If you’re hoping for a bountiful crop this year, there are several things you can do to help your plants grow. Of course they need sun and water, and soil that contains sufficient nutrients. A successful garden also requires careful planning and good defences against pests, weeds, and extreme weather conditions. Here are a few more gardening secrets to help increase productivity in your garden.
Without healthy, lively soil, your plants are going to struggle to grow. The best way to improve your soil is to add food for the soil microbes that live in it. Food comes in the form of compost and other organic material. There are lots of ways you can make your own compost. You can make worm compost, otherwise known as vermicomposting or make your own compost using materials that would otherwise go to waste.
There are many reasons why you should be using compost in your garden:
- Helps the soil hold moisture and reduce water runoff.
- Benefits the environment by recycling organic resources and conserving landfill space.
- You won’t need to use commercial soil conditioners and fertilizers.
- Compost adds nutrients and beneficial microbes and improves plant growth.
- Provides a supply of slow-release nutrients.
- Increase organic matter in the soil.
- Encourages healthy root systems.
- Attracts and feeds earthworms and other beneficial microorganisms.
- Helps to balance pH.
- Helps to control soil erosion.
- Helps protect plants from drought and frost.
- Reduces the need for petrochemical fertilizers.
- Reduces weeds when used as a mulch.
- Regulates soil temperature.
You can use compost as a mulch, topdressing, soil amendment, or as an organic fertilizer.
There are many benefits to mulching in the garden. It is a great way to reduce water use, but it can also suppress weeds and protect the soil from erosion and drying out. Mulch also keeps the soil warm, allowing more nutrients to be available when your plants need them.
There are a wide variety of mulches you can buy from your local garden store, but there also plenty of readily available materials that are free. Lawn clippings and shredded leaves, for example, cardboard, or newspapers.
Another option is something called chop-n-drop mulching. You simply cut back any excessive growth and let the cuttings fall on the garden as mulch.
Nourish Your Soil
To encourage extensive root systems and strong plants, you need deep, nutrient-rich soil. You can add nourishment with plenty of organic matter, such as manure, leaf mould, or compost. You can easily make your own compost or leaf mould at home. Manure you can probably pick up from your local farmer.
Use Natural Fertilizers
You can buy chemical fertilizers from your local garden store, but there’s really no need because it’s easy to make your own. Grow a patch of comfrey and make your own comfrey tea. It’s a very potent brew that your tomatoes will love. If you’re not into making comfrey tea, (it can get very stinky), drape the leaves around the bases of plants or add them to the compost heap where they’ll speed up decomposition.
Other fertilizers that are readily available include:
- Wood ash: this has a high alkaline content which makes it perfect for neutralizing acidic soil. *Use in moderation.
- Bananas: chop up the peel and bury it in the soil when you plant tomatoes, rose bushes, or green pepper plants. They contain potash and phosphorous which enriches the soil and strengthens your plants.
- Compost tea: brew some of your compost into a liquid solution to improve the vibrancy of your plants.
- Club soda: contains macronutrients, including carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, and sodium. Let the fizzy water go flat however, before pouring it onto your plants.
- Aquarium water: if you’ve got an aquarium, pour the old water out onto your plants. The waste and bacteria in the water are beneficial to plants. However, only apply it to ornamental plants, not the ones you’re going to eat.
- Egg shells: this is rich in calcium and can be very beneficial for plants like tomatoes that are often plagued by calcium deficiency. Rinse them and crush them to add to the soil. An alternative use is for starting seedlings. When the seedlings are big enough you can transplant them in the ground, shell and all.
- Tea leaves: used tea leaves contain nitrogen potash, and calcium. Give your plants a budget-friendly boost by sprinkling them at the base of your plants.
Save Seeds and Take Cuttings
Saving seeds and taking cuttings means you get to spend less money setting up your garden, but there’s another benefit that makes it worthwhile. Over time, you’ll also be able to breed unique varieties of plants that have adapted to your specific climate and conditions. They will also have co-evolved with the microflora and microfauna that inhabits the soil in your garden. As a result, there should be lower instances of diseases and pests, as well as better yields.
Cuttings are worth doing because it means you can increase the number of plants you’re growing. It’s possible, for example, to grow tomatoes from the side-shoots you normally pinch off when you’re pruning.
Collecting rainwater is another money saving activity. However, harvesting your rainwater also benefits the plants in your garden too. Rainwater typically has fewer contaminants, you keep it at a lukewarm temperature, which means the plants roots aren’t shocked, and you’re not treating it with chlorine.
Install a rainwater collecting system in your garden and collect as much rainwater as you can. Use a connector kit to join multiple barrels together.
Pollinators are animals, primarily insects, but sometimes avian or mammalian, that fertilise plants, resulting in the formation of seeds and the fruit surrounding seeds. We rely on pollinators to produce nuts and fruits. The majority of flowering plant species require animal-mediated pollination to make the seeds that will become the next generation of plants.
Pollinators move pollen from male structures of flowers to the female structure of the same plant species. Movement of the pollen to a flower’s stigma results in fertilization of the flower’s eggs. If fertilized adequately, the flower will produce seeds and the fruit surrounding the seeds.
There are many ways you can encourage pollinators into your garden:
- Choose native plants in a variety of shapes and colours to encourage diversity
- Make sure you have something blooming in your garden all year round.
- Add milkweed to your garden as it provides food for monarch butterfly caterpillars.
- Leave a little bare ground rather than covering everything in mulch, so bees have somewhere they can dig a nest in the ground.
- Install a bee block or bee hotel. You can buy one or build one yourself.
- Make a border: border your fruits and vegetables with native flowers and you’ll improve pollination of your crops and support bees when your crops have stopped blooming.
- Avoid chemicals and use plants that draw natural pest-eaters and companion planting instead. Garlic is good for aphids and basil for tomatoes.
This can be a hard one to grasp, especially if you’re a traditional gardener. However, there is a strong case for transitioning to a no-dig vegetable garden. It provides a rich soil to grow in and is an excellent way to clear a weed-infested growing area. By avoiding digging you’re not disrupting the soil life, all those important microorganisms, fungi, and worms, that help feed plant roots.
Choose Plants That Thrive
There’s always a temptation to grow something exotic in your garden, but you’re better off choosing plants that will thrive in your soil and climate. The growth of your plants will be stronger and the harvests bigger. Warm climates, for example, are perfect for growing sweet potatoes and tomatoes. If you live in a cooler climate, crops such as chard and cabbage will be able to cope with the cold.
Look at what other gardeners are growing. It’s most likely to be varieties that are going to thrive in your climate. If your growing season is short, look for early varieties. Whereas areas in which there are long periods of scorching sun will suit heat-tolerant varieties better.
Extend the Growing Season
Before you start planning what you’re going to grow, get familiar with the first and last frost dates. Once you know what these are you can look at ways you can push your growing season further using different types of plant protection. You can start sowing and planting up to two weeks sooner if you use cold frames, cloches, and row covers. At the other end of the growing season, harvests can continue a few weeks longer.
Install a more permanent structure in your garden, such as a greenhouse, and it opens up more possibilities. It’ll make it easy to enjoy even earlier sowing and planting and provide just enough protection for the cropping of hardy salads, for example, throughout the winter.
Space Plants Correctly
It’s a very fine line between too close and too far apart, but it is possible to get it right with some research and careful planning. There are plenty of online tools you can use if you need some help to organise your garden. Growveg, for example, offers a free 7 day trial. Try it out and see if you like it before paying for a subscription.
Some plants work well together, while other shouldn’t share the same plot under any circumstances. Companion plants when grown together can help to increase overall productivity. Companion planting takes many forms. One example is using corn as a support for climbing plants. Lettuce grown in-between rows or carrots or onions can help to smother weeds.
Preventative Pest Control
Pests can decimate your garden if allowed to run riot without any checks. It is, however, possible to stop them in their tracks. Place barriers over susceptible plants to protect from flying insect pests. Reduce your slug population by removing hiding places such as long grass around growing areas or upturned pots.
There are beneficial flowers that are worth finding space for in your vegetable garden. Flowers like calendula, poached egg plant, and alyssum, don’t take up much space but will improve productivity by attracting predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies to control pests including mealybugs, mites, and aphids.
Harvesting more from your vegetable garden is a worthy ambition. Now you’ve learned some of the most effective ways to increase productivity, you’ll be able to benefit from healthier soil, be able to defend your crops from pests and weeds, save money, and boost yields in your garden.