By Vicki Krage, Director of Operations at Sunrise Financial Services & Sunny Gardens Volunteer.
Our last article tackled some basic things to consider when planning and planting your garden; this is a wide and deep topic, so I’ve divided it into two separate articles. I could go on forever, but I’ll spare you for your sake. In this article, we will go over some intermediate to advanced planting tips we’ve slowly adopted here at Sunny Gardens.
My dad used to say, “You are the company you keep.” Apparently, the same is true for plants. A companion planting strategy can help you save room in your garden. Still, some plants complement each other by helping them grow, keeping pests away, and even infusing one another with flavor.
This can be as simple as planting flowering plants that attract bees, which help pollinate your crops for more bountiful harvests. Or using a taller, sun-loving plant to provide shade for another that requires protection from the sun.A well-known example is “The Three Sisters,” which includes corn, green beans, and zucchini/squash. The corn provides a structure for the climbing green beans to grow, and the squash grows low to the ground, which helps the ground retain moisture and produces shady conditions, making it hard for weeds to grow. Their prickly leaves and stems also deter pests.
In order to take advantage of companion planting, you’ll need to do a little research about how your plants will grow, consider the following:
- Do they spread?
- Will they get too big for your planned space?
- Do they need a support structure? Are they climbers?
- Do they need 6 hours of total sun exposure or do better with a bit of shade?
God made dirt, but bad dirt doesn’t grow good crops. Aside from nutrients, which I’ll discuss next, you should know the type of soil your plants are growing in, so you can combat any shortcomings and use good things to your advantage. There are six general soil types: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky, and loamy. We won’t go into the benefits and drawbacks of these; however, it is important to know which you have in order to maximize your harvests.
Other important things to consider are your soil’s pH and moisture level. The “name of the game” here is balance. We talked about watering your garden in a previous article. (If you’d like more info on watering, I recommend taking a trip down” memory lane” and going back to review it.)
Now I am not a chemist, but pH is simply a measurement of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. With the human body, typically, it is better to be more alkaline, but with gardening, it can go either way, depending on the plant. A proper pH makes the nutrients in the soil more available to your crops.
The majority of plants will do well between 6 (slightly acidic) and 7.5 (slightly alkaline). A pH of 7 is considered neutral. You can buy a decent pH meter or sticks on Amazon for about $12. I’ve tried both, and each seems to do the job; however, I found it easier to work with the meter.
I’m a creature of habit, and if I could, I’d plant the same things in the same place every year. The problem with this is growing the same plants depletes essential nutrients from the soil and can cause pest and disease issues because the health of your soil is becoming poor, and its favorite host is continually planted.
For example, tomatoes need phosphorus and potassium-rich soil to grow well and produce a good harvest. Suppose you plant tomatoes in the same spot two years in a row. In that case, you might end up with stunted plants in the second year and an increase in pest activity and disease if you don’t give the soil time to recover or replenish the nutrients by planting something that restores the potassium and phosphorus to the soil.
Again, this calls for planning because you’ll need to know what your planned crops require to grow. Some plants need the same nutrients to grow well, while others you can sow require different nutrients, allowing the soil time to “recover.” As a best practice, consider rotating your crops each season, providing a 3-4 year timeframe before replanting crop families in the same area.
These are just a few things to consider when planning and planting your garden. This “rabbit hole” is deep; each season, you’ll learn more about your garden and how it grows. As usual, I encourage you to ask us questions, share tips on things that have worked for you, and share your experiences with us.