Many of us live in areas where we don’t really have the room for a large garden. Traditional flower and shrub beds, with no place to grow fruits and vegetables, define many yards. Some neighborhoods have protective covenants or guidelines that don’t allow for garden space. To these restrictions add the fact that we don’t have time to take care of a garden year round, and we end up buying, instead of growing, our favorite vegetables.
If you look around your yard, you may be surprised at just how many places you could tuck in a tomato plant or some herbs. Often garden beds have a little space in the front or along the side that would hold a few vegetables here or there. The key to adding a vegetable patch is to make it work with the design of the landscape, not against it.
Do Spring Cleaning on Flower Beds
A great way to add space for vegetables is to do spring cleaning in your flower beds. By trimming up overgrown shrubs, pulling weeds and cleaning debris out of your landscape, you can create a lot of space without having to dig up another part of the yard. You can use colorful herbs and vegetables instead of annual bedding plants; for the same amount of money in the same amount of space, you’ll get a great return on your efforts.
One of the secrets to successfully adding vegetables into your landscape is to use the structure and layout you already have. The easier it is to use, the more fun you can have with it. Another way to gain space is to trim back bushes, especially the ones that grow back quickly.
Work the Soil
Once the first step of cleaning out the bed is done, you can enrich the soil just as you would in a traditional garden. Vegetable plants have the same nutrient requirements no matter where you plant them. A heavy layer of compost worked into the soil will do the trick. It will make the vegetables grow well, and in addition it will improve the soil for the surrounding shrubs. Just work carefully so you don’t damage the established roots that are already in the bed.
Add several bags of manure and soil conditioner to the bed, making the layer 2 to 3 inches thick on the top. Then use a garden fork to turn it in to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Be careful not to disturb the existing plant roots too much so that damage results. If the ground where you’ll be working is very dry, you may want to water it well a day or two before you begin digging. This will loosen the soil and make it easier to turn over. Give the soil enough time to drain so that you’re not working in heavy mud.
Compost and fertilizer do best when added to slightly moist soil; the moisture helps the fertilizer dissolve and keeps all of the moisture from the bagged compost from being soaked into the surrounding ground. Using a well-balanced granular fertilizer will help the new vegetable plants thrive. Fertilizer will do three things for your beds: give food to the new plants, give food to the existing plants and bring the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil back up. Using fertilizer for plants is like giving people food and vitamins: without it the plants may do okay, but with it they can really thrive.
Incorporate Veggies Into Flower Beds
When you plant vegetables in your landscape, be sure to follow the existing design. Place taller vegetables next to taller shrubs, in the back of the bed, and smaller plants near the front of the bed where they won’t block the view or your entrance. Vegetable and herb plants you can incorporate into a landscape include tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, rosemary, lavender, summer squash and marigolds.
Once your vegetable plants are in, water them well. The water will perk the plants up and keep them from going into transplant shock; it will also start to break down the fertilizer so the plant roots can absorb the nutrients. Water new vegetable plants at least once a day for the first week or two. Once they’re established, they’ll need one to two inches of water per week to stay healthy. This amount will vary if you live in a very rainy or a very dry area. Put a rain gauge near the vegetable plants to measure how much water they’re getting. This will help you know how much more water you need to give them.
To finish off your bed and make it look seamless with the rest of the yard, add hardwood mulch. This is most often used in landscaping, but it’s just fine around vegetables, especially in this case, where we don’t want the area to look like a garden. Spread the mulch out to a thickness of three inches around the bed, making sure there is no exposed soil around the vegetables. Create an inch-wide gap around the plant stems so air will circulate around the base of each plant. This will keep the stems from rotting if the mulch gets too wet or heavy.