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If you are working with newly purchased tender starts, be sure to follow our last post on preparing seedlings before you plant them outdoors.
Choosing the final home for your edibles comes down to several things. Some gardeners have limited space but still create gorgeous potagers in just a few pots. Others gardens may only get great sunlight in just a few areas; remember, six hours is the bare minimum required to get decent production from typical veggies like tomatoes and squash. And, for some of us, our only challenge is to find time to tend a large plot of land. Of course, for a plot of any size, ensure your soil will offer a rich growing medium for your plants. Annual edibles need plenty of nutrients and a near-neutral pH environment to thrive. Cutting in plenty of well-decomposed compost is a good place to begin.
Once your spot is selected and prepared, and your veggie starts are toughened up for the great outdoors, go ahead and start installing them into the soil.
For most crops, begin by digging a shallow but wide hole into moist, well-drained earth. Then, carefully separate your starts into individual plants, taking care not to touch the roots, which can become desiccated by our fingers. Next, install one plant into each hole, spreading roots wide and taking care not to bury the stem underground.* Resist the urge to simply take a cluster of starts out of a container and plop the cluster into the ground. Most plants** will end up stunted and prove unproductive in these crowded environments. Instead, consider how large each plant will become and install your garden accordingly. For instance, a tiny cabbage start may be only four inches tall and wide at planting time, but it will easily grow to take up a good two square foot area before harvest.
If you are gardening in containers, fill your containers with a high-quality potting medium. Water the filled pots and allow the moisture to drain out so that the potting soil is moist but not saturated. Then, begin planting as described above. For mixed decorative edible containers, crowding the planter may be desirable. Just remember to harvest regularly, water often, and replant as needed throughout the growing season in order to keep your pots looking lovely.
After you have finished installing your starts in their spot for the season, be sure to water each one carefully. If you are planting on a hot day, water each plant gently as you go. Do not let those babies dry out!
If you are concerned that your plants may require a bit of protection from heavy rains or hail, flying pests or big temperature swings, install a cloches over your plants or hoop houses over your beds. If your container gardens need a bit of protection or to give them a rapid start filling out, place them in a greenhouse, cold frame or under your eaves to help them through chilly nights. Just be sure to vent your protective add-ons during sunny weather, perhaps removing them altogether as the season progresses.
* Tomatoes and other plants in the nightshade family may be planted more deeply with success.
** Spinach, Cilantro and some spring mixes may perform satisfactorily if direct seeded in close quarters.
Last time in this series: Preparing Seedlings
Next time in this series: Best Crops to Direct Seed into Your Garden Beds