Different vegetables require different amounts of room to grow.
YOU HAVE THE SOIL tilled, tested, improved, and ready to go, the next step is planting everything and making sure it all fits into the space you have to work with. Here is what I have learned about plant spacing, including a couple of plant spacing calculators which help do some of the work for you.
When I first started, I had very little idea about how plants grow and why they need different amounts of space. My first year I planted way too many veggies in too small of a space and ended up with very low yields. This is when I sat down at my computer and started doing some heavy research.
One of the most important things you must understand when planting a garden is that different vegetables require different amounts of room to grow. The possibilities are virtually endless as are the spacing calculations. Every variety you choose should not only be chosen for the end product (the veggies and fruits your family will eat and any flowers you have in mind), but also for their ability to fit into the space you have to work with.
There are in fact several very good reasons why providing just the right amount of space between your garden plants is so important. The right plant spacing will:
While you can add more nutrients to the soil in your garden, it is much better for your plants if they don't have to struggle for those that are already there. It is much better for your plants if you leave the right amount of space between them.
A simple diagram explaining that root growth has roughly the same reach as the the leaves and branches of plant
Your plants are going to leaf out (grow more and bigger leaves) as they grow. These leaves will create a canopy that increases the amount of shade that reaches their lower sections. The proper amount of plant spacing helps to ensure the entire plant receives plenty of healthy sunshine. In turn, this will help to ensure you have robust plants that bear lots of fruit (including veggies).
Shade may help to conserve water during the heat of the day, but if you plant everything too closely together, the plants will end up fighting for any available water. Ultimately, you have to come up with a perfect balance between spacing and how much water you can afford to use to keep your plants healthy.
The one place you cannot see the competition between your garden plants is underground where the roots are constantly expanding in their never-ending search for water and nutrients. If you don't leave enough room for the root structures to spread out, you will end up with stunted plants that produce very little in the way of edible fruits or veggies.
When you have at least some idea of what you want to grow in your garden along with how much area you have to work with, it's time to sit down and draw up a plan of action. There are literally hundreds of suggestions for correct plant spacing.
However, to avoid confusion the best thing you can do is to follow the instructions found on the back of the seed packet or on the tags that come with any starter plants you buy.
Image Courtesy of ParentingPatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
It is important for you to follow the information on the seed packs when planting your seeds for the best results. Although if you cannot find any information, some gardeners use the following method as a rule of thumb:
According to the horticulture department at North Carolina State University, you should plant seeds no deeper than 2 to 3 times the maximum diameter of the seeds. The seeds should then be covered with a light layer of soil that has been lightly stamped into place.
With plants that come in peat cups, cubes, or plastic pots filled with soil, the job is a little different. You have to dig individual holes for each plant. The holes should be wide enough to accommodate all of the peat or soil and deep enough that the top of the peat or soil will be just below the level your garden soil. This helps to ensure they remain firmly in place and that the roots have a chance to spread out properly.
One thing to keep in mind, as you remove the plants from the containers use your fingers to gently spread the root structures out. Some gardeners call this teasing the roots out. Doing this will help the roots to spread out into the soil more quickly and leave you with healthier plants.
If you are planting starter plants that were initially grown indoors, you should acclimatize the plants before permanently placing them in your garden. I usually start setting them out during daylight hours where they can get some sunlight and some shade. Then I bring them back in at night if it is going to get chilly.
Doing this gives them time to get used to being outside. I have found that simply sticking them out in the garden results in far too many lost plants. Once they are planted, depending on where you live, you may want to provide them with a little shade for the first few days as they get used to being outside or once again, you may end up with more than a few dead plants.
If you were to gather together a group of experienced gardeners and ask them, “What is the best way to plant a garden?”, you are likely to hear more answers than you are prepared for. I did my time in the trenches and it seemed as if every one of my gardening friends had a different answer. Some liked rows, some preferred the “square foot” method, others like intensive gardening, and then there is always raised bed gardening to consider.
The traditional way to plant a garden has been to plant each type of vegetable in long rows. You might think this is a good thing, but there are a couple of very good reasons why this may not always be the best choice:
Square foot and triangle gardening are both forms of intensive gardening. These methods involve planting and raising your plants in compact raised or ground level beds. Using this method allows you to grow a wide variety of crops in a relatively small area. In essence, you map out your garden and then laying it out in a grid on paper.
This is what the typical square foot garden map might look like, You can do the same with triangles depending on how much space you have to work with. In your garden it might look like this:
Or this if you prefer raised garden beds:
There are several major advantages to this type of intensive gardening:
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that intensive gardening, or planting close together has a number of advantages. It will allow you to maximize the productivity of every inch of available garden.
When your plant spacing is very close, you leave very little room for weeds to grow. Not only do they have little in the way of available soil to work with, but as your vegetables grow and create their own shade, this will help to choke out any sunlight reaching the ground and prevent weeds from growing.
Planting your garden in this manner also helps to reduce the amount of water needed to keep your garden growing. The plants still need the same amount of water to grow, the big difference is that your soil does not lose nearly as much through evaporation during the hot summer days. You may find you can do the bulk of your watering using drip irrigation rather than a wasteful sprinkler system.
Not only is this type of irrigation better for your plants because it put the water right at the roots where it's needed most, but it will make a big difference in your monthly water bill. It will also help to prevent problems like root rot as the soil should never become over-soaked.
If you have never planted a garden before and have no real idea how to calculate proper plant spacing, you may find that a plant calculator can help make the job a lot easier. I personally used one for the first few years until I got the hang of it. Here are a few of the best plant spacing calculators I could find, all you have to do is fill in the information and the calculator will tell you how many plants will fit a specified area.
The simple fact is that no matter how much information you read, there is always going to be a certain amount of experimentation. There are a few important things you need to know and a few extra tips that I have found useful along the way.
Of all the things you can do to help ensure your garden produces a bountiful harvest, is to start it out right. This means making sure your soil is perfect, you have plenty of sun and shade, the right amount of water and all of your plants are properly spaced. While it might not be rocket science, there is, as I found out, a science to creating the perfect vegetable garden. I hope that all of the above information and the mistakes along the way I have made help you to create the garden of your dreams.
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Learn how to prepare soil for planting to be able to produce a bountiful harvest...
IF YOU ARE LIKE ME, you started your journey to becoming a successful gardener by digging up a patch of the lawn in anticipation of being able to grow plenty of tasty vegetables for the family.
However, unless you are very lucky (I am not), your soil is probably not ready to plant seeds as it takes good healthy soil for just about anything to grow. I spent countless hours learning how important preparation of soil is for planting and how to do it properly to ensure my plants had the best possible chance of success.
A cross section of a typical plants root system
It takes several things in order for your new garden to produce a bountiful harvest. Of course, it needs to be in a place where everything can get plenty of sun and you need to be able to supply your growing plants with the perfect amount of water.
There is one more vital ingredient your garden needs if you want your plants to flourish. This is good healthy soil that is full of nutrients vital to the health of your plants.
The soil needs to be loose and well-aerated for your root plants. It should also hold moisture and at the same time drain well to help avoid root rot. It should also be full of a range of living creatures, including earthworms, fungi, and bacteria, all of which will help to improve and maintain the quality of the soil.
Before you can learn how to prepare your soil for planting, you need to know how healthy or unhealthy it is.
There are over 17 different elements that play an important part in how well your plants will grow. Of these, there are three that sit at the top of the list, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
According to plant scientists, these elements are known as primary or macronutrients. Your plants will take these from the soil in your garden in large quantities.
There are also a number of secondary nutrients your plants are going to need, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Other necessary nutrients include boron, copper, iron manganese, zinc, and more. Some, like cobalt, may not be used by many plants, but legumes use cobalt to help fix nitrogen.
The other thing you need to consider with regard to the health of your soil in its balance of acidity and alkalinity or pH. How do you determine the overall health of your soil? You have it tested.
Soil testing is where gardening meets High School Science. To test your soil you will need a kit or a gauge of some type. Here is a more indepth look at ph testers. They are available from the usual suspects including amazon.com. Depending on the kit you get, you can test the pH balance of your soil along with the levels of certain essential nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and in certain cases nitrogen.
These kits and gauges do make it much easier for you to keep an eye on the health of your soil. They are also good for troubleshooting any problems that you might have later on.
The most important test (in my opinion) is the pH balance. Basically, your soil needs to be at a pH level of between 6.5 and 6.8. Anything below 6.0 is considered acidic and anything above 7.0 is considered alkaline.
In either case, if your soil is too acidic or alkaline, your plants will not be able to absorb the necessary nutrients and will not grow. Because the particular nutrient the plant wants will not live in the soil.
The best time to test your soil is in the spring before you plant or in the fall when growing season is over as these are the times when your soil is at its most stable. These are also the perfect time to add any soil amendments or fertilizers it may need in order to restore its health.
Although if you are experiencing issues, then it's always a good to start testing.
Different cross sections of common soil types
Along with the overall health of your soil, you need to take a good close look at the texture. The texture of your soil is determined by the amounts of clay, sand, and silt it contains.
Here is an easy to understand test you can use to determine what type of soil you have, NASA' Soil Science Education Page.
If your soil contains high levels of sand, it will feel gritty in your hands, too much silt and the soil will feel powdery when dry or slippery when wet.
Clay is relatively obvious as the pieces tend to be flat and sticky. The clay will make your soil feel heavy and sticky, but if it is dry, the soil may feel rough.
If you really want to know how to improve soil for planting, there are two different approaches to the problem.
The first is to do so naturally using organic matter such as aged manure or compost. You can also use mulch or cover crops when it is not planted. This is the best possible way to improve the health of your soil.
Alternatively, you can use a variety of chemical fertilizers to replace and replenish the nutrients your soil is missing. The only real problem with doing things this way is that no matter how good the fertilizer you buy is, it can only replace certain nutrients and even then, only in small quantities that your plants will soon exhaust.
Using organic matter is a much better choice as it is capable of providing your plants with everything they are ever likely to need.
Let's take a good look at the various things your garden needs to be filled with good healthy soil that will provide you with bumper crops each and every year.
If you have a large space you can use a hand or power tiller to help aerate soil
Just like you and me, your plants need plenty of air to grow. This includes via photosynthesis above ground and mixed into the soil below ground.
The air in your soil hangs onto atmospheric nitrogen which your plants can convert into a usable form. The microorganisms in your soil also depend on oxygen to live.
Good healthy soil should be able to hold plenty of air in between the particles, the best way to achieve this is with plenty of organic matter such as compost and to avoid stepping on the soil or going over it with heavy equipment.
Healthy soil should contain approximately 25% air.
Practically every form of life on the planet depends on water to survive and thrive.
Healthy soil should contain approximately 25% water. If your soil is sandy, it will drain too quickly, on the other hand, if it contains too much clay, it will not drain quickly enough.
Here again adding plenty of organic matter is the best way to improve the overall structure of your soil. Compost will also help to hold water longer so that it is available when your plants need it.
Your soil should also be home to a large number of living organisms. Their job is to make the various nutrients readily available to your plants and to help bind the soil particles together into something called aggregates that keep your soil fluffy and loose.
Among the most common organisms found in a healthy garden are:
While most of these organisms are naturally occurring, you can also buy them to add to your garden. Bear in mind that unless your soil is healthy, most of them will not survive for very long.
The best way to ensure your garden has plenty of these life-giving organisms is to create the perfect home for them by providing them with things they need to thrive. These are air, water, and food in the form of organic matter.
As I said above, there are several ways you can go about improving the quality of your soil ranging from natural organic materials to chemical fertilizers that are anything but natural. In fact, many of the different chemical fertilizers can end up doing more harm than good if you do not use them properly.
The simple fact is that virtually any garden soil can be improved by adding compost (a natural organic matter) to it. The texture of both silty and sandy soils along with their levels of nutrients can be significantly improved by adding plenty of good healthy compost.
When you add compost each spring to the soil, it only adds to its overall health. You can buy compost from your local garden center (be sure you buy compost that is labeled as organic) or you can make it yourself.
Making your own compost is not hard. You simply pick a place in your garden for a compost pile. I picked a spot at the back out of the way near the back fence.
You can also buy several different composters that work very well. Compost is made up of brown layers (old leaves, hay, straw, etc.) and green layers (grass clippings, food waste, livestock manure, etc.). You need to keep the pile moist and turn it over from time to time to allow the composting process to occur.
Here is a quick video that covers why using organic matter is so important for improving the quality of your soil:
Mulch consists of things like grass clippings, straw, and shredded bark that are used to cover the surface of your garden's soil. This will help to protect the soil from extremes in both heat and cold, which can damage the soil and the many lifeforms in it. Using mulch also helps to slow down water loss through evaporation and helps to reduce the growth of weeds by blocking the light they need to grow.
Here is an in-depth article by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service covering mulch and the best ways to make and use it.
While organic mulch is obviously your best choice, there are a number of other inorganic forms as well. These include gravel, landscaping fabrics, black plastic sheeting, and pebbles.
The one good thing is that these types of mulch do not need to be replaced each year. But at the same time, they do not break down and provide your soil with added nutrients. The one good thing about them is that they do not attract bugs and rodents.
For myself, I prefer to go the all-natural route and use organic methods. The cheapest I've found is wood chips from pine trees. You can typically find them in local classifieds being given away or sold for little money.
Fertilizers come in both organic and non-organic forms. Both have their advantages, but when you stop to consider the fact that chemical fertilizers have been proven to be bad for the environment and to kill off many of the microorganisms that are vital to the health of your garden, should you use them?
Good quality organic fertilizers may work a little slower than the chemical ones, this, of course, means they will continue to release their store of vital nutrients over a longer period of time. Both types of fertilizer are available in liquid and powder forms.
You mix dry fertilizers into the soil in accordance with the instructions on the label and then water the ground. These types of fertilizer work more slowly than the liquid ones, but they also last significantly longer.
An example of an organic seaweed based liquid fertilizer. Simply mix with water in your watering can and apply. Image courtesy of Neptune's Harvest
Liquid fertilizers are typically sprayed directly on the plants or the soil itself. Among the most popular liquid fertilizers are:
When applying liquid fertilizers, you must be sure to spray the undersides of the leaves as well as the tops. The reason for this is that this is where the stomata (microscopic openings in the plants used to absorb gasses) are located. When these pores open to absorb carbon dioxide, they will also absorb the fertilizer.
Be sure to read the instructions on the label very carefully as it is possible to burn your plants. There are also some liquid fertilizers that can only be applied directly to the soil.
One of the most important things you need to know about adjusting the pH level of your soil is that it is not going to happen overnight or with one application of the latest “wonder” product.
The easiest way to test your ph level in soil is with a guage like this one. Image courtesy of Amado
It can take two or more seasons for you to regulate the pH level of your soil. Once you do get the level with the recommended numbers, you will need to work to maintain it each year.
It doesn't matter whether your soil is too acidic or alkaline, you can balance the pH level out by adding plenty of good healthy organic material every year to it. However, there are a few other tricks you can use to adjust the pH level.
Limestone: if your soil is highly acidic, you can add limestone to it and bring the acid levels down. A good rule of thumb to raise the pH level is:
You can also use wood ash (from your fireplace or wood burning stove) to raise the pH but you have to be very careful. This is because adding too much ash can leach nutrients from your soil and raise the pH too high.
You should do what I do and spread a thin layer on top of the soil in the fall when your garden is done for the year and then lightly dig it into the soil. Be sure to keep a close eye on your soil's pH level every year to make sure you are not adding too much ash.
If your soil is too alkaline, you can bring the pH level down by adding a number of different substances such as:
Here are the recommended amounts of sulfur to use:
This video also covers ways to adjust the pH level of your soil:
There are several ways you can correct nutrient deficiencies in your soil. Each is based on the particular type of deficiency.
Since the texture of your soil is just as important as its overall nutritional health, we should take a quick look at what you can do to adjust its texture as the final part of my how to improve the texture of your soil guide.
Sandy soil: You can reduce the sandy texture of your soil by adding 3 to 4 inches of compost to soil and digging it in. Cover the soil with a 2-inch deep layer of organic mulch every year and then grow cover crops if you can. You can turn the cover crops under in the spring to add even more organic material to your soil.
Silty soil: The best way to adjust silty soil, is to add an inch of organic matter to it each year and do your best to avoid compacting it.
Heavy clay soil: You will need to add 2 to 3 inches of organic matter to the soil and then work it in thoroughly. Then each year add an additional inch each year and dig it in.
The simple truth is that maintaining healthy soil in your garden is going to take some work. Very few of us are lucky enough to find perfect soil under the lawn when we dig up our garden space. The good news is that once you have achieved the desired results, it doesn't take a lot of work to maintain them.
Be sure to test your soil at least once in the spring and once in the fall to get a better idea of what is going on with it. This is the best thing you can do to ensure your plants are going to thrive and provide you with plenty of tasty fruits and vegetables.
If you have enjoyed reading about how to improve your soil please let me know.
If you have any information you would like to see here, please contact us here.
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Thank you for reading this guide on soil preparation