As the frost leaves and the sunnier days are upon us, you may find yourself considering planting a vegetable garden to enjoy in late summer. If you’re completely new to the process, it can feel intimidating. This guide will help alleviate some of that fear and equip you with tips to help ensure your garden is a success.

In Simcoe County, we have a few challenges for outdoor gardening due to our shorter summers and late frost, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, when you start your garden at the right time and consider some of the other variables, you’ll find yourself enjoying the fruits (or veggies) of your labour before you know it.

Growing Season

In the Simcoe County you typically have a growing window between May and October, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a head start! Consider starting “seedlings” indoors. You can start the process as early as late March — you’ll just have to consider that your seedlings may outgrow their original pod and will need to be repotted into something larger before reaching their final destination outdoors.

This process can also save you money by yielding more plants for a lower cost. Purchasing pre-started plants can add up, although a perfectly fine option for those who don’t want to start with a seed which can sometimes be a tricky process.

Choosing the right location for your garden

Choosing the right location to grow your vegetables is important for them to flourish. Here are some things you’ll want to consider:

  • Sunny location: most vegetables require at least 6 hours of sunshine per day. Make sure that your garden bed or pots are receiving adequate sun throughout the day.
  • Not too windy: your smaller plants could be knocked over in the early stages if you plant somewhere that is susceptible to strong winds.
  • Proper soil: veggies need proper nutrient dense soil to thrive. Start by loosening your soil, removing rocks and debris. Consider adding organic matter, like manure, or compost to your soil. You can also purchase soil feed, such as Miracle Gro Shake and Feed to add micronutrients to your soil, perfect for small urban garden beds. 

Choosing your vegetables

You’ve got your planter boxes ready and soil prepped, now it’s time to plant your vegetables!

  • Make sure to follow the planting instructions for each unique vegetable. Every plant is different and has instructions that specify things like time of year to plant, how far apart each plant should be from one another, etc.
  • Check out this companion planning chart. Did you know some vegetables grow better next to others, while some don’t like certain neighbours? For example, onions and garlic grow nicely with carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, but not so nicely next to peas, beans, parsley and leeks.
  • As a beginner you may want to consider these easy to grow plants for your first garden: Lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, kale and beets. It’s best not to stress yourself out with the needs to too many varieties. Once you’ve successfully mastered the easier plants, you’ll be encouraged to try something new during the next growing season.

Watering your garden

How do I know when it’s time to water my garden?

Don’t water without touching the soil. If it’s damp and sticks together, you’re likely fine. However, if it’s dry, cracked and looks baked, it’s probably time to give it a good soaking. Make sure that you’re watering beyond the surface. The plants should be soaked a good 5 inches deep so it can reach the roots.

A few watering tips:

  • Try not to wet the plant itself. It’s best to water the soil directly. Wetting the plant could lead to foliage diseases.
  • Always water your garden in the morning before the hot sun. Watering during the hottest part of the day causes it to evaporate before penetrating the roots. It can also cause the plants to burn. You can also water in the evening when the sun goes down, but it’s best to do it in the morning.
  • Water more often in the hot summer days and less often in the cool spring.

Note: It’s completely normal for your plants to have some droopiness to them in the hot mid-day. This isn’t always necessarily a sign that your plants need water. Always check the soil. This could be your plants adapting to the environment. They should perk back up come sunset. If they do, that means they are fine and don’t need additional water. If they’re still droopy, they may need some additional water.

Harvesting your vegetables

When it comes to harvesting, each plant is different. For things like onions and carrots, it’s hard to tell when they’re ready, unlike a ripe tomato on a vine. To avoid harvesting too early (or late) it’s important to do your research so you can enjoy your hard work!

 Other gardening tips to consider:

  • Some vegetables grow quicker than others, and planting 10 tomato plants all at once will result in all of your tomatoes being ready at once. Consider succession planting, where you strategically start your plants at different times to ensure all your crops aren’t ready at once. It could allow you to grow more food as well by starting later season crops.
  • Trim off any dead blooms. This encourages the plants to grow more healthier blooms.
  • Weeding may be a pain, but it’s necessary for a healthy garden. Pluck away any unwanted weeds that show up.
  • Start small! If it’s your first-time gardening, there is no point in going big and stressing over a large garden. Experiment with a smaller garden and grow it as you learn the ins and outs.

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