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13 Tips to Grow the Perfect Vegetable Garden

Everything you need to start planting some beautiful and delicious veggies!

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Where to start:

The sunniest spot in your yard is the best place to stake out your plot, because most vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of sun daily. Because vegetables like lots of moisture, grow yours near a water source. Finally, vegetables always have the unwanted company of weeds, so monitor your plot weekly to pull up invaders as you watch your vegetables grow.

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How your rows should run:

In temperate climates, make sure your vegetable rows run from east to west, so that all the plants receive maximum sunshine. In hot, arid climates, run the rows from north to south so that each plant will shade its neighbor on the warm south side.

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Make neat, straight rows

This is especially important if you use a tiller to cultivate between plantings, but it’s harder than it looks to do freehand! For planting heavy seeds, such as beans, put sticks in the ground at each end of a row and run a string between them to guide you as you plant. To plant dozens of lightweight seeds at once, cut a piece of string the same length as the row, wet it thoroughly, and sprinkle the seeds directly on it. The moisture will make seeds stick long enough to lay the string in a prepared furrow. Just cover the string with soil and you’re done!

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Keep everything easy in reach

To make tending beds easier, make them no wider than the spread of your arms (that’s about 4 feet). Design a main path wide enough for a wheelbarrow (at least 3 feet wide), and include footpaths (1 foot wide) between beds. To suppress weeds and proved a clean place to walk, keep paths covered with straw, chopped leaves, boards, or strips of scrap carpeting.

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Make the most of limited space

Plant vertical crops (such as peas and pole beans) that take up little ground space. Or try dwarf varieties, such as ‘Tom Thumb Midget’ lettuce and ‘Tiny Dill’ cucumbers. Many dwarf varieties can also be grown in roomy containers kept on a deck or patio.

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Try this neat trick to protect vegetables

If you’re eager to get an early start in spring, plant your tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, or other vegetables inside old tires laid on the ground. The tires will protect the plants from harsh winds, and the dark rubber will absorb heat from the sun and warm the surrounding soil. These tips can help protect your garden from extreme weather.

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Leave room for blooms

Flowers in the vegetable garden not only make it a more pleasant place to work, but also have practical uses. Many flowers attract beneficial insects, such as bees, ladybugs, and lacewings, while others may repel pests in search of your vegetables. Try French marigolds, cosmos, and zinnias as well as edible flowers like nasturtiums and violets.

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Boost soil nitrogen

Beans, peas, and other legumes are among the few plants that enrich the soil with nitrogen, an element essential for plant growth. Legumes begin using up the nitrogen they’ve stored when they blossom and set fruit. If you pull them out early, they will leave behind nutrients in the soil that can be used by other plants.

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Plant all season long

After harvesting a cool-weather crop (spring peas or spinach, for example), replant the space with a warm-weather vegetable (green beans or summer squash). Interplant quick growers (radishes) with slower ones (tomatoes). The short-term crop will be up and out before the slow grower can crowd or shade it.

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Grow vegetables that look as good as they taste

Many common vegetables are attractive enough to be used as ornamentals. Use “Tequila Sunrise” or “Chocolate Bell” peppers and “Violet Queen” cauliflower to add color to your vegetable garden. For textured or colorful leaves, plant red chard, savoy cabbage, or “Red Sails” lettuce.

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Scare off birds

To keep birds away from your vegetables, hang strips of reflective tape over the plants. When the tape flutters in the breeze, it casts light across the garden, which spooks wary birds.

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Shield your vegetable garden naturally

For centuries gardeners have used companion planting to repel insect pests. Aromatic plants such as basil, tansy, mint, thyme, and sage all repel bugs, so try some near your prized vegetables. Mint, dill, and sage are known for their ability to fend off cabbage moths when placed near cabbage family plants (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts). Best of all, you can eat these savory herbs! Here’s a quick guide to companion planting.

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Move things around

Crop rotation is essential for preventing a buildup of harmful soilborne microbes that prefer certain plants. For this reason, don’t plant a vegetable or a member of its family in the same place year after year. Instead, divide the garden into sections and move the plants from one area to another. As a general rule, a plant should only be replanted in the same spot every three or four years.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest