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How to Grow Your Own Sweet Summer Crops

This guide will help every gardener get started growing summer’s freshest warm-season vegetables and berries.

Summer is the peak of the gardening season. Farmers’ markets and street vendors are full of fresh produce, and home gardens are producing at peak production. We live in a time when eating fresh, healthy food is easy and attractive.

Getting to this stage requires an early start in late winter and early spring. Now is the time to plan the important first steps you need to take before you even think about planting your first seeds.

Garden planning

The weather may be keeping you indoors, but you can get help starting your summer garden by deciding what you want to grow and, more importantly, where you want to grow it in your garden. Winter or early spring is also a great time to plan your garden design, prepare your garden beds and, most importantly, figure out your planting schedule.

Choose a place to grow

Almost all summer crops require long, sunny days. Think about the solar pattern throughout your garden. Placing edible plants in the best location may require replanting existing plants or redesigning areas that are difficult to landscape.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the traditional gardening in your backyard, and don’t think all edibles have to be limited to one area. If you have a sunny spot in your existing ornamental bed, try hiding vegetables and berries among flowering plants and shrubs in your backyard or front yard.

The bonus is that flowering plants help attract beneficial insects, and when the fruit ripens, it creates an unexpected explosion of color among other plants.

Find a landscape designer on RDKLandscaping to help you plan your edible garden.

Consider adding a double bed

Raised beds add design interest to a space and make it easier to care for plants and pick vegetables and fruit. It will also prevent more aggressive growers from taking over the rest of your yard.

Decide when to start planting

As with cool season crops, frost date is also important. For almost all summer food crops, it is recommended to wait at least a week after the last expected frost before sowing or transplanting seeds.

Soil preparation

For best results, start 2 to 3 weeks before planting. A good first step is to test the pH level of the soil wherever you plan to plant. Most edible plants prefer neutral to slightly acidic pH levels, soalkaline soil should be improved. You can send your soil to a lab, but test kits are readily available at nurseries, home centers, and garden supply stores.

Once you’ve determined your garden location and pH level, amend the soil. For new garden beds, first use a spading fork or rotary tiller to spread the soil to a depth of about 10 inches. This step is not necessary for existing beds.

For both new and existing beds, spread an organic soil conditioner, such as compost or manure, over the existing soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Add complete fertilizer and any necessary amendments to correct pH levels. Use a spading fork or rotary tiller to mix the amendment into the soil. After leveling the bed, water it well.


Take the final step

Even if daytime temperatures are warm, check to see if the soil heats up during the summer. If the soil is not warm enough, many seeds may rot or not germinate and the seedlings will wilt. Most seed packets or plant descriptions list the minimum soil temperature needed for seed germination.

Note: Do not apply organic mulch early in the season. They keep the soil cooler rather than warmer.

Additional tips for growing a summer vegetable garden

Plant your seeds early. Sowing directly into the garden is suitable for most crops, but if you have a short growing season, you may want to sow the seeds indoors or in a cool area before transplanting.

Look for healthy seedlings. If sowing seeds isn’t your thing, or you only need one or two edible seeds, it may be better to wait and get transplants from a trusted nursery or garden center. Some edible foods, such as many strawberries, are sold only as plants.

Look for plants with strong stems and good growth. No flowers needed. Seedlings without them will generally do better with transplants because they are still putting their energy into growing rather than fruiting.

Start small. If you are a beginning gardener, start small with what you like. You won’t be overwhelmed by care or harvest.

Check the size of your garden. As you gain more experience, you face a dilemma every year. If you want to grow your favorite varieties, there are many options, including new varieties and unusual products. How difficult would it be to add just a few more plants?

If you have a large family or plan to do a lot of preserving or canning, it makes sense to grow a lot of each vegetable. For most of us, the space needed to grow a vegetable garden is surprisingly small.

Keeping your garden smaller means you don’t have to mow large areas of your landscaping and maintenance is much simpler and quicker.

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