Dig It: Your Vegetable Gardening Questions, Answered

This season, I’m giving vegetable gardening advice in a regular video series on HGTV's Facebook and Instagram. I'm also sharing the answers to some of your questions here. Check back often for updates.

September 18, 2020

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How to Grow and Harvest Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes like really hot weather. They’re planted from slips, which are rooted cuttings. Like regular potatoes, the plants grow on top of the soil while the tubers that you eat grow underground. I have some growing in a raised bed and some in a fabric grow bag meant for potatoes. I’ll know these are ready to dig up when the vines start to yellow on the ends or before the first frost

Learn More: How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Containers

Can You Save Seed From Grocery Store Produce?

There are a few reasons not to save seeds from grocery store produce and to buy from reputable seed companies instead. One is that, even though it sounds crazy, some seeds are considered intellectual property and you’re not legally supposed to replant them. But the bigger reasons are botanical, not legal.

Mature seed for saving is best taken from overmature plants or fruit ­— you’d let the fruit go well past the ripe eating stage in order to harvest the seed. Also, most grocery store varieties are hybrids, so if you plant the seed, the fruit you get may not be the same as what you’re expecting. All that being said, though, you could always try it!

Why Won't My Sweet Peppers Grow?

Heather said: My sweet pepper plants grew but didn’t make any peppers. Hot peppers grew well. Didn’t notice any pests. Other plants in same space including tomatoes, cukes and zucchini did fine this year. Not sure what I’m doing wrong.

It could be that you’ve overfertilized them or they could be getting too much water, or it could just be too hot. But generally, sweet peppers, especially the big bell peppers, can be tricky and may not produce a lot of fruit. I grew dark purple bell peppers this year and they did okay, but I only got a few peppers off them. Some sweet varieties like banana peppers are usually more productive than bell peppers, so I suggest trying them next year.

See More Photos: Sweet Pepper Varieties to Grow

Nasturtium Tips

Laura said: I have tried planting nasturtium seed after nasturtium seed and none of them sprouted. I tried soaking them in water for an hour before planting one time. I tried just planting them in the soil. I tried starting them indoors. Any tips or tricks I’m missing?

Nasturtium is an annual flower that likes warm weather and grows best directly sown in the soil. It does have a hard seed coating so soaking it in water beforehand can help. Otherwise, it’s usually pretty easy to grow and doesn’t have many pest problems, so it’s possible you have a bad batch of seed. I’d say start again next year with fresh seed and hopefully that will help.

What to Plant Now for Fall

Fall is just around the corner and I am so excited — it’s my favorite time of year. There are a few things you can start planting now outdoors. Root crops like carrots, beets, turnips and radishes can be sown now. You can also start greens like kale and collards from seed. I’m starting a few things indoors first, including broccoli and Brussels sprouts — these will grow for several weeks indoors before being planted in beds outside.

See More Photos: 15 Vegetables You Can Plant Now for Fall Harvest

Why are My Tomato Blossoms Falling Off?

Kristi said: My tomato blooms are falling off, can you explain why? We do have some producing tomatoes but never had blooms fall off and not produce like we are this year.

A few things can cause tomato blossom drop but the most common is really hot, humid weather. Tomatoes love heat but when the temperatures are consistently in the high 80s and 90s, blossoms will drop before being pollinated. Keep your plants watered and fertilized and they will probably start producing again if the weather cools down a little.

How to Freeze Vegetables for Storage

Around this time of year, we see LOTS of searches on the website for how to freeze vegetables. It’s really easy and such as good way to preserve your harvest. For some vegetables, including beans, you want to blanch them in boiling water for a minute or two first. For others, like this zucchini, you just chop then freeze. After they’re chopped or blanched, I like to freeze my vegetables individually on a tray for about 20 minutes first, then put them in a zipper freezer bag. This helps keep them from sticking together in a big clump.

Learn More: How to Freeze Vegetables, Fruit and Other Surprising Things

How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts

Jane asked a question about Brussels sprouts: This is my first time growing Brussel sprouts. How do I harvest them? I read to pick the ones from the bottom up but how do you get them off of the stem? Do you cut the whole stem, or do you cut off a sprout at a time?

Brussels sprouts grow along a tall stem and each sprout grows right above where a leaf attaches to the stem. To harvest a sprout, first cut off the leaf just under it, and then cut or snap off the sprout. You harvest sprouts when they’re a half inch to an inch in size.

Brussels sprouts grow best in cooler climates, planted in spring and grown through summer. But in warmer climates like mine, you can plant in fall, keep the plants healthy through winter, and harvest in spring. I plan on trying that this year.

How to Braid Garlic for Storage

I recently harvested my garlic and braided it for storage. It’s a really fun craft and pretty easy once you get the hang of it. This garlic can hang in storage for up to six months, and I’ll just cut bulbs off when I need to use them. But I’ll save some of the largest for replanting in the fall.

Get the How-To: How to Braid Garlic for Storage

How Much Sun and Heat Should Eggplant and Squash Get?

Oge asked: Any tips on how much heat and sun exposure squash and eggplant should get?

Squash and eggplant both need a lot of sunlight, at least six hours of full sun daily. Eggplant really likes sun and heat and grows well in hot climates. If you want to grow eggplant but live in a milder area, one trick is to grow it in a large black container — the container will absorb heat and make your soil temperature up to 10 degrees higher, which eggplant will love.

Do Aphids Cause Tomato Leaf Curl?

Sandra asked: Do aphids make the leaves curl on tomato plants and what is the best way to get rid of them?

A lot of problems can cause leaf curl, including aphids. Looks for them on the underside of the leaves before you do anything. If you see aphids, you can remove them with water from the hose sprayer, and you can also apply insecticidal soap or neem oil according to the label instructions. Leaf curl can also be caused by heat, drought or a virus.

What Time of Day to Harvest Veggies

Camille asked: When is the best time of day to harvest veggies like squash?

Just like with flowers, the best time to harvest is usually early morning. That’s when veggies are the most crisp and ready for eating or storing. The next best time is late in the day when temperatures have cooled down. The worst time to harvest is the middle of the day when plants may already be stressed from sun and heat.

When to Pick Cucumbers

Missy asked: When is the best point to pick a cucumber (size, color, etc.)?

Cucumbers can get oversized really quickly and become watery and even bitter. It’s better to pick early and often, as soon as they’re big enough to use. If it’s a pickling variety, it may be 3-4 inches, or 6-7 for a slicing variety. Picking the cucumbers you have will also help the plant produce more.

Learn More: Growing Cucumbers

Should I Use Epsom Salt on Tomatoes and Peppers?

Shay: Is Epsom salt really good to use on plants like tomatoes and bell peppers? And if so, what are the benefits?

There’s little scientific evidence that using Epsom salt helps plants in home gardens, including on tomatoes and peppers. And it could actually hurt in cases like blossom end rot because it prevents calcium from getting to the plant. I don't recommend it.

Watering and Blossom End Rot

Shannon asked: What tips do you have for preventing blossom end rot?

Blossom end rot can be caused by too much or too little water. Those extremes affect the plant’s uptake of calcium from the soil. The ideal situation is consistent water. Mulching around your plants to keep moisture in the soil will help, particularly in a dry climate. If you used good garden soil, it’s unlikely that you need to add calcium to the soil, but if you think it could be a soil issue, you can try adding calcium nitrate. You can also use a calcium spray on the fruit itself, especially after a heavy rain. For either, be sure to apply according to the directions; also note that while safe, these are not organic products, so avoid if you grow organically like I do.

Learn More: Tomato Blossom End Rot

Grow Beans

Beans are easy and you can plant them even now in mid-summer. You plant from seeds. I’m growing three different types right now: pole beans, which are tall and need a trellis; half-runners, which are shorter vines than pole beans but still need a trellis; and bush beans, which are short and don’t need a trellis.

Learn More: Veggies You Can Plant in Mid-Summer

How to Grow and Harvest Carrots

Maryann said: For some reason, I cannot grow carrots and I’m not sure why. What’s the secret with carrots?

I’m in zone 7b, and I’ve found it best to sow the seeds in mid-spring when things are starting to warm up, so like mid-April. If you sow earlier when it’s still cold, they might take a long time to germinate. I thin the seedlings when they get a few inches tall — so, snip back some to allow others the room to grow. I also like to plant them near something that will get taller, like a tomato, so they’ll be shaded a little when the weather starts heating up, because carrots like milder temperatures.

It’s important not to fertilize your carrots too much with nitrogen, which promotes lush, green carrot greens at the expense of the roots. When carrots are ready to harvest, the tops of the roots will start poking up above the soil line. To harvest, just loosen the soil around them a bit and pull the carrot out.

Learn More: Growing Carrots

Why Are My Tomato Leaves Yellow?

Maribel said: Our tomato plants don’t look well. They have lots of yellow leaves and [the] leaves have holes. What should we do?

It’s hard to say what’s causing holes in the leaves without seeing them, but the yellowing early in the season may be a nitrogen deficiency that affects the plant’s overall health, making it more susceptible to pests. Try fertilizing your plant with a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer. I like fish fertilizer, which is a byproduct of the fish industry. You can also add a little compost around your plants and water it in well.

Fertilizing Herbs Indoors

Jessica said: I can’t grow outside anymore because of my HOA so I’m growing mint indoors. I accidentally fed it the other day with houseplant fertilizer. Is it still okay to eat it?

Houseplant fertilizer is typically a 10-10-10 fertilizer, meaning it has equal amounts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — that makes it a balanced fertilizer and typically, vegetable and herb fertilizer is balanced, too, though with smaller numbers, like a 5-5-5. The danger of the houseplant fertilizer is that it contains more nutrients and you could’ve overfertilized the mint. But it should be OK to eat — just keep watering and back off the fertilizer a little.

How to Get Rid of Slugs on Lettuce

One viewer said: I am growing romaine, first time, but notice little slug looking bugs on my lettuce. What to do?

Slugs definitely go after lettuce, and they can damage your plants. What you can do is just pick them off by hand. Drop them in soapy water if you don’t want to smush them yourself. If you handpick often for a week or so, you won’t need to pick them off as often going forward. There are also a few simple things you can add around your plants that may help too — like coffee grounds and eggshells. Both are rough surfaces that may prevent slugs from getting to your plants.

Learn More: How to Control Slugs

What Are Tomato Suckers? And What Do I Do With Them?

Marianne asked about tomato suckers, whether to pinch them, and if so, how.

Suckers are side shoots of tomato plants — they grow between a main stem and a side branch in what's called the crotch. Some people swear by pinching them off to keep energy going into the main branches of the plant and to help create fruit instead of more leaves. Personally, I will pinch suckers off if I’m thinking about it, but it’s not something I’m really focused on when growing tomatoes. If you are going to pinch suckers, do it when they’re small, like under an inch long, and you literally just pinch them off with your fingers.

Learn More: How to Prune and Stake Tomato Plants

What Veggies Regrow From Scraps?

I've seen a lot of questions about regrowing vegetables from scratch. It's definitely doable with a few vegetables, including potatoes and celery as well as some types of lettuce and cabbage, and others.

Learn More: 9 Plants You Can Start From Kitchen Scraps

How Do I Make Compost at Home?

Several have asked about making compost at home, so I’ll start with some basics. Generally, you make compost by mixing organic materials from around your home like grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and leaves to decompose into compost, which is full of nutrients that benefit your soil.

You need a 3:1 ratio of what we call brown materials, which are slow to decompose, and green materials, which are quicker. Browns are carbon-rich and include leaves and bark; greens are nitrogen-rich like grass and vegetable scraps. You need more browns — 3 parts to every 1 green — to slow down the decomposition process. You also need water to make compost; a lot of problems come with compost being too dry, because it needs water and nitrogen, or to wet, probably because there’s not enough brown material.

You can make compost just in a pile in your yard, or you can use a bin made of wood, plastic, or metal. Either way, your bin needs to provide easy access and good airflow.

Learn More: How to Compost

What About Ants in a Compost Bin?

Linda asked: How do I get rid of ants in a container composter?

Ants are not necessarily a bad thing in compost, and they may be helping break things down, but if you have a lot of them, it could also be a sign that your compost mix is too dry. To help, turn it with a shovel or pitchfork, sprinkle in some water, and add some nitrogen, like with a little bagged manure compost.

Learn More: Composting Problems and How to Solve Them

Why Can't I Grow Herbs From Seed?

Cindy said: I keep buying seeds for herbs but the only ones that grow are parsley, basil and dill.

It may seem cheaper to plant herbs from seed, but many herbs don’t really grow that easily from seed. Transplants are usually a better option. Some of the herbs you mentioned — parsley, basil and dill — are exceptions, but I still usually buy my parsley and basil as transplants, as well as rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano and sage. I always plant dill (shown) and cilantro from seed.

Am I Planting Lavender Wrong?

Margie asked: What is the easiest and fastest way to grow lavender? I keep buying lavender plants and they keep dying. Please help.

The fastest and easiest way to grow lavender is to start from transplants. But it sounds like you’re already doing that, so here are some tips for planting and growing lavender.

It’s really important that lavender is in well-draining soil, meaning it doesn’t hold water. If you’re growing in a pot, use a clay pot that dries out quickly. If you’re growing in the ground, be sure the lavender is at the top of a slope where the soil will drain well. You can also add rock mulch or a little sand in your soil to help with drainage. Lavender can have problems with fungus, especially in a humid environment, so when you have larger plants, you want to trim them for better airflow. For large plants, just prune back where you can tell there’s not good air flow. When your lavender blooms, cut back the stems before the flower buds fully open. Only harvest about one-third of the blooms at a time.

Learn More: 10 Tips for Growing Lavender

Why Does My Zucchini Die?

Lee asked: Why does my zucchini plant die every year? It just starts producing and suddenly it turns brown and dies. It happens to me every year.

It's likely because of squash vine borers. They’re a common garden pest in the Eastern U.S. They overwinter in the soil and then come out around June to lay eggs that burrow into your squash stems. You may have seen where your plant’s stem just seems like it’s disintegrating and the plant dies — this is squash vine borer damage.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of cures. Some steps you can take are to grow plants in fresh soil, like with new potting soil in a container. You can also grow resistant varieties, including butternut squash, but that’s very different from a zucchini.

This year, I’m using row cover cloth to cover my zucchini plants. Row cover is really handy for lots of things — keeping plants warm during cold snaps, keeping them cool during hot days, and protecting them from insect pests. Sunlight can still get through the cloth but in theory the squash vine borers can’t land on or around the plants and lay their eggs that the burrow into the stems. I’ll still need to remove it when I water, and when the plants are flowering so they can be pollinated, but I hope it will help.

Learn More: Zucchini 101: Growing and Harvesting This Super Squash

Growing Cucumbers in Containers

Missy asked: What are your thoughts on growing cucumbers in a container?

You can definitely grow cucumbers in containers! Choose a bush or compact variety, which just means it’s a shorter vine. You’ll need to give it a trellis that it can grow up — in this photo, the fence acts as a trellis, but in a regular pot, you'll need to add one. You also want to be sure to get a container large enough — it should hold roughly 5 gallons of soil, which is about a 14-inch wide pot.

Learn More: Growing Cucumbers

What is the Fungus on My Cucumber and Squash Leaves?

Frances asked: Why do my cucumbers and squash get a kind of fungus on the leaves and quit producing?

What you’re seeing is called powdery mildew — it looks like baby powder on your leaves. It’s a very common fungus that you’ll see particularly on cucumbers, squash and melons. As the mildew spreads, it damages your plant.

You can prevent powdery mildew by planting resistant varieties, by not crowding your plants, and especially by not watering from above — you want to water at the base of your plants, not on the leaves, which can promote fungal growth on leaves.

You can also try to treat it with an organic fungicide, like neem oil, or some gardeners use a diluted baking soda and water solution. But if your plants look pretty infected, you should pull them out and get rid of them to avoid spreading it through your garden.

Learn More: Preventing Powdery Mildew

Growing Cilantro in Warm Climates

Janice said: I am usually lucky and have a green thumb except for cilantro. I live in Florida and just can’t grow it. Any suggestions?

Cilantro can be tricky! Even though it seems like it would be a summer plant, it actually grows best in cooler weather, so in spring and fall. It can also grow in a little shade. In warmer climates like Florida, you can actually plant it in the fall and grow it through winter into spring.

Learn More: How to Grow Cilantro

When Can You Start Cutting Herbs?

Chris asked: How soon can you start harvesting herbs from new plants?

I’d say wait until the plant is about 5 or 6 inches tall or around. For most herbs, harvest from the outer part of the plant and leave the center alone — that’s where new growth comes from. That’s also true for harvesting lettuce and other greens.

Tips for Succession Planting

Jean asked: Could you give any tips for succession planting?

There are a couple different methods of succession planting. I think the most fundamental one is about using the same spot in your garden to grow plants that prefer different seasons. An example is peas — they love the cool spring weather but stop growing when it heats up. You can take those peas out and replace them with a plant that loves warm weather, like eggplant or peppers. And then in that same spot, you could replace the eggplant with greens for fall. I like this definition of succession planting because it makes you think about the multiple growing seasons rather than just the summer.

How to Prevent Tomato Hornworms

Iris asked: How do you keep tomato worms off your tomato plants?

Pick off the little green worms as soon as you see them on your plants. The best way to prevent them from taking over is to attract their natural predator, specifically parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps love many of the herbs and flowers that we love, including dill, cosmos, fennel, thyme, yarrow, zinnia and borage; plant these alongside your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to keep hornworms in check.

Learn More: Beneficial Insect: Braconid Wasps

How Do I Get Rid of Squash Bugs?

Heather said: I have never had squash bugs before last year. How do you get rid of them and will I have them again this year? I live in Vermont but we did not have much below zero weather to kill insect eggs.

With squash bugs, too, you want to attract their natural predators, which include spiders and a particular fly that loves plants in the dill family: cilantro, dill, and parsley. Plant these alongside your squash, cucumbers and melons. Remove the little red eggs as soon as you see them on leaves. You can also try an organic treatment like neem oil.

Learn More: Squash Bugs in the Garden

Tips for Growing Watermelon

Elizabeth said: I live in North Carolina, in zone 7b … Do you have recommendations on how and where to plant the watermelons? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Watermelons like hot weather so wait until the weather warms to plant. They grow on really long, vigorous vines so you need plenty of space — plant them 3 to 5 feet apart. You’ll want to keep weeds down in the area; mulch after planting rather than waiting until the vines get going. Watermelons take a long time to grow — usually around 3 months until harvest — so keep them watered and fed and be patient. They’ll be worth the wait.

Learn More: When to Plant and How to Grow Watermelon

Shade-Tolerant Herbs

Mary asked: Are there any herbs that don’t require full sun?

Yes — cilantro, parsley, thyme, mint, chives and tarragon are a few herbs that can grow in part sun.

See More: 25 Herbs That Grow in the Shade

What Causes Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes?

Cheryl said: I have horrible luck growing Roma tomatoes in containers. It looks like it’s growing great then the bottom turns brown then black. I live in the PNW so hot in the day and cool at night if that matters and I try to consistently water so what am I doing wrong?

You're experiencing blossom end rot, which is very common. It’s actually caused by a calcium deficiency, but the mechanics are really about fluctuations of water. Plants need consistent watering, so sometimes you’ll see end rot after a heavy rain followed by a period of drought. Consistent watering is key, but it can be harder when you’re growing in containers. To help with this, choose containers that don’t dry out quickly — look for plastic or glazed clay instead of plain terra cotta. Also, if you have a tomato with end rot, it’s still fine to harvest and eat the good portion, and you can let the plant keep growing. Just because one or two fruit have blossom end rot doesn’t mean they all will.

Learn More: Tomato Blossom End Rot

What's Wrong With My Basil?

Melanie said: My basil is planted in a self-watering container with oregano and parsley. The oregano and parsley are doing well, but the basil is looking very light in color, not the normal bright green I usually see. What am I doing wrong?

It sounds like your basil is getting too much water and could have root rot. Parsley and oregano aren’t quite as susceptible though they can get rot too. You might cut back some of the affected basil leaves and then reduce watering a bit to see if that helps.

Learn More: Rx for Unhappy Herbs: How to Help Your Basil Bounce Back

Raised Bed Soil pH and Vegetables

Stephanie asked: How do you accommodate different soil pH preferences amongst plants that share a raised bed?

Most vegetables like a pH of 6 to 7, so you shouldn’t have a big discrepancy in the soil pH needs of vegetables in a raised bed. One vegetable that likes more alkaline soil is asparagus, and an edible plant that likes more acidic soil is blueberries — for each of those, I’d recommend growing in their own beds.

See More: Tips on Growing Great Blueberries

Why Aren't My Pepper Plants Flowering Yet?

A few people asked about green pepper plants that are all leaves and no flowers or fruit …

Peppers like hot weather and plants don’t really start producing flowers and fruit until the temperatures get in the 70s consistently, so just be patient. It’s a good sign that your plants look healthy otherwise.

Learn More: Garden to Table: Peppers

What to Do About Roly Poly Bugs

Erin asked: How do I get rid of roly poly bugs? They are eating my strawberries right now but always seem to get to my veggies and fruit. I don’t want to use sprays as I’m trying to keep my garden organic.

Roly poly bugs are also called pill bugs, and there are a lot of organic remedies for them from chili pepper spray to garlic spray. I’ve never had a problem with them myself, but I think what I’d try is something called diatomaceous earth. You’ll sprinkle it in the soil around your strawberry plants. Just like any other organic product, you’ll want to use it as directed on the packaging.

See More: 24 Bad Bugs: America's Most Wanted

Why Do You Mulch Your Vegetable Garden?

A lot of viewers asked about mulch — why I mulch my vegetable plants, what kind of mulch I use, and what is the best mulch for a vegetable garden. Mulching plants is important for many reasons: It prevents weeds, helps the soil retain moisture and breaks down to improve your soil over time. Good options include shredded cedar mulch, straw, ground pine bark and shredded leaves. Overall, you want something lightweight that will break down quickly to help improve the soil, so larger chip or bark mulches aren’t the best. I only use bark mulch on my paths, not in the garden beds because it takes so long to break down.

Learn More: What Is Mulch and Which Mulch Should You Use?

What Not to Grow in a Raised Bed

Melissa asked: Are there any vegetables that do not do well in a raised garden?

If a raised bed is deep enough, most anything can grow well. I recommend it be at least 12 inches deep.

How to Know When to Harvest Potatoes

A few people asked about potatoes and how to know when they’re ready to harvest. Potato plants will start to turn yellow and die back when the roots are ready to harvest. It usually takes a few months after planting. You’ll dig around in the soil to find the potatoes, which is pretty fun. You can harvest “new” potatoes sooner, if you want — they are just young potatoes.

Learn More: How to Plant and Grow Potatoes

What Combos to Grow in Containers

Olena said: I have a small space that gets full sun. Can you recommend some pairings that will do well together in containers? I am all over basil, parsley, tomatoes … any other combos?

Tomatoes with basil and parsley sounds great. I also love growing peppers in containers, and you could grow them with oregano and onions. Lettuce and greens do really well in containers; so do most herbs. I also recommend including some flowers like marigolds — they add color and can help with insect pests.

Learn More: Easiest Vegetables to Grow in Flower Pots

Best Raised Beds for Kids

Sharon asked about the best raised bed for children – galvanized or treated wood?

I would say wood is better for kids but go with cedar instead of treated wood, which can contain chemicals that may be harmful. (If you go with treated, look for the symbol "HT" which means heat-treated.) If you live in a hot climate, galvanized may get too hot in the summer for small children. If you’re in a cool climate, though, it’s probably fine.

More Ideas: Gardening Projects Kids Will Love

What Kind of Eggplant Am I Growing?

Amy said: I am growing eggplants for the first time. I live in a warm climate and planted them last November. They are very developed but look really long and skinny. I do not know the variety. Any guidance would be appreciated!

Eggplant likes hot weather and typically grows best in summer. There are roughly two types — Italian eggplants, which are big and rounded (like shown), and Asian eggplants, which are long and skinny. It sounds like Amy is growing some variety of Asian eggplant.

You should pick your eggplant when they’re a good size — which depends on the variety but probably several inches long — and when the skin is glossy. When the skin starts getting dull, they’re getting past their prime.

Learn More: Garden to Table: Eggplant

How Many Tomato Plants Do I Need?

Sandra asked: Will you get tomatoes if you plant only one plant?

Yes, tomato plants are self-pollinating, which means you only need one plant to get fruit. That being said, if you have the space, plant more!

Learn More: Selecting Tomato Plants for Your Garden

Should I Start Root Crops Inside or Outside?

Meghan asked: Is it advisable to start root vegetables (specifically carrots and potatoes) from seed indoors? I feel like transplanting them will disturb the root.

While you can start root veggies indoors, I find it’s really best to start them outdoors where you’re planning on growing them. You may need to “thin” your seedlings a little as they come up to get them spaced out correctly for growing. This basically just means picking out some to allow others to grow.

Learn More: Growing Carrots

Should I Use a Trellis?

Rachel asked: Can or should you trellis veggies like cucumbers, squash and zucchini? I have a 4’x4’ bed and it’s looking like my eyes were bigger than my garden 😍. And if so, what kind of trellis system is best?

I definitely recommend trellising. It maximizes space and also keeps plants off the ground, where they’re more likely pick up diseases or rot. And it makes produce easier to pick. There are a lot of trellising systems out there. Go with something sturdy, which means probably metal. Also consider where you’re going to store them when the season is over. If you have limited space, look for ones that will fold up or flatten for easy storage.

Learn More: How to Trellis Plants and Flowers

Where Did You Get Your Overalls?

A few people asked where my overalls came from, and I'm happy to share. They're from Dovetail Workwear. These are my new go-to overalls for the garden!

Learn More: Why I’m Ditching My Carhartts for Dovetail Workwear Made for Women, By Women

Planting Onions

Onions can be planted from seed or sets, which are small bulbs, but I plant mine from bare-root bundles, which you can find in spring at garden centers. They’re just small onions and they’re very easy to plant. You can plant them in spring starting a little before your last frost date. Just separate out the individual onions and plant them about an inch down so the bulb portion is below the soil. Plant them about 6 inches apart for mature onions or 3 inches apart for scallions. You can hill up the soil a little to help give them good drainage. For full-size onions these will take a couple months to grow.

Learn More: How to Plant Onions

When Do I Plant Seedlings Outdoors?

Rebecca said: I am growing veggies from seeds. When do you plant them in a raised bed?

If you’re starting indoors, they're likely summer plants that don’t tolerate cold, like tomatoes and peppers, so what you need to know if your last frost date. It’s the average date of last spring frost in your area over many years, so it’s the best guess of when it’s safe to plant frost-sensitive plants outside. It differs depending on where you live so you’ll need to look it up online if you don’t already know. Where I live in zone 7b, the last frost date is this weekend. The same is true whether you’re planting in raised beds or the ground or containers.

Learn More: What You Should Know About Last Frost Dates

When Will My Garlic Be Ready?

Wendy said: I planted garlic [in] early spring and I see shoots. Can I expect fully developed garlic this summer?

Fall is usually the best time to plant garlic — it overwinters and then starts really growing in spring — but you can also try planting in early spring. If you planted in spring, you should be able to harvest in mid to late summer. If you see shoots coming up, that’s a good sign. Just keep them watered and mulched and you should be good to go. You'll know bulbs are ready to harvest when the tops start turning yellow and falling over. Save some of your largest bulbs and plant those this fall.

Learn More: Is It Too Late to Plant Garlic?

Can I Plant Last Year's Seeds?

Leigh Anne said: I have some seed packets I got for free but they say 2019 on them. Will they grow?

My answer is: Probably. Most seeds will keep for a couple years so give it a try.

Learn More: Veggies You Can Start From Seed and Veggies You Can’t

When Are Root Crops Ready to Harvest?

Marianne asked: How do you know when root vegetables are ready to harvest?

There are a few vegetables where the part you eat grows under the soil: carrots, beets, radishes and turnips among them. For much of the time these plants are growing, all you’ll see is the tops, the greens. These are important for taking in sunlight and directing that energy to help the root grow below the soil. When the roots start getting larger, you’ll start to see the tops popping up out of the soil a little. When those tops of the roots really start pushing up out of the soil, that’s when you know they’re ready to harvest.

Learn More: Garden to Table: Beets

Can I Grow Lettuce on a Balcony?

Sarah asked: Can you grow lettuce in flower boxes on a balcony?

Yes, you can, as long as you have at least part sun, which means about four hours a day. I also saw questions about window boxes, and lettuce would also be great for those.

DIY It: How to Grow a Lettuce Sphere

Garden Placement in Hot, Sunny Climates

Donna said: I live in a very hot and dry area … and my veggies seem to wilt even when watering. Should I consider putting some of them where they get morning sun but afternoon shade?

The rule of thumb is that vegetables need six hours of sun a day, but if it’s really hot, a lot more than that could be too much. Afternoon sun is hotter; that’s also the time of day when more water has evaporated, so plants just get dehydrated. So in really hot areas, morning sun is better. On the other hand, in cooler areas, your plants might benefit from afternoon sun.

If you’re not sure whether an area gets morning sun or afternoon sun, or how much sun, just take some time to watch it. If you’re spending more time at home during the day lately, now’s a good time to figure that out.

For More: 20 Perennials for Full Sun

Growing Herbs for a Cook's Garden

Bonnie asked: What’s the best way to start a cook’s herb garden? Wondering about pots versus in-ground, seeds versus plants, etc.

I could go into a lot of detail about growing each herb, but here are a couple general things to consider. Herbs are perennials, meaning they come back every year, and some are annuals or grown as annuals, meaning they need to be planted every year. Some perennial herbs are rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, mint and lavender; I usually plant these as transplants. Some that are annuals or grown as annuals are basil, cilantro, parsley and dill; I usually plant these from seeds. Also, many of the culinary herbs we use often are originally from the Mediterranean and they prefer drier soil like you’d find in that part of the world. That’s why growing in containers is often a good option, because soil usually dries out more quickly in containers.

If you’re growing in the ground, it’s important to make sure the soil won’t hold water. You can do that by mounding the soil or planting at the top of a slope rather than in a low spot. I especially recommend growing perennial herbs like rosemary and thyme in the ground because they can become part of your landscaping, but they grow well in containers too.

For More: Herb Container Planting Ideas

How Do I Fill My Raised Bed?

Kspoplar (and many others) asked: I have raised beds that had vegetable plants in them last year. What should I do to prepare the beds for a new growing season? FYI I live in Wisconsin so it is too early to plant yet.

I typically recommend a mix of roughly 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 peat or other lightweight amendment and 1/3 compost, mixed together well in your bed. Peat is lightweight and fluffy, so it works great, but it’s not very sustainable; some alternatives are coconut coir, which may be hard to find or expensive, or shredded leaves or bark, which you may already have around. You can also add a little perlite, a soil amendment that promotes good drainage and air flow in your soil. Or you can buy premixed bags of “raised bed soil,” which includes some mix of the ingredients I mentioned. If you already have soil in your bed, but just need to refresh it for this year, you probably just need to add a few bags of compost to get some nutrients back in there. But if your soil feels really hard and dense, you can add some perlite and peat or shredded leaves, too.

Learn More: Tips for a Raised-Bed Vegetable Garden

Can I Grow Beans Up Corn?

Susan.B.77 asked: I am starting my garden and have heard you can plant corn and also plant green beans and allow them to run up the corn stalks? Any comments on the best kind of green beans?

Yes. This is true! Growing beans up corn is a companion planting technique that uses the corn stalk as a trellis for the beans. It’s part of a traditional Native American growing technique called a Three Sisters Garden. The three sisters are corn, pole beans and squash: The corn serves as a trellis, the beans grow up the corn and the squash grows along the ground to shade the soil and prevent weeds. The best kind of beans for this are pole beans because they climb. Bush beans are smaller and don’t need a trellis.

Learn More: All in the Family: Three Sisters Gardening

Any Favorite Determinate Tomatoes?

Heather_Heart_Leaf asked: What are your favorite determinate tomatoes?

Determinate tomatoes are also called bush tomatoes. They grow to roughly a certain height and then stop, and they usually produce their fruit in the same time frame. Determinates are good for smaller spaces. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, are also called vining tomatoes and they keep growing taller and making tomatoes until they’re killed by frost or something else. Both types need to be trellised or staked. A couple determinate tomatoes I like are: Roma, a paste tomato, which are the best for canning and making tomato sauce; and Celebrity, a good all-around, award-winning red tomato.

Learn More: 12 Tomato Tricks and Tips

Do You Use Flowers in Your Vegetable Garden?

HisKellyGirl asked: Do you recommend flowers around your garden to attract pollinators?

Yes, I do! Another commenter, Meghan, mentioned several of my favorites in her comment and those are: nasturtium, cosmos, calendula and borage. I also recommend planting a lot of herbs around your veggies to help with pests and to attract pollinators. I let some of my herbs flower, like thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint.

Learn More: Bee-Friendly Garden Flowers

How Do I Protect Plants From Deer and Rabbits?

Rose B. said: I live in the country and have many deer and rabbits that come up in the night and feast on anything and everything that grows! How can I protect a newly planted garden without fencing everything in?

I hear this question a lot — but fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with it personally because our backyard fence and Rufus, our dog, seem to keep rabbits, squirrels and such out of our garden. You're correct that fencing is often the solution; however, we have more advice on how to deter deer and rabbits here on our website. Click here for more info on deer and the link below for rabbits.

Learn More: How to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden Without Harming Them

Can I Keep Cilantro and Basil From Bolting?

Karen 510 asked: How do you keep herbs like cilantro and basil from going to seed quickly?

This is a great question, but let’s start with timing first. Cilantro seems like it would be a summer crop, but it actually prefers cooler weather, so be sure to grow it in spring and fall instead of the heat of summer. Basil likes warmer weather. Most herbs will flower as the weather warms. With basil, you can pinch the blooms off to keep the plant producing more leaves. With cilantro, when it starts bolting (going to seed by blooming) as it gets warm, I just let it go, but I leave it in the garden to attract pollinators and then to dry and harvest the seed, which is the spice called coriander.

Learn More: How to Grow Cilantro

How Do I Harvest Lettuce?

Jenni4o said: I have a question about lettuce. How do you harvest it? Can you use a little at a time or is it a one and done thing?

Lettuce comes in a couple types: either heading lettuce varieties or leaf lettuce varieties. Heading varieties like iceberg and Romaine are typically harvested as the whole plant — as you say, one and done — but leaf lettuce varieties can be harvested often while growing, picking from the outside of the plant while more leaves grow from the inside of the plant. These are sometimes called “cut and come again” varieties and you’ll see that term used for flowers and other vegetables, too. I recommend both types but if you’re looking to use a little at a time, leaf varieties are best.

Learn More: Garden to Table: Mixed Lettuce

Can I Get Rid of Squash Bugs?

Debi S. said: My main problem is squash bugs the last 2 years. How can I safely eradicate them for the new season?

Pest problems can be really frustrating, and I, too, have had recurring issues with squash though with squash vine borers instead of squash bugs. Both of these pests are hard to eradicate. My best solution has been to choose resistant varieties and that may be a good option for you, too. Otherwise, I suggest reading the info linked below for more advice on prepping your beds to ban squash bugs.

Learn More: Squash Bugs in the Garden

Where Can I Find Plants Without Leaving Home?

Levoyagevouge asked: Are there any options if you’re under a stay at home order and can’t go to a plant supply store?

This is definitely a problem for many of us right now. I recently wrote an article about buying transplants online, but many of these places are already sold out of transplants, which are expensive anyway. You should still be able to buy seeds through various online sources, including some of those listed in that article, so that’s what I recommend. Find some info below on best plants to grow from seed.

Learn More: Save Money on Your Veggies: Grow From Seed

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