guide for what you can and shouldn't plant in your garden. For example, lemons probably won’t survive a Midwest winter, and pumpkins generally don’t do well in hot climates. Most plant seeds include hardiness zone information to tell you if your climate is a match.
Choosing the right kinds of fruits and veggies for a particular climate is essential. Wherever you live, the amount of weekly rainfall determines if you will have to add water to the crops. Keep in mind: Too much water can be just as detrimental as not enough.
Soil testing will tell you about your garden’s pH balance. That can determine how well vegetables, fruits, and flowers grow, regardless of the season. The pH scale is 1 to 14, from acidic to alkaline. Neutral soil measures 7.0. Some plants thrive in somewhat acidic soil; others like to put down roots in slightly alkaline soil. In addition to pH, soil tests will also tell you whether your soil contains or lacks key nutrients. Learn these letters: N, P, and K. They stand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, the three essential nutrients. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to get a sample of your garden soil tested to see if it needs to be amended with synthetic fertilizer or its organic alternatives and use this planting guide based on your soil conditions.
3. Light and Shade
Plants that love full sun, like peppers, might flounder in the shade. But petunias and begonias like the shade. The amount of light and shade makes a significant impact on what you can get to grow in your yard, so track your garden sunlight with the AcuRite Atlas™. Be sure to read the light intensity requirements on the seeds or young plants you buy and make sure if your yard gets blasted by sunlight all day, you’re not planting shade-loving flowers or vegetables. It will save you the frustration of a failed garden.
4. Plant for Four Seasons
What grows well in the Pacific Northwest may suffer in Florida, and vice versa. But in much of the U.S., springtime flowers such as daffodils, tulips, pansies, peonies, and snowdrops color up your flowerbed. Summer blooms include black-eyed Susan, zinnias, coneflowers, roses, and daylilies. Plant a few mums, asters, sedums, begonias, and pansies in the fall. Flowers such as snowdrops and hellebore can handle the snow and frost of winter. By tracking rainfall all year with your personalized garden weather station, you can understand the best weather conditions for your plants.
You can plant fruits and vegetables to ripen all year long, too. Planning your edible garden by season will keep your dinner plate fresh all year long!
5. Indoor Gardens
Who says you can’t garden indoors? Hydroponic gardens are a great way to get around a less-than-ideal climate. Your herbs, tomatoes, small pepper plants, spinach, and other leafy greens will flourish year-round. Flowers and fruiting canes grow well indoors, too. Hydroponic systems come in a variety of sizes, and you can place them anywhere in your home. Hydroponics have a few advantages over soil gardening: Plants grow faster in cleaner environments, increased oxygen stimulates water moving directly to the plant roots, and plants produce more fruits and veggies. If you monitor indoor temperature and humidity, indoor gardens tend to have fewer problems with fungi, disease, and pests.
As you plan your home garden this spring, challenge yourself to think beyond late summer and fall. So clean up your gardening tools, set up a weather station, find a good location, and get to planting. You won’t regret the time and investment!