Let's plant a vegetable garden

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of biweekly columns from the Becker County Master Gardeners, who are part of the University of Minnesota Extension.

Radish garden.jpg
These radishes, shown in early May 2020, were grown in a covered bed. (JoAnn Dobis / Special to the Tribune)

It is best to have a plan in mind when planting. If you want to make the best use of your available garden space, place plants with short growing seasons next to plants that take a long time to mature. This will allow you to get two crops from one space. For example, vegetables that can be planted early and are harvested early, such as radishes, lettuce, or spinach, could be planted next to a slow maturing crop such as tomatoes.

When planting the garden, first plan where to plant the tomatoes by checking how far apart the tomato plants should be spaced and marking those spots. Then plant a row of radishes, lettuce, or spinach in between those markings.
Since the early harvest crop will be done by about the end of June and the tomatoes will be in the garden until the fall freeze, this method, called succession planting, will maximize what you can grow in your garden.

It is important to pay attention to which crops you plant next to each other when planning your garden. For example, different varieties of squash should be planted as far apart as possible. If different squash varieties planted next to each other pollinate at the same time, the varieties could interbreed with surprising and not always pleasing results. Check the instructions on the seed packet or bedding plant label to find out how far apart to place the seeds, plants, and rows. This is important to prevent crowding. If plants are crowded, they compete for nutrients and light, are less productive, and may get disease more easily. Mark your rows using a tape measure for accurate straight rows.

Using a garden trowel or your fingers, mark a trench in the soil. Plant your seeds to the proper depth given on the seed packet, cover them with soil, and pat the soil firmly over the seeds. Do not press too hard on the soil or you will compact it, and the seeds will have trouble emerging through the soil. Water the newly planted seeds gently so the soil is not washed away. The soil will have to be kept damp so the seeds can sprout, so keep an eye on the soil conditions and water gently as needed.

Some plants, such as cucumbers and squash, are sometimes planted in a hill, a small mound of soil, instead of a row. This increases the drainage and encourages the plants to root deeper. To plant in this method, mound the soil four to six inches high and about eighteen inches in diameter. Evenly space three to four seeds in a large circle on the mound. You should allow about five to six feet between mounds.


Bedding plants are very easy to put in the garden. It is best to plant the bedding plants in the late afternoon. Choosing a cool, cloudy, and calm day to plant decreases the stress on the plant. Make a hole in the soil big enough for the entire root ball of the plant. Place the plant with its intact root ball into the hole, push the dirt around the plant and press on the soil to secure the plant. If the plant is in a peat pot, you can place the plant into the ground without removing it from the pot. However, make sure the entire peat pot is below surface of the soil, as moisture can be drawn away from the plant if the peat pot is exposed to the air. Lastly, water the bedding plants with a plant starter fertilizer solution after planting.

Once the garden is planted, it is important to be diligent about watering. Seeds need to be kept moist to sprout. A healthy plant is mostly water, between 75-90%, depending on the variety. Water helps plants remain rigid and transports nutrients throughout the entire plant. The University of Minnesota Extension estimates that a vegetable garden needs one inch of rain weekly. The amount of water the garden needs will depend upon the soil in the garden and the weather. During a hot, dry spell, the garden will require more water than during a cool, cloudy period. The stage of plant growth in the garden will also affect water requirements. A newly planted garden, with small plants, requires less water than a mature garden with large plants.

Home gardeners can either use a moisture meter to determine when to water or manually check the soil by moving the soil until you find moisture. If the soil is dry two inches below the surface, it is time to water. Some plants are delicate and can be damaged if watered too heavily, especially when young. Other plants are prone to diseases, such as blight. Members of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, are prone to blight and can be more likely to contract the disease if the leaves are wet. When watering, try not to put the water directly on the plants. Instead, water around the base of the plant or between rows. It is best to water early in the day, so the plants leaves are dry by the cooler evening hours.

Sources for this article include:

The Becker County Master Gardener program is operated by the University of Minnesota Extension.

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