It's Not Too Late to Start a Garden

You’ve been planning to plant a garden since last winter, but life happened, and the garden didn’t.

Now you’re seeing a steady stream of blossoming flowers and young vegetable plants on your friends’ Instagram posts and wondering if you missed the boat.

Well, you haven’t.

You can plant at any time; the key is to select your plants strategically. In addition to considerations about light and the best plants for your region, you’ll need to do some research on how long it will take plants you’re interested in to reach maturity, what kind of temperatures they like, and whether they’ll have enough time to grow before the weather changes.

More good news

In many ways, starting your garden later in the planting season comes with plusses.

If you’re starting a garden now, you have an opportunity to experiment with crops you may not have tried earlier in the season. Not only that but growing later in the season can attract and support all sorts of beneficial insects and pollinators like bees, butterflies, and ladybugs, which contribute to a healthy, balanced garden ecosystem.

And then there’s the sense of accomplishment that comes with growing a garden. Don’t give up and miss out on that — or the therapeutic benefits gardening offers like reduced stress and mental well-being.

Maybe you’re planting now because you’ve already harvested a garden you planted early in the season. That’s also a plus. By staggering crops, you could be enjoying fresh produce well into summer and autumn.

Aim for sprints instead of marathons

As you consider herbs and vegetables for your garden, aim for varieties that mature quickly (four to eight weeks). Look for seed packets labeled “fast growing.” Some great options are radishes, lettuce, spinach, and bush beans. 

Depending on the amount of time available to you and what you want to grow, you can always try succession gardening. With this approach, you’d be planting crops that can be harvested quickly and immediately replacing them with another crop to maximize your garden’s productivity.

Know what to expect

One of the things you’ll need to be aware of is when the average first and last frost dates are for your region so you can figure out when to plant cool-season crops (like peas or kale) and warm-season crops (like tomatoes and peppers). You can find frost dates for your area with some online research — or check with your county extension service or local garden clubs.

What if it’s already hot?

If you live in a warm climate, where temperatures are — or will soon be — soaring, it’s still possible to have a successful late-season garden with the right strategies.

First of all, stick with heat-tolerant plants. Possibilities include tomatoes, okra, eggplants and herbs like basil, rosemary, lemongrass, and cilantro. Depending on your climate, you might also want to consider drought-resistant plants like lavender, sage, yarrow, sedum, or succulents.

When it’s time to plant, aim for early in the morning or late in the evening, when temperatures are cooler, to reduce stress on your seedlings. Provide plenty of space between your plants to promote good air circulation, which in turn, will help prevent fungal diseases and keep your plants cooler. As your plants grow, pruning excess foliage will help you maintain that airflow.

And make sure your soil is rich in organic matter like compost, which helps retain moisture and will provide essential nutrients for your plants. 

After planting, cover your soil with a layer of organic mulch. That will help keep your soil cool, retain moisture, and suppress weeds — always a plus.

Remember to water deeply, not frequently, to encourage deep root growth so your plants will be more resilient to heat and drought. If at all possible, water your garden early in the morning to minimize evaporation and keep your plants hydrated during the hottest part of the day.

These measures will help give your plants every chance to thrive in the heat, but you still may need to go a step further and provide temporary shade structures (shade cloths, row covers, old bedsheets) to protect your plants from the intensity of the sun.

What if it's already cold?

We mentioned protecting your plants from heat, but if you plant during the summer, and your plants are still growing in the fall, you might need to protect your plants from light frosts. 

Options like row covers, cold frames, or greenhouses will help keep your plants safe and extend your growing season.

Cool-weather veggies that can be harvested quickly include radishes, arugula, and spinach.

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