Planning your home garden can be complicated

Designing a productive and aesthetically pleasing garden can be complicated. Doing it correctly involves more than placing a seed in the ground, watering it and watching a corn plant come up. We must determine what our goals are.

If you want a vegetable garden and you live in town, aesthetics is key. Traditional vegetable gardens aren’t exactly designed to be ornamental. However, we can choose plants that are dual-purpose and don’t sprawl out of control. Even plants that do can be contained effectively and look pretty at the same time.

Take cucumbers for example. Growing them on a fence keeps the vines confined and out of our yard. It also makes fruits easier to harvest.

Some crops like corn and peas take up huge amounts of space. They might not be the best choice for folks possessing small yards. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and many herbs might be the best choice for those situations.

If having a pretty garden is essential, incorporating flowers along with the vegetables can be effective. There are also plants that can help control garden pests. I’ll leave that for another time.

Some of our garden plants are perennials. Strawberries and asparagus are good examples. This can pose a problem unless we plant them separately from our annual vegetables. Perennials should be in an area that is not intended to be tilled up every year.

Light is another consideration. It’s helpful if tall plants are planted toward the north side of the garden. That way they don’t shade shorter crops.

All garden plants can’t be planted at the same time either. Soil temperature is very critical. Okra and melons shouldn’t be planted until soil temperatures are well into the 60s. This won’t happen until the ground dries up and all danger of frost has passed. Cabbage, broccoli, celery, carrots and most greens can be planted now if the ground is dry enough to work. May peas should probably have been planted by now.

It’s also helpful to plan the garden so that it can be sequentially planted. In other words, it’s nice if all the warm-season crops are planted together so that we’re not constantly tromping around and risking damaging plants that are already growing.

Some plants in the garden can be directly seeded and some must be grown from transplants for maximum efficiency. Generally, tomatoes, peppers and okra should be started from transplants. Corn, beans, beets, spinach, carrots and radishes are grown from seed.

Another important factor to consider is how pests and diseases will affect our garden over a long time. We need to rotate our crops and not plant them in the same spot year after year. Insects and diseases are often species-specific and will build up in the soil. I realize that this might violate our tall and short plant rule, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.

Gardening is fun, and most of the rules aren’t hard fast. However, it’s helpful to plan. I think it’s always important to think ahead and manage the space effectively.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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2 Responses to Planning your home garden can be complicated

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Crop rotation complicates things. I would have grown pole beans on the same fence forever if I could have. They didn’t like that of course. Fortunately, cucumbers were happy to replace them for a while. Several vegetables are nice ornamentals. Chard is a delightful foliar plant for the front garden. So is parsley. I tried growing a patch of popcorn as ornamental grass, but the neighbors didn’t like it much.

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