Every year presents the same problem: What shall I grow?
The catalogs are full of such pretty photos and dramatic descriptions of the beauty and bounty available, and soon the garden centers will be bursting with plants of all shapes, sizes and varieties. Unless you are lucky enough to have unlimited time, energy and space, you’re going to have to make that tough decision: What should I plant and which varieties should I choose?
In the food garden, the broad choice of what to grow can be simple. Grow what you like to eat. Limited space can make it impossible to grow everything you like so you still have to sift and winnow.
If you want to grow the most food for the least amount of time and effort, focus on heavy producers and good keepers. Grow tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, cabbages and the like. These will give you heavy and reliable harvests and store fairly easily.
If you favor the gourmet touch, grow some of the delicacies that are expensive in the market. Raspberries, shallots, sorrel and other fresh herbs are easy and cheap to grow yet pricey in the stores.
If your focus is on preserving food for year-round use, look to easy-to-store squashes as well as carrots, potatoes and cabbage. If you have the time and energy to process food for storage, that will impact the varieties you choose. For instance, bush green beans will produce a heavy crop for two to three weeks and then they are done.
For fresh eating and plenty to freeze, plant a succession crop so that you are getting beans all season long. Even better, plant bush beans for freezing or canning and plant pole beans for a long but light harvest, which is perfect for frequent fresh eating. In this same vein, choose a paste variety tomato for canning and salsa making but opt for a juicy slicing type for fresh eating and for canning tomato juice.
Choosing flowers should be easier but there are considerably more from which to choose. Perhaps your first decision should be perennials or annuals. In the long run, perennials can provide years of blooms from one planting but maintaining a relatively weed-free perennial bed can be challenging. With annuals, you can start fresh every year. Perhaps a perennial bed with lots of annuals interspersed throughout might be a good option. Next choose your style. There are more formal gardens with dramatic space between plants which allows each one to be a star or there are cottage gardens with a jumble of flowers tightly packed together. A more formal garden with paths and mulching between plantings is easier to maintain than the cottage gardens.
Do you want a garden featuring one type of flower, such as roses? Do you want blooms all season long, starting in the spring and continuing until mid-fall? In general, perennials bloom for two to three weeks each season so plant an assortment of them for season-long flowers. Add in annuals, which usually bloom until frost, to fill out the garden bed. Do you simply want a panoply of color or do you want to design a flower bed specifically to attract pollinators?
While birds, bees and butterflies are often listed together as pollinators, they have different dining styles and can require different plants. The Xerces Society offers free publications on what grows best in your area. Check out https://tinyurl.com/y22v6lwj for the Great Lakes region and https://tinyurl.com/y3vv6vkn for the Midwest. Scroll down the page for a complete listing.
Be sure to read the catalog descriptions or plant tags carefully so you get the plants that are perfect for your specific garden desires.
Beverly Carney can be reached at cultivating firstname.lastname@example.org.