Not enough time for vegetable gardening? Here are 7 shortcuts to get started and save valuable time—while still producing delicious fruits and vegetables! Yes, there are ways to make vegetable gardening easier for yourself and speed up the process.
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.
7 Vegetable Garden Shortcuts
1. Pick Easy Vegetables to Grow!
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 Already Started Out!
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 With No-Dig Approach
Digging the ground, year after year, is almost always counterproductive. It brings weed seeds to the soil surface, creating more weeding. It hastens nutrient loss, so you’ll need to feed plants more often. And it rips apart the complex life and very fabric of your soil, reducing its ability to both drain properly and retain moisture.
Here’s a simple solution: Mow off the grass or weeds as close to the ground as possible then cover the area with overlapping cardboard. Add about 3 inches of compost on top. You can sow or plant straight away. The compost will gradually release nutrients and also promote a healthier soil ecosystem, which will help plants grow stronger with less input from you. But the biggest time-saving bonus of mulching is fewer weeds, which will find it a lot harder to push through from the ground beneath.
Another option is to cover the ground with a sheet mulch such as weed-suppressing membrane or old plastic potting soil bags, into which cuts can be made so that well-spaced plants like tomatoes or sprawling crops such as squash may be planted. And you can even get nature to do the work for you - choose potatoes as a first crop as their dense canopy smothers out weeds and their roots break up the soil, in effect ‘cleansing’ the ground for other crops to follow.
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. Save Time Watering!
Save time watering by topping up mulches on your containers and your beds to reduce evaporation from the soil. Watering really thoroughly once or twice a week takes less time than a hurried daily water and, because roots are encouraged to grow deeper in search of moisture, plants become more resilient and less dependent on you.
Sinking old plant pots or plastic bottles with holes into the ground beside thirsty plants can provide reservoirs to get the water deep into the soil.
Water-efficient drip irrigation is a hands-off way to keep plants quenched, and if you connect it to a controller the whole setup can be completely automated.
Grouping pots together in hot weather creates some shade so that the potting mix within them stays cooler for longer.
Stand pots in trays so they can absorb water from the bottom up, saving you both time and water.
You could also incorporate water-retaining gel or crystals into the potting mix at planting time.
Choose to plant into larger pots, which will dry out less quickly so need less watering
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.
Bonus: Mow Selectively
If you have a lawn, save time mowing your lawn by – that’s right – just letting it grow that little bit longer! The grass will be healthier for it, and it’s better for wildlife too. Then just leave the clippings to drop back onto the lawn at least every other cut, where they can return the nutrients back into the soil – that way you won’t even need to feed your lawn. Out-of-the-way areas could be left to evolve into a miniature wildflower meadow, limiting your mowing to just the paths you cut through it.
Edging lawns is a fiddly nuisance. Save time by installing lawn edgings that you can mow right up to, or set lawns flush with hard surfaces such as paving. They take a little time to put in but save lots of time through the summer.
We hope you found this information and video helpful! Get more garden tips and, most importantly, our amazing garden planning software! Try the Almanac Garden Planner—free for 7 days!