We get asked quite often about the best ways to grow a healthy and more productive garden – so as the garden season approaches in full force during the coming weeks here in the Midwest – we thought we would share 5 of our most helpful tips to growing a great garden.

1. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch Your Plants!

Applying a healthy amount of mulch around the base of your garden plants is a big key to healthy and productive garden! Mulching helps plants retain valuable moisture, while keeping the soil temperature regulated.

Productive Garden
Straw makes an excellent mulch around plants

A healthy 2″ ring of mulch 10 to 12″ around each plant will also help keep out weeds that compete for nutrients.  The best choices for mulch are grass clippings, finished compost. shredded leaves or straw. Stay away from wood chips as a plant mulch – they are fine for using in walking rows, but they can create an imbalance in the soil when used next to plants.  See: The Basics of Mulch

2. Practice Proper Watering Techniques

Believe it or not – but it is usually the watering process – or more precisely too much or too little water that leads to the demise of most gardens.

Productive Garden
Watering at the base of the plants root zone puts the water where it is needed most.

When the plants are very young and for the first week or two, you may need to water daily to get them established.    After that – watering every day is a no-no.

Plants that get a little water every day never send their roots deeper to look for moisture and nutrients – and you end up with a weak root system, leading to a weak plant.

Here in our Midwest climate – established garden plants need about 1 to 1 ½ inches of water a week.  If mother nature can’t supply that  – then you need to supplement.  If you are experiencing a prolonged dry spell – water every two to three days with about a 1/2″ of water to the plant at a time.  This allows enough water to go deep into the soil and create longer roots.  A 1/2″ of water to a normal sized garden plant works out to about 1/4 gallon per plant as a rule of thumb.

The absolute best time to water is in the early hours between sunrise and mid-morning.  Not only is it cooler and easier on you the gardener, but your plants are not stressing from the heat of the day either. It allows them to soak up the moisture and be prepared to handle the hot day ahead.  See: The In and Outs of Watering Your Garden

3. Keep Foot Traffic Away From Your Plant’s Roots System

Your plant’s root system is the key to its health!

One of the reasons raised rows and raised beds work so well are that they keep foot traffic to the plant's roots to a minimum
One of the reasons raised rows and raised beds work so well are that they keep foot traffic to the plant’s roots to a minimum

When roots grow deep and wide, they are able to soak up more nutrients from the soil, and more water when it rains – making them less vulnerable to drought, heat and disease. If you leave the area around a plant undisturbed and free of compaction – it allows the roots of your plants to expand to their maximum capabilities – and that means maximum growth and yields up top!

It’s one reason that raised rows, raised beds and container gardens are so effective – because they keep the soil around the root zones free of foot traffic. We try to leave about a 12 to 16″ area around each plant as a no step / no walk zone to keep the soil loose for plants to grow.

4. Make And Use Compost!

Okay – this is a big one – and one that is so simple and easy to make and use!

A 1 to 2" mulching of compost around your garden plants can pay huge dividends
A 1 to 2″ mulching of compost around your garden plants can pay huge dividends

When it comes to a healthy and productive garden year in and year out – compost is KING.  Compost is the key to adding healthy nutrients to your soil naturally! It’s full of life and teeming with beneficial bacteria and organisms that can help keep your soil productive.

We use compost in almost every aspect of our garden process.  We mix in a few shovel-fulls to every planting hole, and then use more around the base of every plant as a mulch.  Not only does it keep moisture and weeds out – but it acts as a natural fertilizer every time we water or it rains, leaching out valuable minerals to the plant’s roots below.

We even make our own natural fertilizer with it in the form of compost tea to supply a boost to our plants as they grow.  See: How to make Compost Tea

So if you have never made compost before – get a pile started in a corner of your garden this year – and start building great soil!  See: Composting 101

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!



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