7 Vegetable Garden Shortcuts

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Containers grouped together for ease of maintenance

Growing wholesome fruits and vegetables takes time - your time. But what if you haven’t got much of it? Perhaps you work long hours, have a busy schedule or a young family that keeps you on your toes. Which gardening shortcuts will make the most difference when time is truly precious?

1. Choose Easy Crops

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you can do is choose those vegetables that are easiest to grow. Onions, for example, can be planted out as partly grown bulbs called 'sets', or as young plants, then simply kept watered and weeded until harvest time. Summer squash and zucchini require little more than regular picking, while bush beans are quick growing and, unlike pole beans, don’t need any supports.

You can use our Garden Planner to actively filter plants to show those that are particularly easy to grow. Click on the Filter button to the left of the plant selection bar, choose the type of plants you’d like to show, then simply choose the ‘Easy to Grow’ option. The selection bar will then be filtered to display crops that are reliable and lower maintenance.

2. Buy Plug Plants

Plug plants are young plants that have been grown in their own ‘plug’ of potting soil until they’re at the right stage for potting on or planting out into beds. Buying plug plants saves a lot of time because there’s no sowing to do and you don’t have to worry about fiddly seedlings. It’s also a great solution if you don’t have much space to start lots of seedlings indoors or under cover. While bought-in plug plants are costlier than seed, they’ll be raring to go, will make planning your beds a lot easier and you’ll be a step closer to harvest.

Planting out lettuce plug plants

Some plug plants, especially those of tender crops such as tomato, will need to be hardened off before planting out to help them acclimatize to their outdoor home.

3. Group Vegetables Together

Grow vegetables that enjoy similar conditions, or that are from the same crop family, together. This makes it easier to tailor specific growing requirements to your crops.

For example, if vegetables from the cabbage family, such as kale, broccoli and cauliflower are grown together in the same bed, it’s simpler to net them all against common pests such as pigeons and caterpillars. Or group leafy salads together to make it easier to keep them well watered and to set up shade cloth in hot weather if necessary.

4. Make an Instant Bed

A great labor-saving solution for creating new vegetable beds is to use the no-dig approach. Simply work a hoe over the soil surface to remove the worst of the weeds, then lay a thick sheet of cardboard to smother any that remain. Don’t forget to remove any tape or staples from the cardboard and lay it so the sheets have a generous overlap.

Now pile on a thick layer of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost or potting soil. This needs to be at least four inches (10cm) thick. You can sow or plant immediately and there’ll be very few weeds to slow you down.

Lettuces and herbs in a growing bag

5. Use Growing Bags

Another clever way to make instant beds is to use growing bags. Usually sold for growing fruiting vegetables like tomatoes or peppers, these self-contained sacks of potting soil can be used to grow all manner of shallow-rooted crops, including spinach, salads, onions and bush beans.

Loosen up the potting soil by massaging the bag to break up any clumps, then cut slits into the bottom for drainage. Lay the bag onto the ground, flatten it out then cut open a planting area into the top of the bag. The bag will suppress weeds while offering instant growing space. At the end of the season the soil can be used to fill the bottom of containers or the plastic can be cut away to convert it into a permanent bed if you wish.

6. Make Containers Lower-Maintenance

Containers of all shapes and sizes can provide growing spaces where ground is in short supply or poor condition, but they do require more frequent watering and feeding. Save time by mulching the surface of the potting soil with gravel or shredded bark, which will help to retain valuable moisture.

Soil-based potting soil is slower to dry out and is ideal for bigger plants, including fruit trees and bushes. Larger containers dry out more slowly and provide more nutrients than small ones, so will need watering and feeding less often.

Group containers close together so you can water them in one go, and to reduce the impact of drying or damaging wind.

If you’re heading off for a few weeks and haven’t got anyone to water your pots, simply sink them into the ground then give the pot and the surrounding soil a thorough drenching. Buried containers won’t get as hot or dry out as quickly as those that aren’t.

Straw paths in a vegetable garden

7. Low-Maintenance Paths

Don’t take up your time weeding or mowing paths between beds. Instead, lay down a thick mat of straw, bark chippings or other biodegradable matter. Or for a firmer surface underfoot, try laying down planks of wood.

If you prefer grass paths, give your bed a hard edging such as wooden planks to make it easier to mow and strim up to the edge, and to prevent the grass from growing into the beds.

These are just a few simple yet highly effective tips to save time in the vegetable garden. If you have a time or labor-saving tip, don’t keep it to yourself – share it! Just pop us a comment below.

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