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COLUMN: Attentive gardening leads to happy plants

Storing rainwater, composting, great ways to keep chemicals out of soil, waste out of landfill.
Charles Schroder
Columnist Charles Schroder

Gardening is a love affair. You want to do whatever you can to make your plants happy.

Happy plants need sunlight, oxygen, water, good soil, and room to grow.

Now that you have planted your garden, you wait for the seeds to germinate. Radish, cabbage, and turnips germinate quickly. Carrots, parsley, and spinach take up to two weeks to germinate. You must keep the surface soil moist until germination occurs. By this time, you should have transplanted your tomatoes, squash, and annual flower seedlings

While there is no such thing as a perfect garden, you can maximize yield and beauty by weeding, providing enough water, and mulching. Weather, rain or lack of, temperature, wind, and cloud cover all affect the growth of your plants. Be prepared. Have a supply of rainwater. Shade your tender plants in hot weather; cover them if it becomes too cold.

Walk around your garden every day to identify pests before they do much damage. 

Remove weeds continually, especially before they flower and produce seeds for the next cycle. The best time to weed is just after a rain – if you have raised beds. They pull out easily, root and all.

To achieve optimum growth, you must thin. All suggested spacing is approximate. Suggested spacing for beets – 10 centimetres; carrots – three centimetres; cabbage – 40-45 centimetres; turnips – 25 centimetres; lettuce – 10 centimetres; onions – 20 centimetres; parsnips – 10 centimetres; and mounds of squash and pumpkin – at least 1.2 metres apart.

Plants need water. For larger plants such as cabbage, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini, insert watering tin cans by each plant. Each tin should have three holes in the bottom with the top at the surface of the soil. The water goes into the ground and does not evaporate from the surface. Check your plants every hot day; if the leaves start to wilt, provide more water. You should have at least two rain barrels plus a few smaller containers. Remember to place a long stick in each uncovered rain barrel to prevent squirrels or birds from drowning. Water at night to reduce evaporation on hot days. Consider drip hoses; they deliver water slowly and allow it to slowly seep into the soil.

Mulch to reduce surface evaporation.

Onions are shallow rooted, so keep the soil moist. Others such as carrots, parsnips, and beets are deep rooted and do not need to be watered as often. The experts say that your garden needs 2.5 centimetres of water a week.

Tomatoes need uniform watering. Alternating between wet and dry soil conditions often causes blossom rot.

To have fresh, succulent produce over a longer period of time, plant short rows of each about two weeks apart.

Every gardener should have a compost bin. Compost is like coffee: satisfaction is having a cup of coffee; security is having your own cup. With all the chemicals in the ground, you never know how safe store-bought or municipal compost is. Every scrap of vegetation in your bin reduces the amount placed in the landfill.

My method of composting starts with two large composting bins, about 2.5 metres by one metre by one metre high. Starting in year one, I fill the first one from August to the next July, occasionally adding some soil. I put that compost on my beds in September. Most plant material has decomposed for more than a year and, while having some larger pieces, is incorporated into the top 15 centimetres of the beds. The second bin starts to be filled in August and is emptied the next fall. This process takes little time and provides great compost.

In the fall, I gather leaves from neighbours. They are added to my compost, placed into the walkways between my raised beds, and used for winter protection. And some are shredded by my lawnmower and saved to be used as mulch for next year’s summer mulching.

Charles Schroder is a St. Albert resident and an avid gardener.