Does your garden feel like an endless “To Do” list? It doesn’t have to be that way! In this short video, we share seven clever ideas to save you valuable time, while still producing delicious fruits and vegetables you can be proud of.
Preparing vegetable beds, laying essential paths, raising plants from seed and keeping your crops watered and healthy all takes time, and let’s face it, gardening can be hard work. There are ways to make vegetable gardening easier for yourself and speed up the process.
7 Vegetable Garden Shortcuts
1. Choose Easy Crops
It might seem obvious, but choosing vegetables that are easy to grow reduces the effort you need to put in. For instance, onions can be grown from bulbs called ‘sets’ or young plants, and then all they need is watering and weeding until harvest time comes. Summer squash and zucchini produce lots of tasty fruits with very little input from the gardener, while bush beans grow rapidly and, unlike pole beans, don’t need you to make up frames to support them.
Our Garden Planner can help you to choose plants that are particularly easy to grow. Click the filter button next to the plant selection bar, choose what type of plants you’d like to show (for instance vegetables, herbs or fruits), then select the ‘Easy to Grow’ option. The selection bar will then display only plant that are low maintenance and reliable.
2. Buy Plug Plants
Plug plants are young plants that have been grown in their own ‘plug’ of potting soil until they’re at the right stage for transplanting. Since there’s no sowing to do and you don’t have to take care of the young seedlings, buying plug plants saves a lot of time. They are more expensive than growing from seed but they’ll make planning your beds a lot easier and are a great option if you don’t have much space to start all your seedlings indoors or under cover.
Don’t forget that many plug plants (especially those of tender crops such as tomatoes) will need to be ‘hardened off’ before transplanting. Once there’s no danger of frost, place them outdoors for increasingly longer periods over one to two weeks. You can also protect newly planted plug plants by covering them with row covers or clear plastic bottles cut in half.
3. Group Vegetables Together
Vegetables from the same crop family often enjoy similar growing conditions. Growing them together not only simplifies crop rotation, it makes it easier manage your crops. For example vegetables from the cabbage family, such as broccoli or kale, are best grown together in the same bed to make it easy to net them against pests. Or group leafy salads together to make watering quicker, and so you can easily set up shade cloth in hot weather if necessary.
4. Make an Instant Bed
Save time and effort when making new beds by using the ‘no-dig’ approach. Just hoe off the worst of the weeds then lay down thick cardboard, making sure there is a generous overlap between sheets, to smother off any that remain. (Make sure to remove any tape or staples from the cardboard first.) Spread a layer at least four inches thick of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost or potting soil[WU1] , on top of the cardboard. You can sow or plant straight away and you’ll have very little weeding to worry about.
5. Use Growing Bags or Potting Soil Sacks
Potting soil sacks and purpose-sold growing bags (normally used for growing crops such as tomatoes and peppers) can be used to grow shallow-rooted crops like salad leaves, spinach, onions and bush beans.
Massage the bag to break up any clumps in the potting soil, then cut slits into the bottom for drainage. Flatten the bag out onto the ground and cut away the plastic from the top of the bag. The bag will suppress weeds on the soil beneath it. Once your crops have been harvested you can use the potting soil to fill the bottom of containers, or cut the plastic away to convert it into a permanent bed.
6. Make Containers Lower-Maintenance
Crops grown in containers need watering and feeding more often than those grown directly in the ground. Save time by mulching the surface of the potting soil with gravel or shredded bark to slow down evaporation.
Larger containers take longer to dry out and provide more nutrients than smaller ones, so they will need less frequent watering and feeding. Soil-based potting soil is ideal for bigger plants, including fruit trees and bushes, as it dries out more slowly.
Group containers close together so you can water them all at once and to help protect your crops against strong and drying winds.
If you’re going on vacation, sink containers into the ground then give the pot and surrounding soil a thorough watering. Buried containers remain cooler and won’t dry out as rapidly as those above ground.
7. Low-Maintenance Paths
Paths need regular maintenance to keep them weed free. A thick mat of straw, bark chippings or other biodegradable matter, replenished occasionally, makes for a good low maintenance vegetable garden pathway. Or for a firmer surface underfoot, use sturdy planks of wood.
If you have grass paths, use wooden planks or other hard edging around the edges of your beds to make mowing and trimming easier, and to prevent the grass from creeping into the beds.
Get more garden tips and, most importantly, fantastic garden planning software! Try the Almanac Garden Planner—free for 7 days!