New Garden – the basics

Here to help you Get Growing

Maybe you are completely new to vegetable gardening and feel overwhelmed by the idea.  We are here to help you get started with a few easy to follow tips:

Know your Zone – Understand your zone is important when choosing the types of plants to grow and when and how to get them planted.  Knowing your climate is important for understanding the timing of transplanting and seeding. Some vegetables need a long warm growing season so in order to be successful with these here in SK you will need to start them indoors in March/April or purchase seedlings or “transplants” from a garden centre.  

Selecting you garden site – Are you starting from scratch or do you have an existing garden bed? Do you want to incorporate raised beds? Will you need to remove lawn? Doing a little planning over the winter will help you set out a plan for spring.

Vegetables need a minimum of 6hrs of sunlight per day, the more the better, so select a location that receives ample sunlight. Avoid areas with tree roots and be aware of the drainage.  

If this is your first garden bed your soil will likely need amending (see the ‘Soil Preparation’ tip below) but established gardens also benefit from the addition of organic matter.

If you are new to growing vegetables or have limited space you may want to start with a few raised beds or containers (large and deep enough for roots to establish). Search online buy & sell sites for used clay pots, whiskey barrel planters, horse troughs or anything that will make a good garden container. 

Choosing your crops – Do you want to grow root vegetables or leafy vegetables? Do you want tomatoes  & peppers? What about zucchini or other types of squash?  What you are able to plant is largely determined by your garden site, the amount of sun your garden will get and how much time /effort you want to devote to maintaining your garden.

Beginners find good success with plants like cherry tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini and herbs.  Some crops are more difficult to grow without pesticides (cabbage and broccoli for example), so if growing organically is your goal you will need to do a little research. 

It is a good idea to be realistic about the types of produce you and your family enjoy cooking with. There is no point in growing 4 hot pepper plants if no one is going to eat them!

Purchasing seedlings or seeds – As we mentioned, some crops are easiest to grow in SK if you purchase already established seedlings.  These baby plants are simply transplanted into your garden and have a head start so you are more likely to enjoy a harvest.  

Unfortunately not all crops can be transplanted (corn, carrots and other root crops for example) and these are grown directly from seeds sown in the soil.  Your seed packet will tell you the time, spacing and depth to sow the seeds. 

Soil preparation – New and established garden beds benefit from soil enrichment. The goal of amending a garden is to break up compacted earth, improving water absorption and to replenish minerals and nutrients that have been lost over time. The process requires labour – tilling the soil and turning in organic material. You can accomplish this with hand tools or motorized tillers. The organic material can be a mixture of top soil/black earth, manure/compost, peat moss, and shredded bark (DO NOT add sand to heavy clay soil unless you are wanting to make cement!). Spread the amendments evenly (2-3 inches added) through the garden and work into the top 6 inches of the bed. This can be done in the spring or fall. 

Planting & Maintenance – Several crops such as peas, lettuce, onions, radish, beets and spinach can be direct seeded once the soil is warm enough (late April/beginning of May). You can sow these seeds at different times so that you have a supply of vegetables through the season, not maturing all at once. 

Crops that require transplanting can go in after the last chance of frost, a good rule is May long weekend, but check the local weather forecasts to be sure.  

Regular watering and weeding is crucial. Vegetable plants cannot compete with aggressive weeds so you will need to remove these by hand.  Don’t allow the soil to dry completely.  The soil should feel damp – dig down about 4” to see how far the water is penetrating. During the hottest days of summer you will need to water daily, so knowing what you can manage is vital in your garden planning. 

Growing vegetables and herbs is easy and rewarding with a little planning! 

Keeping deer out of the garden

Are deer using your garden as a salad bar? Many of us in Saskatchewan have these furry, and mostly unwelcome, visitors in our yards. There is no way to completely deer proof your garden, but you may have some success with these tips.

Some gardeners swear by folk remedies and home-made concoctions such as rotten eggs or dog fur to deter deer; none of these have been proven effective. There are some simple strategies you can employ however.

Landscaping solutions:

  • Make your most precious plants less attractive by planting them nearest to the house; deer may be wary of coming too close. Planting a border of deer resistant plants may further discourage them. Alternate these amongst the plants you are trying to protect or along the property line if your yard is not fenced.
  • Use a commercially available deer deterrent – these are usually made with animal scents and can be quite unappealing to humans as well.
  • Protect your new trees & shrubs with enclosures of chicken wire while they get established. Ensure that it is both tall enough the deer can’t reach over and enough distance from the centre stem that they cannot reach in from the side.
  • Some gardeners find automatic sprinklers help and these are often used in agricultural applications. Some deer will become used to the shower however.
  • The best deterrent is a tall fence around the perimeter of your vegetable garden or orchard area. Deer will still have access to other plants in the garden but may move along (to the neighbour) if they find it too difficult to snack in your garden.

Deer Resistant Plants:

If deer are hungry enough they will try anything in your garden. There are some plants that have been shown to be less appealing. Deer don’t like plants with fuzzy leaves or spiky stems so look for plants with a lot of texture. Look for these in your garden centre:

  • Ageratum
  • Alyssum
  • Astilbe
  • Agastache
  • Artemisia
  • Calendula
  • Dahlia
  • Dianthus
  • Echinacea
  • Euphorbia
  • Gaillardia
  • Lavender
  • Lobelia
  • Lysimachia
  • Marigold
  • Morning Glory
  • Nasturtium
  • Ostrich Fern
  • Peony
  • Poppy
  • Portulaca
  • Salvia
  • Statice
  • Verbena
  • Veronica

We hope these tips are helpful when planning your garden. It may not be possible to completely (and humanely) deter deer from your property so accepting them and discouraging them a little might be your best plan. Just remember we are in their backyard too.

Spring Yard Clean-up – leave some for the bees

The first weekend of Spring is here, finally!  I am sure you are ready to get back into the yard and start preparing for this season of gardening, but wait a minute, there is a RIGHT and WRONG way to do spring yard clean-up!

Your garden is not only a space for you to enjoy, it is a habitat for insects and birds (and maybe snakes and frogs and who knows who else). The following are a few Spring garden clean-up tips that encourage habitat preservation for these beneficial critters.

First off, yard clean-up should always be left for Spring.  Removing stems and leaves in the fall destroys habitat and eliminates hibernating insects. You aren’t being lazy, you are being a good neighbour to the other critters that live along side you. You can read more about Fall clean-up here

Don’t cut and toss just yet:

Our pollinators and beneficial insects are hibernating in your backyard. Tiny native bees and other friends are sleeping in the hollow plant stems waiting to emerge when the time is right.  Butterflies are snug in their cocoons, lady bugs are sleeping under leaves. Cutting down and tossing last season’s plant debris means you are also tossing THIS season’s pollinators and beneficial insects before they have a chance to emerge. 

Carefully collect debris:

Wait as long as possible to do your spring garden clean up.  This means waiting until the daytime temps are consistently above 10C.  Once it is warm enough to start tidying the yard do so carefully.  If you have small children this is a great opportunity to teach them about the benefits of all the critters in the garden and make a game of spotting cocoons or newly emerging lady bugs. 

Resist the urge to dump the leaves and other debris in plastic garbage bags.  You should have one area of your yard that is a designated leaf pile.  This can be a permanent compost pile or temporary if you really must bin it all up at some point. Some gardeners prefer to do the “chop and drop” method where you leave seems on the ground to compost in the garden bed.  New growth will quickly cover this up and you are enriching your soil the way nature intended.

Prune with caution: 

Cutting back some dead branches is high on the list of garden chores so as you go about this take a little time to ensure you are not also cutting tiny cocoons.  Stack these branches loosely in you compost/leaf pile to be dealt with later in the season. 

Hold off on the mulch:

Mulching is a great way to conserve moisture in the garden and we are huge fans of this, however early spring is not the best time to get this task accomplished. 

So many beneficial insects and pollinators overwintering in your backyard in tiny burrows as eggs or hibernating adults. We NEED these creepy crawlies.  it is important to hold off on this chore until the soil is dry and the weather is consistently warm. *Make a habit of tossing dead leaves into the hedge rows or tree lines in the Fall as natural mulch and insect habitat.

Leave the lawn:

Dethatching and rolling the lawn are outdated practices. Rolling compacts the soil and makes the lawn worse, rather than improving anything.  Healthy lawn has thatch, it protects the roots and keeps them cooler in summer. Doing anything with your lawn in the early spring, while the ground underneath is wet, compacts the soil and makes it more difficult for the grass to grow.  Leave the lawn for now.

Take your time:

In Saskatchewan we still have nearly 2 months until it will be warm enough to transplant annual and vegetable seedlings. I know you are eager to get outside and do some garden work so take this time to clean up your pots, wash the patio furniture, sweep the walks etc.  

A PROPER spring garden clean up should NOT be a destructive process. By taking your time and doing it right, you and your garden can benefit from a healthy population of pest-munching beneficial insects and pollinators. 

Do YOUR part to Save Our Pollinators.