Spring’s almost gone now, but thankfully the average Melbourne climate is almost constantly in spring temperatures. Here at Fantastic Gardeners we decided to prepare a list of garden plants you should have no trouble growing in your own garden, although some of them are trickier to grow than others.
Basil – Easy to grow and goes well with all kinds of dishes containing tomatoes. They also get along just wonderfully in the garden. Requires 6 to 8 hours of light daily, moist but well drained soil. Remember to remove the flower heads as soon as they appear to promote leaf growth. If you live in a hotter region, spreading mulch around the base will retain the moisture and help keep the plant cool. To promote the plant grow in the summer, regularly pinch the leaves.
Chives – Be mindful when planting these babies as they can easily overtake your garden if the flowers are left to ripen and scatter the seeds. You can head start the seeds indoors in disposable cups before planting them in the garden. Mind that chives like full sun exposure. The soil must be fertile, moist and well drained. To optimize your yields you will have to water them consistently in the growing season. To make sure chives don’t run rampant throughout your garden, simply remove the flowers before they start seeding.
Coriander – This plant likes the colder spring and autumn weather and it will bolt in summer, spoiling the taste of the leaves. Best to plant it in a herb garden or the corner of your vegetable garden. It will self-seed as long as you plant it somewhere sunny, but be mindful not to overheat it. This plant hates to be transplanted, so always grow from seed! Plant with at least 5 centimetres space between each one. It’s generally a good idea to mulch right after the plants poke out from the ground.
Dill – Aside from using it for cooking, dill is awesome at protecting your garden, because it attracts predatory insects that will help control garden pests. And it’s also super easy to grow. Plant it in late spring and make sure to shelter it from wind. Plant it next to cabbage or onions, but keep it away from carrots.
Mint – There are many varieties of mint, and what is awesome is that they are all a no-brainer to grow, thriving both in shade and sunlight, with the only prerequisite being a well drained soil resembling that along the banks of a stream. When grown outdoors a light mulch will do wonders for it. Plant each one about 60 cm away from the other.
First the plant will develop into orderly upright clumps. However after that period mint will soon try to take over new territory with horizontal runners and underground rhizomes. When unchecked, a healthy peppermint plant can turn into a more than 1 meter giant in just a year. Worry not! Mints benefit from picking. You can limit the plant’s growing space in advance, or just pull it out if it gets too ambitious.
Oregano – Another herb that goes awesome with italian dishes. Oregano is a hardy plant that loves warm weather and sun, so some people plant it all they way in early summer to ensure maximum flavour. Make sure you plant it in a spot when it can get as much of direct sunlight as possible. Put the plants 20-25 centimeters aside from each other.
When the plant has grown to about 10 centimeters, employ strategic pruning and trimming to promote a more dense bushier growth. Oregano doesn’t need much water, so be careful not to overdo it. As a rule of thumb, water the plant thoroughly only when the soil feels dry to the touch.
Parsley – I particularly like this one because you don’t need to salt soups as much when you put some parsley in them. It’s a neat trick. Parsley likes rich well drained soil with a temperature around 21°C. It can handle cold weather but it may take around 3 weeks to sprout. It’s generally easy to grow. Be sure to water the plants evenly throughout summer.
Sage – You can plant it from seeds, but the best way to grow high-quality sage is using cuttings from an already developed plant. For best growth the soil should be above 19°C. Plant it away from your cucumbers though. Water sage regularly until it matures. The adult plant has a long lifespan, but it’s a good idea to replace them every 4 years to ensure best quality. Remember to prune the thicker woodier stems every spring.
Thyme – It’s almost impossible to grow this one from a seedling, so I suggest you get an already started plant from the market or a cutting from a friend who has a mature plant. Thyme can be planted in early spring in well-drained soil. Plant each one around 20 centimeters apart from each other. Prune the plants in spring and summer to contain the growth. This is also the best time to get cuttings for new plants.
Strawberry – These tasty berries are most delicious when grown yourself, mainly because when the strawberries are separated from the plant the natural sugars start to convert to starch. So having them fresh is the best way to go. They are relatively easy to grow as long as they get 6 to 10 hours of sunlight a day, depending on the species. The best soil for strawberry is loamy and they require it to be well-drained, thriving in raised beds. Just mind that they are sprawling plants and thus need space.
If you want a truly bountiful harvest, you will have to exercise some patience. Pick the flowers off the first year. When not allowed to bear fruit the plant will in turn strengthen it’s roots. This will make the yield much more plentiful the coming year. The roots on this plant are shallow so even watering is extremely important. Mulching is also important to protect the plants and keep them well moisturised. Weed them carefully and by hand.
Tomato – It’s best to use transplants, although planting from seeds is not impossible. Some kind of support structure is recommended(stakes, cages, or both). They can be grown on the ground too if you have the space and the weather is amiable. Tomatoes require a good amount of sun(around 5 hours a day), so plan accordingly. Harden the transplants for a week before moving them outdoors. Wait until the soil is warm and prepare it by tilling it and mixing it with aged manure, fertilizer, or better yet – compost.
Tomatoes are somewhat susceptible to diseases so practice crop rotation, to ward the plants from diseases that may have survived winter.
Zucchini – They are rather low resistant to cold and heat damage, so be advised when planting. However you can have a very good produce from few plants with proper care. Plant in moist but not soggy soil at a soil temperature of at least 15°C. You can use mulch to warm the soil before inserting the seeds. Work in compost and organic matter into the soil, because these are heavy feeders.
Water these plants deeply as the soil needs to be moist 10 centimetres down. Keep the mulch after the plants start to mature as this will protect the shallow roots. If the fruits are misshapen that means the plants didn’t receive enough nourishment or water.
Broccoli – These are hardy veggies, able to germinate in soil with temperature as low as 4°C. Broccoli require lots of sun, so make sure they get full exposure. As for soil, go for sandy and slightly acidic. If you need to change the pH Balance of the soil you can use rich compost or a thin layer of manure.
Fertilize your broccoli three weeks after transplanting. You have to provide the plants with consistently moist soil, but remember to never wet the growing heads when you water the plant. Mulching is highly recommended because of the plant’s shallow roots.
Cabbage – Cabbage likes colder weather so your best bet is to plant it indoors 6-8 weeks before the coldest spring day and take them outside 3-4 weeks later. Prepare the soil by mulching it thickly to retain moisture and temperature and mix in aged manure or compost. Although they require a lot of sun, higher temperatures will impair cabbage growth and may kill it. So don’t wait too long.
Carrot – These are very easy to grow in sandy soil. You must however deeply till the soil before planting them, to make sure they will be able to make their way through it. The green part of the vegetable wants plenty of sun. Apply a light mulch to protect the roots from sunlight, retain moisture, and help germination. Water diligently and water at least 3 centimetres per week. A good trick to improve the taste of your carrots is let them weather the first autumn frost. Cover them with a very thick layer of leaves to keep them warm and harvest them later in autumn.
Cauliflower – As a descendant of the common cabbage, the cauliflower prefers cooler weather, needing the temperature to be consistently around 15°C. Otherwise the plant will “button up” and never produce it’s typical bloom. You still have to choose a planting site with at least 6 hours of direct sun. Make sure as with broccoli to have a slightly acidic soil, between 6.5-6.8 pH. Fertilise well, to make sure the soil retains much water.
If the growth of the plant is interrupted it may start developing heads prematurely and ruin the taste. For best growth add nitrogen to the soil during that period. When the head is about 5 to 7 centimetres in diameter take the outer leaves of the plant and tie them above with a rubber band. This is called blanching and it’s made to protect the edible part from the sun. Cauliflower is usually ready 7 to 12 days after this is done.
Celery – It can be tricky to grow, this is why you should always start celery indoors. It requires rich soil, cool temperatures, and a constantly high moisture. Celery will not tolerate heat. To reduce germination time, soak seeds overnight in warm water before planting. Also remember to mulch and water directly after planting. Celery needs a lot of water, especially in it’s growing season. Fertilise regularly – Celery is a heavy feeder. To keep growing celery stalks from sprawling and conserve space, you can tie them together.
Cucumber – They are easy to grow as long as you keep a few things in mind. First and foremost – Cucumbers are highly susceptible to frost damage, so it’s best to wait for the warmer days to show their nose before planting. Keep the soil-well drained and moist, and give them lots of sun.
When the seedlings reach 10 centimetres start watering frequently and increase to a gallon per week after fruit forms. You can check with your finger. If the soil is dry 2 centimetres down, it’s time to water. Add the liquid slowly and mind the leaves. The best times to water is in the morning or early afternoon. If you’ve already worked organic matter in the soil before planting, next to no fertilisation will be needed. Do not over fertilise or the cucumbers will get stunted. A neat trick to boost your production is to lightly spray the leaves with sugar water.
Eggplant – Тhey are tropical and subtropical(depending on species) and thus like warmer weather. You should start them indoors around 2 months before the soil begins to warm up, and then transplant them outdoors into sandy soil. Make sure they get lots of sunlight. If you want the plant to grow more like a bush, trim the terminal growing points. Apply a balanced fertiliser every two weeks. And remember – The less fruits there are on a plant, the bigger they will be.
Endive – Endive prefers humus rich soil and full sun. Thanks to the native Melbourne climate, endive can be grown relatively easy. Remember to keep it regularly watered, because if they don’t get enough moisture the leaves turn hard and bitter. It needs around 3 centimetres of water per week. Remember to keep the soil moist and the leaves dry, otherwise they will rot.
Lettuce – Grows well in the Melbourne climate, typically preferring temperatures between 7 and 15°C, and it can even handle a bit of frost. The soil should be prepared prior to planting the seeds by feeding it organic matter a week prior. The soil should be well tilled and loose. Lettuce prefer soils high in humus and nitrogen. Slow-release fertilisers are advisable. Ensure the soil is wet but well drained. It’s easy to tell when your lettuce needs water. If the leaves are wilting, sprinkle them with water. In the summer plan it so that your lettuce is shaded by your other plants. This will reduce the chance of bolting.
Onion – Very hardy vegetables, onions are hard to get wrong. Planting them from sets is by far the best method in my opinion, because this makes the crop even more durable. The soil has to be loose for the bulb to grow easily and rich in nitrogen. A good rule of thumb is to keep a third of the bulb above ground. Be sure not to shade onions with other plants. Fertilising every few weeks with nitrogen until the bulbing starts will ensure your onions grow big. If the onions start producing flower stalk, remove them. That means they have bolted.
Pak choi – This is another hardy crop, that can be grown almost at any time in our climate. Be careful though because it will bolt very quickly if it gets too hot. Find it some shade and keep the soil temperature down by watering regularly.
Since the seeds tend to be eaten by slugs and other soil critters it’s advisable to start pak choi in a separate planter and transplant it into the soil when they’ve grown to about 5cm height. The soil has to be able to retain moisture. Hydration is key, so make sure they never dry out or they will bolt. Young leaves are ready to be consumed after around 30 days. 15 days more and the plant will develop a “heart”. Mind that pak choi loses a lot of it’s taste if it sits out of the ground. So, take what you need from the plant when you need it and keep it in the ground for as long as possible.
Peas – Typically a cold season crop. They are easy to grow as long as temperatures are below 21°C. Putting wood ashes with moderation in the soil before planting will greatly help peas growth. Get them in the ground while the soil is still cool, but do not let them sit in wet soil too long. Peas don’t like a lot of nitrogen so keep it’s contents low. Phosphorus and potassium are the peas friends. Do not hoe around peas. This may disturb fragile shallow roots.
Spinach – Spinach is tender but super cold resistant at the same time. Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil that you have prepared with aged manure a week before planting. Soil should not be warmer than 21 °C for germination to occur.
Sweet corn – Corn requires a long season without drastic temperature drops to produce a good crop, so it’s best to plant it after the average is above 15°C. Sweet Corn is wind pollinated so it’s a good idea to plant it in groups instead of rows. Plant in rich loamy soil on a spot with plenty of sunlight. Soil must be well drained and able to retain moisture. Mulching is highly recommended as it will help retain moisture and also reduce weed growth. That will in turn save you a lot of work. Corn has to be weeded by carefully as not to damage the roots.