Tips and tricks for vegetable gardens


It’s been several years since I planted a vegetable garden in the ground, so I’ve spent the last few weeks brushing up on tips and techniques. Having spent several decades working as a freelance garden writer, I have an extensive library of gardening books, so I decided to revisit one of the best-selling series of all time, “Square Foot Gardening : Grow More in Less Space”, by Mel Barthélemy (Cool Springs Press).

Although Mell’s method is based on planting 4 foot by 4 foot raised beds, I have found that much of the information applies to in-ground vegetable beds.

The location of the garden is key to success in growing vegetables, whether you grow in a raised bed or in the ground. A north-south orientation is best and planting taller plants at the northern end of the plot will prevent them from shading sun lovers. Avoid areas shaded by shrubs, trees or buildings. The roots of trees and shrubs suck up moisture and shade the garden.

Drainage is another issue, and while not an issue for raised beds, plants can drown in standing water. To check the drainage, dig a hole and fill it with water. When it runs out, fill it up again. If there is still water the next morning, choose another spot to plant your garden or install a raised bed.

Plant spacing is another problem faced by gardeners. Too often, people plant seedlings cheek to cheek, and they resist thinning them out. Soon the weedy plants are fighting for water, nutrients, sun and moisture and they are not producing as fast or as well as they should. Diseases also thrive in areas that lack circulation. When planting, space the plants at the distance recommended on the seed packet. Remember that different varieties grow to different heights and widths, so be sure to read the package or label before planting.

Sadly, Mel Bartholomew passed away; however, his book “All New Square Foot Gardening” and “Square Foot Gardening for Kids” are still available on his foundation’s website at

Here, Mel reveals her fun tips, tricks and projects in one of her most cherished activities: teaching youngsters how to build and grow their own one square meter garden. Children learn many valuable life lessons when tending to their own garden – such as the importance of following directions and doing chores, basic skills such as counting and water conservation , and learn to appreciate the nature of food and why it is important to respect it.

The website features a blog and YouTube videos that make gardening fun and easy.

Timely Tip: If you’re a magazine collector and Martha Stewart fan, you’ll be sad to hear that her magazine Martha Stewart Living will be discontinued starting with the May issue. It will be available on newsstands until May 13. The publisher, Dotdash Meredith, says he has decided to focus on growing

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and freelance writer from Metro Detroit. His column appears on Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read his previous columns at


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