“Are raised beds easy to grow in and maintain? I live in North Carolina. During the winter can I put a tarp-type Greenhouse over them to help protect vegetables from the cold.” Question from Karen of Rougemont, North Carolina
Answer: There are many benefits to growing in raised beds and very few downsides. Here are the pros and cons of raised bed gardening, followed up by methods to help maintain your garden through winter.
Easier Weeding: Raised beds have looser soil, are higher, and often cover a smaller area, making them easier to weed. It’s also easier to harvest after rain and stay clean when beds are surrounded by pebble, straw, or cut grass.
Easier Harvest: Because they are raised, the beds are easier to harvest and replant.
Initial High Cost: Raised beds are not inexpensive to install if you start out right.
Less Space for Big Crops: Unless your beds are large and you have trellising, you have less space for large crops like vining pumpkins, squash, and melons or multiple rows of corn.
Need Replacement: Eventually your beds will need to be replaced. Metal and plastic options last longer. Cedar raised beds are also long-lasting. Never use treated wood to create raised beds because the wood contains heavy metals that can leach into the soil and be taken up by crops.
Raised Bed Covers
Floating hoop covers are the easiest and best insulating covers to extend growing in raised beds. You also may consider adding a cold frame to your raised bed plan. They make it easiest to continue growing herbs and greens through winter. (Click here to learn more about cold-frame gardening.)
“Why does the soil in my container garden compact super tight? I use garden soil mixed with potting mix and perlite.” Question from Nell of Salem, Indiana
Answer: It sounds like your soil ratios are off, and your in-ground soil is high in clay. If you have not added the right amount of Black Gold amendment or potting soil to clay-rich ground soil, then compaction can be a problem. This is because clay-rich soil has very small particles and becomes compacted very easily. When you add organic matter, such as the peat moss and aged bark found in our potting soil, it lifts the soil, making it more porous and aerated, while allowing it to hold water better. Mineral ingredients, like perlite, also increase aeration and drainage.
“What rose will tolerate dry partial shade in zone 5b?” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey
Answer: Most roses are full-sun shrubs that require 6 or more hours of sun per day and average water, but there are a few that can take partial shade (4 to 6 hours of sun per day). Amending the soil with peat moss, applying a 2-3-inch layer of quality mulch, and providing them with drip irrigation are simple fixes that will overcome dry soil troubles.
Roses Tolerant of Partial Shade
Most shade-tolerant roses are contemporary varieties of antique shrub roses. Some of the best have been bred by the English rose breeder, David Austin (click here to view 6 David Austin roses for partial shade that are hardy to your zone). Another for partial shade is the apricot-flowered shrub rose Roald Dahl, which I have growing in my garden. The ever-blooming shrub rose is quite fragrant and easy to grow. If you are interested in a climbing rose for partial shade, try the French antique rose, ‘Zéphirine Drouhin‘. Its large, rose-pink flowers are fragrant, and its twining stems are thorn-free–another bonus.
To learn more about how to grow roses, I recommend watching the video below.
“When generally is the best month to start lettuce planting [in California]?” Question from Rebekah of Clovis, California
Answer: Lettuce is a cool-season crop, which means that it thrives in cool weather and can even take a light frost but not hard freezes. When the weather becomes hot, most lettuce varieties quickly become bitter-tasting and set seed (bolt).
Based on the Clovis climate summary, your weather remains cool enough for lettuce from October through to April or May. Within this time, you should be able to grow more than one crop. Just be sure to grow it in fertile soil and keep the beds well irrigated during dry weather. We recommend drip irrigation for dry California climates. (Click here to learn about adding drip irrigation to raised beds.) If you anticipate an unexpected frost, cover your plants with frost cloth.
I encourage you to watch the following video about the 10 best lettuce varieties and how to grow them from seed.
Everyone who loves to grow their own food should grow their own blueberries. Blueberries are ideal for edible landscaping. They grow well in-ground or in containers. They’re bushy, attractive, and their leaves turn brilliant shades of orange, purple, and red in fall. Before adding them to your yard or garden, it’s good to know what types are available. You will be glad that you learned how to grow your own blueberries.
Blueberry Varieties Listed
Highbush Blueberries: ‘Blue Ray’ has extra-large-fruits early to mid-season, ‘Duke’ is high-yielding with upright shrubs, and ‘Elliott’ is a good late-producer.
Rabbiteye Blueberries: ‘Tifblue’ has large berries midseason and ‘Brightwell’ produces large clusters early to midseason.
Southern Highbush Blueberries: large-fruited ‘Cape Fear’, robust ‘Sharpblue’, and upright ‘Legacy’, which has very large, tasty fruits.
Designer Blueberries: The boxwood-like Blueberry Glaze® and cute, round Jellybean® have delicious fruit, tidy habits, and bright fall color (from Bushel & Berry).
“Can I grow green beans in a greenhouse?” Question from Angie of Fort Bragg, California
Answer: Absolutely. Green beans, whether pole beans or bush beans, can be grown in a greenhouse if given good soil, full sun, regular moisture, and temperatures that do not get too hot. Green beans grow best in temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees F. If you have only a small space in which to grow, I recommend bush beans. If you have a hoop greenhouse with a soil floor then you can grow pole beans in-ground. I encourage you to watch the video about growing beans to learn more about raising these tasty summer vegetables.
“What Medicinal Herbs Grow Well in Central Florida? I moved to Florida and I want to know which native medicinal herbs to look for and grow here at my new home.” Question from Susan of St. Pete Beach, Florida
With decades of vegetable gardening experience under my belt, it’s easy to take the years of knowledge for granted. It’s like riding a bike. I garden on cruise control and react or learn quickly when faced with a new challenge. In turn, years of teaching new gardeners have kept me in touch with the challenges they face. Sound, step-by-step advice is invaluable–potentially averting years of mistakes and poor yields. Getting the big picture of a new garden venture from the start will set the wheelbarrow rolling in the right direction. The new vegetable gardener will be quickly rewarded if modest goals are established from the beginning and time is set aside for the project.
Start Clean: Remove all of the turf from your soon-to-be garden bed. That means manually skimming off the sod with a sharp spade or using an automated sod cutter, which can be rented. I recommend the latter if you have planned a large garden. The bed should be small enough for you to reach into from all sides or large enough to add a walkway for easy access. Square or rectangular beds are easiest to mow around and manage.
Raise and Cover: Tilling and adding lots of fresh organic material will loosen and lift your soil to enhance drainage and aeration for better root growth. To take it one step further, I always rake or hoe soil up into berms to maximize drainage and keep beds light for better root growth. Berming is especially helpful for root crops, like carrots, potatoes, and beets, and deep-rooted plants, like tomatoes. Finally, I add mulches appropriate for vegetable gardens, like seed-free straw, compost, mushroom soil, grass clippings, or leaf mulch, to keep weeds down. I generally put straw along walkways I’ve established in my garden and compost on the planting areas. Avoid bark mulch of any kind in vegetable gardens because it binds nitrogen, which is detrimental to heavy-feeding vegetables.
Fertilize: Good fertilizer formulated for vegetable growing is essential for bumper crops. Any all-purpose granular or slow-release vegetable fertilizer will do, though I recommend feeding tomatoes with a food specially formulated for their needs. Tomatoes are very heavy feeders that require a wide variety of nutrients to perform their best. Follow the product instructions to keep them well fed.
Choose Good Varieties: Don’t pick just any old tomato, pepper, or bean for your garden. Do your research and pick the best when it comes to yields, performance, and flavor. If you are not certain, always select award-winning plants, such as All America Selections Winners. These tend to be as full-proof as you can get. It is also wise to choose disease-resistant varieties, so keep a lookout for these as well. (Click on the links to discover our favorite sauce tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, mini vegetables, carrots, and fast-growing vegetables.)
Know Planting Times: It is essential to know when you can plant a vegetable, what temperature it likes best, and how long it will take to produce. Vegetables are broken down into cool-season and warm-season types, though some will grow well from spring to fall. Cool-season vegetables, like cabbage, lettuce, peas, and radishes, grow best in cool spring or fall weather, while warm-season crops, such as corn, okra, peppers, tomatoes, and squash, need the heat of summer to yield. Some grow very quickly, and others take months to produce. For example, radishes can be ready to harvest in as little as 20 days, but some pumpkins can take 120 days to produce fruit. So, knowing a crop’s days to harvest is important. Finally, you need to know your last frost date (click here for yours) to determine when it is safe to plant tender vegetables and fruits outdoors.
Know Plant Needs and Sizes: Identify each plant’s height and width to determine its garden footprint. You also need to know if supports, like tomato cages or bean and cucumber trellises, will be needed. One important tip for tomato growers is that bush (determinate) tomatoes only reach 1-3 feet and need small cages or stakes, but vining (indeterminate) tomatoes can reach 6-8-feet high and wide, so tall, strong cages are required. Follow spacing guidelines to give your vegetable the space they need to blossom.
Know When to Harvest: When is it ripe? Tomatoes and peppers will be fully colored when ready to pick. Beans should be plump and reach the advertised length. Zucchini and summer squash are best harvested small but firm. And, you will know when beets, carrots, and radishes are ready to harvest when their bulbous tops become visible along the soil surface. If you are not sure when to harvest a crop, ask us through our free horticultural advice service, Ask a Garden Expert.
Keep It Clean: Weed, weed, and weed some more. Even when you mulch your beds, they will arise. Weeds compete with vegetables for resources and can quickly overwhelm a garden if ignored. They may also harbor diseases and attract pests. Pull or hoe weeds as you see them. Even if you weed every few days or even every week, you will have few to no weed problems, which will give you more time to focus on plant care and harvest. Investing in good weeding tools makes the task lighter. I am never without my weeding knife (Hori Hori), strong hoe (Prohoes are the best), and Korean hand plow (Ho-Mi).
Reach out to friends, family, books, and online references when you have gardening questions. There’s always more to learn and new plants to discover. And, if you can’t find an answer, ask us a gardening question for free at Ask a Garden Expert. You can also search the hundreds of questions we have already answered. It’s our goal to help gardeners succeed.
Victory Gardens inspired millions of Americans that had never gardened to grow food to feed their families. Everyday people learned to garden on a homesteading scale. And, my family was no exception. My maternal grandparent’s Victory Garden taught them to fend for themselves, and eat well when wartime rations were most limited.