Specific Plants

Here are some general guidelines for your most common types of plants. I've put these together based on years of experience, but also extensive research.  This information is applicable to Northern VA, but may also apply to other areas in Zone 7A.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

  • Planting Time: Mother's Day Weekend (or 2nd weekend in May)

  • Container Size: 15+ gallons for indeterminate*, 5+ gallons for determinate (*can be grown in smaller spaces, but will get significantly less yield). Should be at least 12" deep.

  • Spacing: 2-3' apart on center

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: Snip the bottom-most leaves and bury the stem when planting. Roots will grow from the stem. Give a ring of compost for best results.  Try not to plant in the same space as the year before to allow soil diseases to die out.

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week--more as it gets bigger and weather gets hotter

  • Harvesting: Pick fruit when just starting to turn colors to avoid splitting, critter invasion, and blossom-end rot. It already contains everything it needs to ripen inside.

  • General Advice

    • Does best with staking or support​

    • Bottom water to avoid splash-up of soil diseases 

    • Tomatoes stop ripening in heavy heat; pick them and let them ripen inside at that time, or just be patient! They'll pick back up again.

    • Prune "suckers" that grow between stem and branches to increase air flow between plants

    • Stem broke? You can tape it back together if you catch it quickly enough!  

    • Look for hornworms at night by using a blacklight; they glow!  To encourage parasitoid wasps, don't kill them; instead, relocate it with its branch to a far away location.

    • Branch broke off? Stick it in a pot with some soil and it will root, giving you a whole new plant!

    • Pick tomatoes before a big rain, especially if they're close to ripening.  Heavy rains cause heavy cracking and can increase the chance of mold on your tomatoes!

Tomatoes
Capsicums

Sweet Peppers

  • Planting Time: Mother's Day Weekend (or 2nd weekend in May)

  • Container Size: 5+ gallons (we use 7 gallon pots)

  • Spacing: 12-18" apart on center

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: amend hole with some compost; can bury the stem, but not necessary

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week.  Well-hydrated bell peppers are sweeter

  • Harvesting: Wait until they're a bit soft.  Firm peppers are not quite ripe and will be less sweet.  A gentle tug will release a fully-ripened bell pepper.

  • General Advice

    • Likes to be staked; produces more this way

    • Keep hydrated for sweeter peppers

    • Be patient; they are slow to grow and ripen. Plant more for a more abundant harvest and they're not heavy producers

    • Heavy feeding, so use plenty of compost in and on top of the soil

    • There is no such thing as a green pepper; it's simply an unripe bell pepper!  So if you like them green, harvest before they start to ripen.

Tomatoes

Hot Peppers

  • Planting Time: Mother's Day Weekend (or 2nd weekend in May)

  • Container Size: 3+ gallons (we use 5-7 gallon pots)

  • Spacing: 12-18" apart on center

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: amend hole with some compost; can bury the stem, but not necessary

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week. 

  • Harvesting: Harvesting more often encourages more peppers. Pick when ripe (judge by color and consistency) and just keep picking!

  • General Advice

    • The more "tortured" a hot pepper is, the hotter it will be.  So a well-hydrated pepper will not be as hot as one that has been allowed to dry completely before watering again

    • "Nick" the stem of a growing pepper to increase heat; it stresses the plant!

    • Crowding these plants can help create shade for the peppers and keep them from getting sunburned; the leaves of hot peppers are not as big so the peppers can scald

    • Many different varieties can be grown together; pollination won't affect the peppers, but it will impact their seeds so consider this if you're a seed saver.

Chili Peppers
Butternut Squash

Squashes
(zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, winter squash)

  • Planting Time: Mother's Day Weekend (or 2nd weekend in May)

  • Container Size: At least 12" deep

    • Bush varieties do best in 5+ gallons; the wider, the better​

    • Vining varieties will need additional space to vine, but their pot can be 3-5 gallons.

  • Spacing: 12-18" apart on center

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: amend hole with some compost. Plant vining varieties on a hill (mounded soil).

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week. Keep leaves dry when possible. 

  • Harvesting: Varies with each type. Summer squashes should be picked while small--up to 8"--for best flavor. More picking means more fruit.  Vining varieties: look up harvest info for each type

  • General Advice

    • Squash vine borers can cause major damage and kill a whole vine. Wrap the first 4" of stem in aluminum foil when planting (or after they emerge) to discourage them from laying eggs in your stem.

    • Squashes do best when planted along with at least 2 or 3 other squashes of any variety.  Poorly pollinated squashes produce wonky fruits.  Hand pollinate with a Q-tip if you notice a lack of pollinators.

    • The first round of flowers are often male; don't be discouraged! Eventually, you'll see female flowers start to appear.  Here's how to tell the difference.

    • Use cattle panels to make strong, inexpensive trellises for your vining varieties!  Plant lettuces and root vegetables beneath it if you want to make good use of that space too.

Melons

  • Planting Time: Mother's Day Weekend (or 2nd weekend in May)

  • Container Size: At least 12" deep, or 5 gallons

  • Spacing: 12-18" apart on center (also give space for vines)

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: amend hole with some compost. Plant on a hill (mounded soil).

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week. Keep leaves dry when possible. 

  • Harvesting: Varies with each type. Look up harvest info for each type.  Don't pick too early! They don't ripen once picked.

  • General Advice

    • Vine borers can cause major damage and kill a whole vine. Wrap the first 4" of stem in aluminum foil when planting (or after they emerge) to discourage them from laying eggs in your stem.

    • Melons do best when planted along with at least 2 or 3 other melons of any variety.  Poorly pollinated plants produce wonky fruits.  Hand pollinate with a Q-tip if you notice a lack of pollinators.

    • The first round of flowers are often male; don't be discouraged! Eventually, you'll see female flowers start to appear.  Here's how to tell the difference.

    • Use cattle panels to make strong, inexpensive trellises for your vining varieties!  Plant lettuces and root vegetables beneath it if you want to make good use of that space too.

    • Keep melons off of wet soil to avoid rotting.  If not trellising, there are many methods out there for propping them up.

    • Keep the leaves dry when possible to avoid the spread of fungus or disease.

Kid Holding Fruit

Potatoes

  • Planting Time: Mid-March

  • Container Size: Deep & wide; the bigger the container, the more potatoes you'll get

  • Spacing: 6" apart 

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: buy certified seed potatoes; grocery store potatoes are not harvested the same way, and are not as productive and are more likely to rot. Plant 3" deep and cover leaves with soil as they emerge until the pot is full.

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week. 

  • Harvesting: let soil dry two weeks before harvesting. Harvest when leaves start to yellow.  Dig up very carefully & let cure in the sun several hours before curing indoors.  Only store cured potatoes; otherwise eat immediately

  • General Advice

    • More plants = more potatoes. Planting a bunch of plants together can be ornamental as well as productive!

    • Plant in fabric pots to make harvesting easier.  Snip the vines, throw them in your compost pile, and turn the pot gently over into your wheel barrow.  No potatoes will get stuck with shovels or tines in the process, and they won't bruise as easily.  Plastic pots makes the tubers more inclined to rot, but it is still possible.

    • Potatoes will be produce along the buried vine as it grows. it won't produce any above the soil

    • If not using a pot, follow the hilling method for best results.

    • "New potatoes" are just really really young potatoes.  Harvest early if you want these types.

    • Grow a variety of potatoes to see what you like best! Different kinds are better for cooking or storing.

Organic Potatoes
Ipomoea_batatas_006.JPG

Sweet Potatoes

  • Planting Time: Mid-to-late May

  • Container Size: Deep & wide; the bigger the container, the more potatoes you'll get

  • Spacing: 12" apart on center 

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: bury slips up to the top leaves; amend with lots of compost as they are heavy feeders

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week. Keep leaves dry when possible. 

  • Harvesting: let soil dry two weeks before harvesting. Harvest before last frost just as leaves start to yellow.  Dig up very carefully & let cure in the sun several hours before curing indoors.  Only store cured potatoes; otherwise eat immediately

  • General Advice

    • These are vines, and the vines produce runners. To keep energy going to your potatoes and not new places, keep vines from touching the soil and creating new plants.

    • Sweet potatoes are actually the tubers of a morning glory plant!  Tubers can rot easily in wet soil, so don't overwater and be mindful of where you plant them.

    • Your plant may flower. That's ok!  It won't affect your production, so enjoy the purple beauty.  It is a gorgeous plant.

    • More plants = more potatoes. Planting a bunch of plants together can be ornamental as well as productive!

    • Plant in fabric pots to make harvesting easier.  Snip the vines, throw them in your compost pile, and turn the pot gently over into your wheel barrow.  No potatoes will get stuck with shovels or tines in the process, and they won't bruise as easily.  Plastic pots makes the tubers more inclined to rot, but it is still possible.

Cabbage

Brassicas

  • Planting Time: late March or early April or late August, early September

  • Container Size: 12" deep minimum; 1 per 5 gallon container

  • Spacing: 12" apart on center 

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: amend planting hole with compost

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week

  • Harvesting

    • Cabbage: harvest when heads are fully formed (squeeze to determine firmness)​

    • Broccoli: pay attention to the crowns; when buds start to yellow and swell, it's about to go to flower. Pick then for best flavor and consistency.  Pick earlier for firmer texture. Cut only the crown to allow side shoots to form later!

    • Pak Choi & Kale: harvest leaves as they reach your preferred size; they should keep coming back

    • Brussels Sprouts: when the tiny heads are firm, green, and 1-2" in diameter

  • General Advice

    • Brassicas don't mind a little frost; some do really well left in the garden to overwinter after a fall garden! They'll come back again in spring

    • Plant under a cold frame to extend your garden in the spring and fall

    • Cover with tulle or pest protecting cloth immediately at planting to avoid cabbage worms (laid by moths at night)

    • Use Bt (an organic, target-specific pesticide) if cabbage worm infestations appear to be killing your plant. Not necessary if you notice a few nibbles.

    • Will bolt (go to flower) if temperatures get too high; if that happens, leave the flowers! The pollinators love them.  Then compost when the season is over.

    • The leaves of brassicas are delicious; look up some awesome recipes and don't let them go to waste!

Lettuces

  • Planting Time: late March or early April or late August, early September (or all summer if planted with shade)

  • Container Size: 12" deep minimum; any size that will fit the full-grown heads; can be planted together and crowded a bit

  • Spacing: 4-6" on center

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: amend planting hole with compost

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week

  • Harvestingharvest leaves or heads as they reach your preferred size; they should keep coming back. Leaves will sprout from cut heads!

  • General Advice

    • Lettuce is a cool-weather crop. Tender lettuces like bibb tend to be more prone to frostbite than hardier varieties. Plant varieties with "winter" in the name for best results in cold frames.

    • Plant year-round! While best in spring and fall, lettuce can be interplanted between rows of shade-producing veggies, though it may be a bit tougher

    • Great choice for square foot gardening--four lettuce heads can be grown in a square foot.

    • Cut-and-come-again: they'll keep producing leaves as you pick them

    • Heavy nitrogen feeders. Plant legumes in their place to replenish the soil. We like to do that in the fall with winter cover crops.

    • More water = sweeter leaves

    • Try a bunch of different varieties for fun salads.  If you like to sow seeds, you're in luck!  You get a LOT in a seed packet!

Farming Leafy Greens
Carrots

Root Vegetables

  • Planting Time: late March or early April or late August, early September

  • Container Size: 12" deep minimum

  • Spacing: 2-3" apart for carrots & radishes; more for beets and bigger veggies

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: moisten soil and lay down seeds with a light layer of soil covering them; cover with a wood board until germination to keep soil compaction from watering stunting the seeds. 

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently; at least 1" per week

  • Harvesting: requires patience!  Pick when you can see it has reached a mature diameter--it will be popping out of the soil!

  • General Advice

    • Don't fertilize. Excess nitrogen will make pretty foliage, but the roots will be stringy and small

    • Don't let them dry out; sweet root veggies come from being watered

    • Well-drained, loose soil is a must or roots will be deformed as they try to grow around obstacles. But they're still edible!

    • Plant between rows of shade-bearing plants in the summer to get more out o your garden; they'll appreciate the shade in that heat

    • Deeper watering encourages longer carrots

    • Sow heavily and thin to desired spacing for best results

    • The tops make excellent compost, but they are also edible!

Onions

  • Planting Time: mid-March

  • Container Size: 6" deep; as wide as you want--bigger pot = more onions

  • Spacing: 3" apart on center 

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: start with onion starts ("sets") for best results; plant just 1" deep and keep well watered until established; does well grown in a grid! 

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently once established; at least 1" per week

  • Harvesting: harvest when at least half of the onion leaves have flopped over; let cure in the sun for a day or two, then bring inside to continue drying before storage. Cut leaves off before drying.

  • General Advice

    • Onions look like root vegetables, but they are grown like leafy vegetables; they like nitrogen. In the spot where you'll plant your onions, give it plenty of aged manure or other nitrogen-rich organic material for healthy bulbs. Alfalfa sprouts do well, as does rabbit manure.  

    • Part of the bulb will be showing while they grow; this is a good thing! 

    • Onions can be eaten straight out of the ground; they only need to be cured to store

    • Very few predators like onions, but they are susceptible to weeds. Mulch heavily with a few inches of shredded hardwood to avoid weed infestation as weeding can disrupt bulbs as you pull them.

    • Onions can be chopped, portioned, and frozen for later use. This method is great for recipes that require grilled or caramelized onions!

    • Order onion sets in the winter

    • Choose a variety that works well for your area. In Northern VA, intermediate- or long-day onions are best.

    • Sweeter onions won't store as long as more pungent ones, so plan accordingly with your storage options

Spring Onions
String Beans

Green Beans

  • Planting Time: mid-May

  • Container Size: not recommended due to their height

  • Spacing: 2" apart

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: direct sow; they don't do well when transplanted. Have trellis ready and plant at climbing points.

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently ; at least 1" per week

  • Harvesting: Harvest beans in the morning when their sugar level is highest. Green beans are picked young and tender before the seeds inside have fully developed. Pick green beans every day; the more you pick, the more beans grow. Look for firm, sizable that are firm and can be snapped—generally as thick as a pencil​

  • General Advice

    • Bush beans grow about 2-3 feet tall; pole beans can reach 9-15ft tall! Trellis accordingly; they'll need something to keep climbing.

    • Bush beans often come in all at once, so stagger your planting every two weeks.

    • Pole beans need their vines to grow and will produce for a month or two if you keep harvesting.

    • Beans are legumes and fix their own nitrogen; they make great compost, but also amend soil for future plantings!

    • Pinch off the tops of pole bean vines when they reach the top of the support. This will force them to put energy into producing more pods instead.

    • Once picked, the beans immediately start converting their sugars into starches so they get tougher. Eat, freeze, or can right away.

Green Peas

Peas

  • Planting Time: late February

  • Container Size: not recommended due to their height, but they have shallow roots so deep pots aren't necessary

  • Spacing: 2" apart

  • Sun Requirements: 6 hour minimum; 8+ is better

  • Planting advice: direct sow; they don't do well when transplanted. Have trellis ready and plant at climbing points.

  • Watering: Water deeply and less frequently ; at least 1" per week

  • Harvesting: Harvest peas in the morning when their sugar level is highest. Peas are picked young and tender before the seeds inside have fully developed. Pick peas every day; the more you pick, the more peas grow. Look for ones that have swelled without getting tough yet; flat peas aren't ready.

  • General Advice

    • Peas can reach 8-10ft tall! Trellis accordingly; they'll need something to keep climbing.

    • Peas need their vines to grow and will produce for a month or two if you keep harvesting.

    • Peasare legumes and fix their own nitrogen; they make great compost, but also amend soil for future plantings!

    • Pinch off the tops of vines when they reach the top of the support. This will force them to put energy into producing more pods instead.

    • Once picked, the peas immediately start converting their sugars into starches so they get tougher. Eat, freeze, or can right away.

    • Peas can tolerate some frost; don't worry about them once they're planted.

    • This is a great starter garden plant for children; they're delicious snacks (look for Sugar Ann peas!), and they're almost impossible to kill.  Ours never actually make it inside.