What can I grow now? It’s not too late to plant a garden this summer. There are several vegetables you can plant today and harvest before the first frosts!

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What Can I Grow Now?

“What can I grow now?” That’s one of the question we get asked the most often. The good news is that no matter what time of year it is, there’s is always something you can plant in your garden.

Summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere, and for most gardeners the harvest is already starting. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the whole summer. There are several vegetables you can plant in the middle of summer and harvest before the first frosts!

what can I grow now image of lettuce plants in a garden bedAs long as it’s warm and sunny, most crops you plant today will begin to grow more quickly than they do in the spring. With a little extra TLC, they may even catch up to where they ought to be.

If you live in an area where the summer growing season is long, and often extends well into September, you have some time to start some second crop plants, like beans and carrots. You may not get a smaller harvest, but that’s still worth it!

True, if you live in areas where summer is done closer to the end of August, you are running out of time to start summer vegetables, but it’s not too late quite yet. If you are careful to select plants that won’t take more than about 40 to 60 days to harvest, you should be able to get a couple of veggies from your garden this year. Plus, there are ways to eek out a couple more weeks by extending your growing season.

Vegetables you can plant mid-summer

what can I grow now image of green beansBeans:
Your best bet are fast-growing snap beans, like Blue Lake or Rolande.

Carrots:
Depending on how early your first frost is, you can pretty much plant most varieties and still get a good harvest. If you’re concerned about a very early frost, you can choose a smaller carrot, which matures more quickly, such as Little Finger or the delightful Tonda di Parigi.

Lettuce:
If it’s not too hot, you can easily start some lettuce seeds now and get several good harvests before your first frost. Even if it is hot, you can start some in a container in the shade. Garden Babies and Sweetie Baby Romaine are great for quick harvests.

what can I grow now image of radish plants in soilRadishes:
Radishes are always a great idea for a fast harvest! If it’s hot where you are, you can just grow them in the shade of your other plants. My favorites are Easter Egg and French Breakfast, but you really can’t go wrong with any variety you choose.

Summer Squash:
Believe it or not, you can still start squash for this summer. They grow quickly in the warm sunshine. Little squashes like Ronde de Nice and Summer Dark Green will grow quickly and give you some nice squashes for your Labor Day weekend BBQ!

Consider a Fall/Winter Garden

And even if you think it is too late for your summer garden, this doesn’t mean you should give up. It just means it is time to start thinking about a fall/winter garden. Plants like kale, broccoli, swiss chard, or Brussels sprouts do quite well in the cooler temps of autumn anyway.

Whatever and whenever you are planting, Smart Gardener can help!

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Looking for the best way to water your vegetable garden? Climates may differ, but the essentials of how to properly water a garden are the same everywhere. There are four key things to keep in mind to keep your garden thriving all summer long.

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The best way to water your vegetable garden

Summer has arrived in California with record high temps, and in my garden we have already passed the point where the vegetables can get enough moisture from the soil. Until the rains start again in late October it is up to me to supply enough water to keep them alive. This is the most important summer gardening activity and if it isn’t done properly there really won’t be much of a vegetable garden to bother with.

Your climate may differ from mine, but the essentials of watering are the same everywhere. These are four things to keep in mind to make sure your garden thrives all summer long:

A close up image of a yellow sunflower with a small insect on the center, with green leaves behind itWatch your plants

If you know what to look for it is easy to tell when plants are suffering from lack of water. The first sign is that they lose the sheen on their leaves and start to sag slightly instead of standing rigidly upright. It is important to water immediately when you see this happening, as further stress will slow their growth.

More extreme signs of water stress include curling leaves, floppy growing tips, and dying leaves. All of these are signs the plant is severely distressed and has basically stopped growing, and is struggling to stay alive.

Simple wilting of leaves isn’t always a sign of stress however. Many plants (especially those with large leaves such as squash and cucumber) do it intentionally in hot sunny weather as a means of reducing water loss. They recover quickly when the temperature drops though, whereas water stressed plants recover more slowly. This is why you should check plants for water stress in the cool of early morning or evening and not in the midday heat.

Sunflowers are particularly prone to water stress. Because they wilt before almost anything else, they can be used as a living indicator of when the soil is starting to get dry before your other plants begin to suffer. Simply plant a few sunflowers in your garden bed and when they show signs of wilting, it is time to water the entire bed.

Image of a watering can watering plants in a garden. Photo source: Markus Spiske, UnsplashHow much to water

The general rule of watering says to give your plants 1″ of water per week in summer and about ½” in spring and fall. An inch of water means ⅔ gallon per square foot, or 66 gallons per 100 square feet, which should be enough water to penetrate 6″ to 12″ into the ground.

Though 1″ per week is a reasonable average to start with, it is only a guideline and will need to be adjusted to account for temperature, humidity, soil type, crop, and other factors.

It is better to look at the plants themselves and the soil they’re growing in to determine if you are watering enough, and then adjust accordingly. After watering, the soil should be evenly moist all the way down.

One of the most common mistakes beginner gardeners make is to water only until the surface of the soil looks wet and then move on. Appearances can be deceiving. While the top of the ground looks wet, an inch or so down the soil may still be completely dry. If your plants are wilting again within 24 hours you didn’t give them enough water.

Time of day to water

In hot weather you should avoid watering in the middle of the day, because any water that lands on the leaves, or that stays on the soil surface, will quickly evaporate and be wasted. It’s best to water either in the morning before the sun it too high, or early enough in the evening so that any wet leaves can dry out before nightfall.

How to apply water

Water should only be applied as fast as it can soak in. If you apply water faster than this it will puddle and the surface structure may break down. Excess water may also run off of the bed and be wasted, taking valuable soil with it.

The method you use to apply the water depends on your garden set up. Whether you choose to set up an irrigation system (soaker hose or drip irrigation), or if you prefer to hand water or use an overhead sprinkler system, it is important to keep in mind the water needs of the different plants in your garden, your climate and soil type, and what you find to work best for you.

Fortunately, all of that information is easy to find in the Crop Care tab in the Plant Guide for each plant in your garden plan. Smart Gardener makes it easy to keep track of each step of planning, growing, and harvesting your own food.

Two more things: compost and mulch!

To help conserve all that precious water you just put into the garden, it’s important make sure your soil is full of water-holding compost, and to cover it with a layer of mulch.

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Mulch is an indispensable part of the vegetable garden, with a multitude of benefits. We’ve got tips to help you know how much to add and when to add it.

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How to apply mulch to a vegetable garden

Benefits of mulching

Mulch is an indispensable part of the vegetable garden. Adding a layer of mulch over your garden soil will pay off in a multitude of ways by:

  • slowing evaporation of water from the soil
  • preventing weeds (many weeds need bare soil)
  • supplying nutrients to the soil (as it breaks down)
  • protecting the soil from damage by sun and air
  • reducing disease (by preventing soil splashing on leaves)

If a genetically engineered commercial product did as much, it would be patented, hailed as a miracle of science, promoted in all of the garden magazines and sold for a hefty price. Yet mulch does all of these things and more and costs next to nothing.

Types of mulch

How to apply mulch to a vegetable garden - Image of a child's hands planting a small tomato plant in the soil under a thick layer of straw mulchThe best all-around material for mulching your vegetable garden is straw. Straw comes neatly compacted into a convenient (if rather heavy) bale, is clean and easy to use and looks quite attractive on the bed.

Just be sure to avoid the similar-looking hay at all costs! It is full of weed seeds which can turn your soil into a weedy nightmare!

If you don’t have access to straw, you can use grass clippings or chopped tree leaves (run these over with a lawnmower to chop them, or put them in a metal bin and shred them with a string trimmer).

Compost can be used as mulch too, if you have enough of it. You can also buy the hulls of cocoa bean, cottonseed, buckwheat, and other types of silage (and even pine needles in some areas!) for use as mulch, but they can sometimes be more expensive when compared to straw.

When to mulch

If you are growing transplants, you will need to spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the newly planted plants (it will settle as you water). Just make sure to keep the mulch about 2 inches away from the stems of your plants. If you are direct sowing seeds, though, you will have to wait until the seeds have germinated and the plants are a few inches high before applying it.

When not to mulch

How to apply mulch to a vegetable garden - Image of small seedlings sprouted in soil and mulchMulching is probably the most important thing you can do for your garden, except in a couple of important situations. Primarily, I don’t recommend using mulch if you have a problem with slugs in your garden because it provides the perfect hiding places for them.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to skip mulching in the early spring if you want the soil to warm up rapidly, as natural mulch creates an insulation layer, keeping the ground under it cool. Leaving off the mulch will allow the warming rays of the sun to warm the soil.

How often to add mulch

The beauty of using mulch in the garden is that, as a natural material, it will add nutrients to your soil as it breaks down. But because it breaks down, you will have to add more mulch from time to time. Generally I reapply a layer of mulch when I am first starting my planting and that will last through the season.

The good news is that this year’s mulch will be easier to mix into the soil for next year’s garden, giving you a jump start on preparing your garden bed.

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Whoever came up with the phrase “there is no such thing as a free lunch” didn’t know anything about vegetable gardening or saving your own seeds.

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Saving Your Own Seeds: Getting Something for Nothing

Whoever came up with the phrase “there is no such thing as a free lunch” didn’t know anything about vegetable gardening or saving your own seeds. You very definitely can get a free lunch in the garden. I’m not talking about the obvious free lunch you get when you eat some of the food you have grown, but rather the free seeds your garden can produce for you.

The fact that the garden can actually produce its own seed is an amazing demonstration of how living things are very different from inanimate objects. You don’t even have to do anything to make this happen. Just let nature take its course and one seed can create dozens, hundreds, or even thousands more. When you start saving your own seeds you finish the growing season with far more seed than you started it with.

Why Save Seeds?

seed saving getting something for nothing image of two halves of a tomato showing the seeds, on a background of woodSeed saving sounds fairly esoteric and mentioning it can be a useful way to one-up other gardeners at parties. But in reality it is so simple that the mystique is totally unjustified. Plants are programmed to make reproduction their highest priority. All you have to do is give them the opportunity.

Saving your own seed can save you money because it reduces the need to buy it every year. Of course, for me this advantage is more theoretical than real. I find it impossible to read through a good seed catalog without buying a whole range of new varieties. I still buy lots of seed, but the purchase is now a one-time deal, because if I like it I can save my own.

Self-Pollinated or Cross-Pollinated

The most important aspect of saving seed is maintaining the purity of the variety. To do this you need to know whether a plant can self-pollinate, or must be cross-pollinated from plant.

The difference it an important one. The seed from self-pollinated plants will be the same variety as their parents. Seed from cross-pollinated plants will be a mix of both parents and can potentially be a completely new variety. To maintain the purity of a cross-pollinated variety you need to ensure it is pollinated by another plant of the same variety.

seed saving getting something for nothing image of the inside of a red bell pepper showing the seedsThe best plants for saving your own seeds are the self-pollinating fruit producers (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers). For these, all you have to do is scoop out the ripe seed before you eat them.

Beans, peas, and lettuce are also mostly self-pollinating, making them good plants for beginner seed-savers.

The cross-pollinated crops include all of the Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) as well as squash, cucumbers, melons and corn. Saving seed from these is trickier because they need to receive pollen from another plant of the same variety. If this is from a different variety, say from your neighbor’s garden, then they will lose the special characteristics of the variety. For these plants, you will need to know the specific type of plant you want to save seeds from.

Know Your Plant Type

Once you know a plant is cross-pollinated, then you should make sure you know exactly which plant you are growing. By knowing both the genus and species names, you will know what other plants in your garden (or your neighbor’s garden) can contaminate your seed purity.

Plants from the same species can cross-pollinate each other, even if they’re very different plants. For example, all Brassica oleracea plants can pollinate each other, even though a broccoli appears to be very different from a cabbage. Fortunately, each plant in the Smart Gardener database has the genus and species listed, so it’s very easy to check!

The easiest way to prevent cross-pollination is to have only one species and variety flowering at one time. If that’s not possible, you could also try hand-pollinating to control the parentage of your seeds.

There are methods of isolation that you can employ to protect against cross-pollination from a different variety. Draping netting over the entire plant, or securing bags over the flowers, will prevent pollinators from bringing in rogue pollen.

F1 Hybrid Plants

seed saving getting something for nothing image of pumpkin seedsIt’s also important to know whether your plant is a F1 hybrid. Hybrid seeds are popular in large-scale agriculture because they produce reliably similar fruit that mature at the same time, making it easier for machine harvesting.

For homegardeners interested in saving their own seeds, it’s best to avoid F1 hybrid seed because the offspring won’t be the same as the parent. (This may include seeds saved from produce from the grocery store.)

Sharing your seeds

I have been routinely collecting seed for so many years that it has become just another part of vegetable gardening. As a result I now have boxes stuffed with envelopes full of seed. This brings up the problem of what to do with it all, as it only has a limited lifespan. I give some of it away and use some of it to grow sprouts and microgreens.

If you have learned how to keep your varieties pure you can start to trade seed with other gardeners (personally, or through organizations such as the Seed Savers Exchange).

This opens up a whole new avenue of gardening and allows you to participate in preserving the genetic diversity of our food crops, a very important mission. The ultimate in seed saving is actually breeding your own varieties, though I haven’t got to that yet.

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Extending your summer garden growing season is surprisingly easy. With a little planning you can continue to harvest tender plants like lettuces and tomatoes for several weeks, and maybe longer.

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Extending Your Summer Garden Growing Season

It might be difficult to imagine it right now, but the warm days of summer won’t last. But don’t worry! Extending your summer garden growing season is surprisingly easy. With a little planning you can continue to harvest tender plants like lettuces and tomatoes for several weeks, and maybe longer.

Early Frost Protection

The simplest season-extending technique is to protect the tender crops from the first occasional fall frosts. A sudden dip in temperature will do a lot more damage to plants than a gradual decline (which gradually hardens them off).

Extending Your Summer Garden image garden bed with a plastic row cover

Especially frustrating to gardeners is the fact that these early frosty nights are almost always followed by several weeks of good growing weather. The good news is that the simple act of covering your tender plants for a night or two may reward you with several more weeks of harvests.

Happily you can get advance warning of an oncoming frost and act to protect your plants. Almost anything will give protection from a light frost. The point is to cover the plant and create a small air space that will stay warmer than the cold air.

•    old blankets
•    plastic sheeting
•    row covers
•    straw mulch
•    cloches
•    cold frames

Draping old blankets or plastic sheeting is the most common way you see gardeners protecting their tender plants from a frost. Row covers using plastic sheeting and arches that are attached to the garden bed, are a somewhat more long-term solution. Just be sure to open it up from time to time to release excess moisture.

Another option is to put down a layer of straw mulch. You just make sure you put down several inches to make sure they’re covered. This has the added benefit of helping to protect the soil from erosion from heavy winter rains.

Severe Frost Protection

Cold frames and cloches can even protect plants from more severe frosts. Plastic or glass cloches can be purchased at your garden center, or you can make your own. Common household items and plastic packaging you’d otherwise put in the recycle bin are great cloches. Milk jugs with the bottoms cut out or clear plastic take-out containers. Just make sure you stake them to the ground so they don’t blow away!

A cold frame is a bit more elaborate, but it will give you more room for growing. They look like a miniature greenhouse, and are generally constructed as a small box with glass or heavy-duty plastic windows. You can build them to fit your needs, making them ideal for taller plants such as tomatoes. Once you remove the stakes, your tomato plants can be laid down on the ground for easier protection.

How Long Can You Extend?

Extending Your Summer Garden image lettuces in a cold frame

Extending your summer garden growing season is a great idea, but for how long? Realistically, you should only try to protect your tender crops for as long as there is good growth in the daytime. It isn’t worth protecting them once the days get too cold and the sunlight hours get short, as they won’t thrive.

At that point, it is better to replace them with hardy winter crops. Or you can decide to take a break for a month or two and hibernate, and enjoy your well-earned rest. If you’ve been diligent and canned, dried, or frozen some of your earlier harvests, you can enjoy the fruits of your own labor until you’re ready to start preparing again for next year’s spring garden.

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Planning a winter vegetable garden is surprisingly easy. Follow these tips to keep growing your own vegetables once the summer crops are done.

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Planning a Winter Vegetable Garden

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures start to drop, many gardeners move indoors for the winter. But for those of us who live in a mild climate where we can grow late fall and winter crops, we can keep right on growing as long as we pick the right crops, get them in the ground early enough and provide them with the proper protection. Follow these tips to start planning a winter vegetable garden to keep growing once the summer crops are done.

What to Grow

Some cool weather crops are much better suited to growing in fall than in spring. Often by the time it’s warm enough for plants to mature in spring, longer days will cause short-day crops (spinach and oriental cabbage) to bolt. The warm temperatures adversely affect their flavor as well.

But if you plant these crops in late summer, they’ll get a good kickstart in the warmth of a late-summer sun, and then mature more slowly in the shorter, colder days that follow.

Planning a Winter Garden image close up of a broccoli head and green leavesWhen planning a winter vegetable garden, these tried and true hardy crops are your best bet:

•    Broccoli
•    Brussels Sprouts
•    Cabbage
•    Carrot
•    Cauliflower
•    Chard
•    Horseradish
•    Jerusalem Artichoke
•    Kale
•    Leek
•    Mâche
•    Mustard Greens
•    Parsnip
•    Turnips

Even within these crops, it is important to use the right variety at this time of year, as hardiness can vary considerably. Fortunately, for every plant in the Smart Gardener database we’ve included a ‘Growing Conditions’ tag in the plant profile so you can easily see what each plants needs—cold, cool, warm or hot weather. For fall and winter crops, you want to look for plants that can tolerate cold weather.

When to Plant

Fall and mild winter crops commonly take longer to mature because the sun is weaker and the days are shorter. The best way to determine the right time to plant a fall crop is to figure out the number of days it takes for it to reach maturation (adding extra days to allow for slower growth in fall). Determine the day you want them to mature (in areas with frost, this is normally just before the weather turns too cold for good growth). Subtract the number of growing days from the maturation date and you have the sowing date.

It’s a good idea to plant a few successions at this time to make sure you get at least one crop before the frosts and possibly more if the frost is later than expected. If you rarely have frosts, you may be able to continue growing these crops through the winter.

planning a winter vegetable garden image of a cabbage plant with frost on the leavesWhere to Plant

Beds for winter crops should receive all of the sunlight they can get, so make sure they won’t be shaded. A south-facing slope is the best choice as it gets extra heat from the sun. You can even shape your shape winter beds so they tilt slightly to the south to give them a little extra solar gain.

The beds themselves should be well protected from cold winds. Don’t plant the winter garden in a low-lying area, as it might be a frost pocket and much colder than a more elevated slope.

The soil should also be well drained, as dampness is often as great as enemy of winter plants as cold is (much of the value of cloches and cold frames is due to their protecting plants from moisture).

Let Smart Gardener Help

The easiest way to plan a fall and winter garden is to let Smart Gardener do the work for you. If you already have a spring/summer garden, you can create a copy of your existing layout and select fall/winter, and then select the plants you want to grow.

Based on your frost dates, Smart Gardener will help you find which varieties are best for your climate, and let you know when it’s time to plant them.

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Eight bee-friendly plants for your garden

Did you know there are between 25,000 and 30,000 species of bees? May 20th has been designated as World Bee Day to celebrate the importance of bees and other pollinators and to bring attention to the threats they face from loss of habitat, pesticides, and a changing climate.

Bees and other pollinators are a critically important part of a thriving ecosystem. They are responsible for 75% of crop pollination, and many native plants require native bees for seed production.

For gardeners, attracting bees and other pollinators is the key to a successful harvest, and the sign of a healthy garden. The best way to do that is to provide them the things they need to live: shelter and food.

The good news is that it’s easy to include plants in your garden that will bring all the bees to your yard. Below are eight of our favorites, but almost any flowering plant will attract bees. Just make sure they’re pesticide-free.

Amaranth
Amaranth plants have strikingly beautiful flowers that attract bees and butterflies when they’re in flower, and birds when the seeds mature. Amaranth has a long history of use by peoples throughout the Americas. It was the primary food for the Aztecs, and varieties like Mercado and Hopi Red Dye were known through out Mexico and the American Southwest. Globe varieties like Mardi Gras Parade will add a pop of color, and make lovely dried flowers for year-round enjoyment.

Borage
Borage is a wonderful addition to any garden with is lovely star-shaped flowers. Also known as starflower and bee bush, it has been used by gardeners to attract bees to their vegetable gardens throughout history. Like the other plants on this list, it’s edible as well as beautiful. The flowers have a unique cucumber flavor, and the leaves can be added to salads when young or sautéed and eaten like other greens when mature.

Calendula
Calendula, also known as Pot Marigold, has been used for centuries in soothing lotions and salves. The edible petals make colorful salad garnishes, and attract all manner of pollinators (especially butterflies) to the garden. Varieties like Resina and Flashback have a large daisy-like center filled with pollen to feed hungry bees. The petals are edible and can be used fresh in salads or dried and used as a replacement for saffron.

Fennel
Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with a taste similar to licorice, and was considered one of the nine sacred curative herbs of medieval times. Leaf Fennel is grown for its seeds, flowers and leaves, and produces several large, lacy flower umbrels that attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, and makes a stunning addition to any garden with its tall feathery greenery that is also home to many beneficial insects.

Hyssop
Anise Hyssop is another herb with both medicinal and decorative uses. The leaves make a wonderful herb tea with a naturally sweet, wonderful anise taste. Bees love its attractive purple flowers which grow in profusion all season long. In fact, beekeepers often grow hyssop for the honey their bees produce from it. Hyssop is drought-tolerant and will grow well in most soils, making it an excellent plant for dry climates.

Lavender
All summer long lavender bushes are practically abuzz with bees visiting the fragrant flowers. These attractive plants are a gorgeous addition to any garden, and have the added benefit of providing flowers that can be used in relaxing teas and potpourri mixes. The leaves are also useful. Similar in flavor to rosemary, lavender is often used in savory dishes. Spanish varieties are popular in warmer climates, while French varieties work well in cooler areas.

Marigold
Marigolds are a surprisingly beneficial plant for gardeners. This landscaping favorite earned its place in the garden with its ability to repel some pests, but its also an excellent flower for attracting bees and other beneficial insects. And the cheery orange and yellow flowers are often dried and used as a substitute for saffron. Single-blossom varieties like Signet Starfire and Naughty Marietta are easier for bees to gather pollen from than those with double-blooms.

Nasturtium
Nasturtiums are the quintessential cottage garden flower, but they also deserve a space in your vegetable garden. The flowers and leaves are both edible, and give a dash of peppery flavor to salads as well as a splash of color. They’re incredibly easy to grow and make a good companion crop. The plants are known to repel squash bugs,  and the blooms will bring bees and other beneficial insects, as well as hummingbirds, from all over to sip their nectar.


Smart Gardener is the easiest way to plan, grow and harvest your own food. Our online vegetable garden planner is perfect for anyone who wants homegrown, healthy and tasty food to be part of their lifestyle.

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Strawberries

Strawberries are easy-to-grow plants that deserve a space in every garden.

Nothing compares to the taste of homegrown strawberries — the sweetness is like the taste of summer. Just as garden-fresh tomatoes beat the flavor of supermarket tomatoes, the strawberries you grow in your garden will be sweeter, juicier, and more tender than anything the stores sell. That’s because the berries you find in the supermarket are specially bred for their ability to survive being shipped long distances — not for flavor.

The good news is that growing strawberries is quite easy. We’ve got some important tips below on getting started and how to care for and protect your plants to ensure a hearty harvest of these delicious jewels.

Selecting Which Varieties to Grow

There are four types of strawberries you can grow, each with their own characteristics that make them better suited to different gardens. When selecting which strawberries to include in your garden, keep in mind your climate and whether you’d like to have a lot of fruit ripen at once for canning or preserving, or have a steady stream of ripe fruit for enjoying all summer.

Alpine Strawberries
Alpine strawberry plants are well behaved in the garden and are remarkably easy to grow. These attractive perennial plants are cultivated strains of wild or woodland strawberries and reportedly were transplanted into European gardens as early as the 12th century. Plants like the Mignonette variety yield a modest summer-long harvests of delicate three-quarter-inch fruit.

Day Neutral Strawberries
The day neutral varieties like Eversweet have a longer production season than the June bearers as they produce several flushes of fruit over the course of the summer. They often don’t produce many runners because their energy is concentrated on fruit production. A planting is usually grown for 3 years or so and is then replaced. These plants aren’t affected by day length.

Everbearing Strawberries
Everbearing strawberries like Seascape produce two to three good harvests of fruit during their growing season, generally from June to August. They do not produce many runners.

June Bearing Strawberries
These were the original garden strawberries and produce a single large crop over a period of several weeks in early summer. You may be able to extend the harvest season to a couple of months by planting several varieties, like Allstar, Chandler, and Honeoye, that ripen at different times. Be aware that they don’t produce a crop until their second season of growth.

Tips for Growing Wonderfully Delicious Strawberries

Soil Preparation
Strawberries prefer a slightly acidic (ideal PH: 5.8-6.5), well-drained, sandy loam with lots of organic matter, but they can grow in most soil types as long as they get a solid 8 hours of full sun daily.

Strawberries are perennial plants so you have to fertilize them heavily before planting; you won’t be able to incorporate anything else into the soil for a while as they’re getting established, so it’s important to prepare your soil before planting. Spread a 3-inch layer of compost or aged manure on the ground and fork it to a depth of 10 inches. Be careful to remove any weeds you come across in the process to prevent any competition for space and nutrients. You want to give them lots of room for root growth.

Plant Care
The good news about growing strawberries is that once the bed is established they can be fairly low maintenance with the main tasks being thinning out excess plants and harvesting. Strawberries are perennial plant in most climates. The first year is spent building roots and greenery, with few fruit. In the late autumn, the plants go into a rest period until early spring when they begin growing again.

Keep in mind that most berries will be produced on plants that grew the previous year, so you want to keep them multiplying and growing vigorously. To do that, be sure to clip off the first set of flowers to encourage your plants to put on more greenery before directing their attention toward making fruit.

Plant Protection
It’s important to spread a layer of mulch around each plant to help the soil retain moisture, reduce weed growth, and protect the developing fruit from damage or disease transferred from the soil when water splashes up. Many gardeners like to use straw mulch, which adds organic material to the soil as it breaks down. The drawback to straw is that it can be an attractive habitat for slugs and snails.

Plastic sheet mulching is common in commercial strawberry growing, and will help control weeds, but needs to be installed carefully to prevent puddles that cause disease, and as the plants grow they will need irrigation as the plastic will block water from soak in naturally.

Strawberry mats are another option. These reusable fabric mats are available in some garden centers and have copper woven in to deter slugs and snails. Because they’re porous water can seep through but reduce splash back onto the developing fruits. You simply cut them to size, and slip them between the plant and the soil.

Many gardeners also use crop covers to protect their berries from birds and other wildlife. Row covers can also be used to protect plants during cool nights, and then again during the heat of summer to protect the fruit from becoming sunburnt.

Pollination
The flowers are pollinated by insects, mostly bees. Most modern strawberry varieties are self-fertile, so you only need to plant one variety, although you may well want several to extend the harvest season, each maturing at different times to have a succession of fruit all summer long.

Seed Saving
Many plants will give good harvests for two to three years. Seed saving isn’t recommended because most strawberries are hybrids and unreliable due to crossbreeding. Fortunately, strawberry plants spread by way of sending out runners, each with a new plant on the end that is identical to the parent plant. Throughout the growing season, it’s best to trim back all but only a few runners to allow the plant to focus on fruit production, keeping only a few daughter plants to eventually replace their aging mothers.

Alternative Growing Options

Growing as an Annual
If winter doesn’t provide enough cold weather for your strawberry plants to rest then they won’t really be able to thrive. In these situations your best option is to grow them as an annual, planting in fall and harvesting the following summer (after the harvest the plants are removed). This can work out pretty well (many big commercial growers operate like this) but obviously it requires more work than perennial growing.

Container Gardens
Strawberries are excellent container plants. Many garden centers sell specialized strawberry containers — an open top ceramic or clay pot with several smaller openings around the sides. They also work well in hanging pots, window boxes, grow bags and vertical gardening containers.


Smart Gardener makes it easy to start a garden. We can help you decide which varieties of strawberry will work best in your garden and give you the advice you need to get started, and then send you weekly to-dos to keep you on track!

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Top 9 tips for beginner gardeners

Every year we are inspired by all the new gardeners we meet setting out on the journey of growing their own food. Their excitement is so pure it’s inspirational to even hardened old-timers. In fact, one of the best things about gardening is how eager older gardeners (folks with several years’ worth of dirt under their nails — figuratively and maybe literally, we don’t judge) are to share stories of their own successes and failures, and to give valuable advice based on their experiences.

We’ve gathered some of our favorite tips for beginning gardeners. Some were passed down to us when we began, and some of them we had to learn the hard way. Hopefully you can learn from them and get started out right!

1. Sweat the small stuff
Don’t plant more than you can manage. Begin small, find out what’s best to grow given your location and time of year. Learn the types of plants you enjoy growing.

2. Soil is everything
Prepare the soil you plant in. Learn what makes it “good soil” and begin tending it in early spring. Come the summer, your veggies will show their thanks.

3. Location, location, light
Sunlight and warmth are pivotal to a garden. Notice where your yard get the most sunlight. Some plants require more than others. Figuring out where to place your garden is the most important first step to success!

4. Rich, but not too rich
That’s fertilizer, not money. Understand how much fertilizer is the right amount for what you plant. Some require more, some less. The same for manure, it can affect the time of harvest.

Image of a watering can watering plants in a garden. Photo source: Markus Spiske, Unsplash5. Water is the driver of nature
Leonardo DaVinci had it right: water is the driver of nature. If over watered, a plant’s root system can rot. Once rotted? Let’s not go there. Too little water and the plants begin to wilt. If you see this, add water — a much happier ending!

6. Don’t judge
The general rule is to plant seeds twice a deep as they are big. The larger the seed the deeper it should be planted. And on the flip side, who knew “shallow” could be good? Smaller seeds mean shallower planting. But beginner gardeners often go too deep or too shallow. Good news! Most seed packets give the ideal planting depth, so be sure to refer to the packet for a smart, healthy plant.

7. Give me some space, please
Seeds may look small but planting too many, too close means a grab for soil nutrients, sunlight and water. The larger the plant, the more space it needs to thrive. Again, the spacing info listed on seed packet is a good guide to make sure plants have room to grow.

8. Not too mulch
Mulch is good but like almost everything else, moderation is key. Applying a light mulch after planting is good. But too much mulch? Not good. Add it lightly as a plant grows and it will help keep soil moist. It also discourages weeds. Speaking of…

9. Weeds can be stingy
Weeds grow way faster than your veggies will. The best treatment is to pull them as soon as you see them. The longer they’re neglected the more roots they grow, and then they’ll take over your garden. Oh no! Yank them quick and let your veggies win and you’ll enjoy the taste of victory!

Don’t worry!
Smart Gardener can help you keep track of each of these tips as you get started. With planting guides and weekly reminders, we help you every step of the way

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Prepare Clay Soil for Spring Planting

One of the major considerations when putting in a new garden is soil texture. The mineral make up of soil is a mixture of different sized particles: sand, silt and clay. Each component plays an important role in the soil’s structure, impacting how well roots can grow and how much water and nutrients are available. The goal is to find a good balance.

Ideally your garden’s soil will contain at least 20% clay. Soil with over 35% clay is considered “clay soil.”

Clay soil hold a lot of water (up to eight times as much as sandy soil) and are slow to dry out. This is an advantage in times of drought, but in wet climates it means they get waterlogged easily. Wet clay soils tend to be cold and slow to warm up in spring. It’s no wonder that many plants don’t over-winter well in clay soils.

Additionally, most plant roots have a hard time penetrating clay soil. The pores are so small and the particles so densely packed that plants will struggle to grow and thrive.

If your garden has clay soil, don’t give up hope. Clay soils can be heavy and difficult to work with, but if you persevere they can be very fertile and productive.

Use the tips below to turn your clay soil into an environment your plants and other beneficial organisms will love.

Blue spade in garden bed. Photo source: Markus Spiske, UnsplashTiming is everything
Limit cultivation to times when soil is not too dry or wet. If you work with dry clay soil it will be so hard it is almost impossible to dig and may crack into large chunks that crumble to dust. When this dust gets wet it sets rock hard, almost like plaster. It’s usually pretty obvious when it’s too dry to work with, and you may need to add water via irrigation, or wait for a soaking rain to soften the ground.

While working with dry clay soil is difficult, cultivation of wet clay is even worse. Wet clay soil compacts very easily when you put any pressure on it, creating a sticky mass that is also hard to penetrate. One sign your soil is too wet is when you leave shiny footprints where you’ve walked because the water has been squeezed from the soil.

Amending clay soil
Add well-decomposed organic matter like compost to help particles cluster together and form larger aggregates. This will improve drainage and aeration.

You can improve clay soil’s structure by adding a mix of 80% gypsum and 20% dolomitic lime. Use an ounce of this mix per square foot of soil in spring and again in fall. This may be repeated for a second year, while also adding as much organic matter as possible.

Adding calcium may be useful to improve soil structure temporarily, until you can get sufficient organic matter and soil life into the soil. But this only works if the soil is low in calcium.

Be sure to double dig to thoroughly incorporate organic matter and calcium, as well as fertilizer and other minerals your soil may need.

Garden fork and shovel in grassLong-term solutions
Use green manures to improve structure. Growing a green manure crop will protect the soil surface as well as add organic matter when you dig it in at the end of its season.

In autumn, when it’s relatively dry, roughly dig the soil and leave it over the winter for frost to break down the large clumps.

Other suggestions for working with clay soil
Use raised beds to improve aeration and prevent future compaction. Build them high to help them drain and warm up.

Slope the site slightly so the soil can drain more quickly.

Never allow clay soil to get so dry that is cracks. These cracks increase evaporation and make the soil hard to re-wet because water simply drains away down the cracks. If it does dry out, cultivate the soil surface.

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