Now that we are getting used to hanging at home, many folks are considering planting vegetable gardens to have fresh ingredients readily available. With the threat of frost just about gone, it is time to plant. If this is your first time growing vegetables, here are three things to consider before going out to your local garden store.

Hot pepper plants and tomatoes planted in containers on an outdoor deck.

1. Start Small, Grow What You Like To Eat

If this is your first time with a vegetable garden, you might want to start small. Container gardens on the deck or steps can still produce an abundance of tomatoes and other vegetables. Focus on growing things you like to eat. If you eat a lot salad, grow lettuce. Start a container garden of herbs outside your kitchen door. That way they will always be close at hand when you are cooking. The more you use your garden, the easier it will be to take care of.

Get started with container gardening with these Big Ideas for Small Spaces from the U of M Extension.

The same location photographed several times to track the amount of sun for a garden.

2. Do a Quick Sun/Shade Study

All plants need is sun, soil, and water. But not all plants need the same amount of each to thrive. For example, tomatoes and peppers prefer full sun (that’s 7-8 hours). Don’t have that much sun? You can still grow herbs and vegetables such as mint, lettuce, and spinach. You can even grow potatoes in a container. Observe the spot you've chosen for your garden over the course of a day – you can take a picture every hour or so for reference – and track the amount of sunlight so you can select veggies that will be happy.

Here's a little more information on how to conduct a sun/shade study at home.

Watering can sprinkling water on growing lettuce.

3. Good Soil and Don't Forget to Water

Now that we've covered sunlight, let's review the other two necessities for plant life: soil and water.

If you are starting your garden in containers, be sure to buy a potting mix (as opposed to garden soil). Choose a potting mix which is a blend of peat moss, compost, bark chips, and either vermiculite or perlite. Bonus: potting mixes won’t have weed seeds!

The key to watering your container garden is consistency. Check whether the garden needs water by sticking your finger about an inch into the soil. Dry? Then water. In the high heat of summer, you might have to check the soil’s moisture every day. You can also add a light layer of mulch in your container garden to help the soil retain moisture.

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