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Vegetable Gardening: When to Plant and Plant Spacing

Does plant spacing matter in the vegetable garden? What about the timing? It sure does! Vegetable plants are kind of like athletes. Given the proper nutrition and care, they will do amazing things. I will forever be amazed at how I can plant a tiny seed and bring in pounds of food in exchange for a little time and care.

I am a learn-from-experience kind of girl. I don’t hesitate to try new things. When I saw the big expanse of my garden addition last year, I couldn’t help but get carried away with all of the possibilities.

sunflower garden

I planted sunflower seeds between every row of veggies. The sunflowers grew big and tall and produced so many lovely seeds. Do you know what didn’t grow? The vegetables underneath. They were crowded by the sunflowers and didn’t get enough sun.

Thankfully that was just my experimental plot. My main veggie garden did great. The garden where plants were carefully spaced and planted during their ideal time to grow. It did so well that we are still eating vegetables from that garden.

When to plant

Timing can make or break your garden. Allowing plants to grow at their ideal time in your growing season means the more they will produce. Some flourish with cooler temps while others will not even poke their heads out of the soil unless it is good and warm.

garden sweet peas

Last year we planted a big row of peas that we expected to enjoy during the early part of the summer. Peas love lots of cool sunshine but usually die as soon as it gets hot. We ended up having a cool summer last year and had peas for the whole garden season.

On the other hand, tomatoes love the heat. While our tomatoes did grow and produce fruit, we had to ripen them in the house. It just didn’t warm up enough to ripen the tomatoes before frost set in. Choosing the right vegetables can be a critical part of the success of your garden as well.

Information on when to plant can be found on the back of your seed packet. Knowing your last date of frost is critical information that will help you calculate when to plant. If you don’t know your last day of frost then contact your local county extension office or talk to local gardeners in your area.

Using the info on the seed packet, divide your seeds into two groups. One group is seeds that need to be planted indoors, and the second is seeds that can be sewn (planted) directly into the ground. Broccoli, for example, is usually started indoors 8-12 weeks before planting into your garden. Lettuce is planted directly into the garden right around your last frost date.

Spacing

radish seedlingsPlants have a personal space bubble just like you and me. If you plant the same kind of plant in that bubble they tend to get stressed out and produce less. Plants need room to spread their roots and get the nutrients they need without competition from similar plants.

That bubble varies greatly. Plants, like green beans and peas, depend on their neighbors for support. They will not do well unless they can lean on each other. Cabbages will produce nice big heads if their roots can really spread out. So follow the spacing on the seed packet.

Companion planting is one way that you can fit more than one plant into that bubble. Companions use different nutrients from the soil or grow at different rates so that they don’t interfere with each other. I love growing nasturtiums and marigolds between my broccoli plants. I have also had success growing leeks with spinach and radishes with carrots.

spinach and leeks

Planting into the garden

This is the fun part where you see your patch of dirt become a garden. Now that you know when to plant them and how much space they all need you can get your hands in the dirt and make it happen.

I like to use fish emulsion when I plant my seedlings into the ground. It gives them a big nutrient boost and helps protect against transplant shock.

Succession planting is also something to consider. That is where you plant your row or garden bed one section at a time at specific time intervals.

Lettuce is a great plant for succession planting. You likely won’t eat 24 heads of lettuce in one week so planting a whole row is not ideal. You will end up with more lettuce than you can eat at one time and no lettuce to eat a few weeks later. Planting six lettuce plants each week for four weeks will give you a continual harvest through the summer.

Green beans are another great option. Plant them every two weeks instead of every week. The number of plantings you can fit into your growing season depends on how long your growing season lasts. My growing season is quite short, so I can fit in two green bean plantings.

It may be tempting to pack as many plants as you can into your vegetable garden or throw in those tomato plants you found on clearance in July. There really is nothing wrong with that if you have room to experiment. However, if you want a big harvest then giving your plants just what they want is well worth the time and planning to help them thrive.

Your Turn!

  • Are you a play-by-the-rules gardener or do you push the limits and experiment?
  • Which vegetables are you excited about growing?
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