Planting in a garden can be as basic as scattering seeds in a vacant plot and can be as complex as plotting vegetation layouts and rotation. However, for a more systematic and more efficient gardening, different planting systems and techniques have been devised.
Each planting system has its own benefits. By adopting certain intensive gardening techniques, one can grow healthier plants in less the amount of effort and space. Careful consideration, planning, and some trials are necessary to know which system applies best to a particular garden.
1. Wide Row Planting
One of the most commonly practiced planting systems is the wide row planting. This style is a variation of the conventional single row planting. In here, instead of sowing in a single line, seeds are scattered over the seedbed, resulting to a more clustered growth of plants. This is especially helpful in gardens with limited amount of space.
The primary advantage of this system is that sowing seeds will not be as tedious because you only need to spread them randomly to the plot, instead of burying them one by one in an evenly spaced manner. Wide row planting can be used to increase crop yield but the downside of this is that thinning of the crops may be necessary.
Another benefit of wide row planting is that when the plants grow, their leaves will be very close to each other, thereby shading the soil beneath them. This provides a “living mulch” to the garden so it is possible to lessen the evaporation of water from the soil significantly. As a result, the ground will stay moist for a longer period of time.
Additionally, when the plants shade the soil, weeds will be deprived of sunlight therefore, minimizing the need for weed control. This not only helps the plants but the gardener as well since less weeding means less time and effort in maintaining one’s garden. Also, crops can be concentrated in a single location making them easier to harvest.
For wide row planting, one must create a seedbed just like in the traditional row planting. The length of the bed may vary but its width should be about 12 – 18 inches so reaching through the other side of the bed will be easy. The use of stakes and garden strings may be necessary to ensure that the seedbed will have a straight edge.
When the bed is prepared, the seeds can now be scattered on top for sowing. Covering of the seeds may be required, depending on the type of plant to cultivate. To avoid too much thinning of crops when they mature, lesser amount of seeds should be sown.
Plant layout should also be taken into consideration. For instance, taller plants are better placed in the northern part of the beds as these could otherwise shade shorter plants.
Although this type of planting is easy to prepare, one must note that it only works best for leafy and fast growing crops like chard, leaf lettuce, spinach, and kale. Planting other kinds of crops is still possible; however, the result may not be as satisfactory.
It is also important to keep a good record of what one is planting. In addition to helping ensure good crop rotation, this helps one monitor what kind of upkeep and sanitation practices to apply to limit and contain the amount of plant diseases, if there are any.
When wide row planting is done correctly, one can enjoy a higher harvest to space ratio.
2. Raised Bed Planting
The next system is called raised bed gardening or garden boxes. As the name implies, this technique involves planting crops from a seedbed that is higher than the ground level. This is commonly practiced in places where clay soil is abundant or those with frequent rainfall. The reason is that the raised bed generally allows greater drainage of water from the soil. This prevents drowning of plants and permits planting of crops that are otherwise sensitive to having “wet feet”. Such plants include kale, gourd, and okra.
Because of its improved drainage, this system of gardening is not practical to implement in areas with sandy soil or those with very hot climate. Another advantage of raised bed gardening is that it allows a gardener to plant in less than ideal ground conditions. Such conditions include a garden plot with too many obstacles like tree roots or rocks.
Raised bed planting can also help lessen the strain on a gardener’s back since one doesn’t have to bend as much. This can be very beneficial to older gardeners especially when it comes to weeding and plant care.
Lastly, raised bed planting also allows people in wheelchairs to do gardening. Without a raised bed, these handicapped people will most likely be unable to participate in the activity.
Making a raised bed can be as simple as mounding a heap of soil to the ground. However, the formed bed will only be temporary since natural factors like rain will most likely erode the soil and shrink the bed. Thus, a temporary raised bed is only good for planting annual plants since their lifespan will likely be over as soon as the bed lost its shape.
For other types of plants, it is advisable to construct a more permanent raised bed. A good bed is at least six inches high and has borders to prevent erosion of soil and disruption of the plant roots. To act as borders, one can use metal, wood, layered rocks, or cinder blocks. Metal, rocks and blocks are more durable but can be quite costly, time-consuming and hard to prepare. Woods, on the other hand, are cheaper but are prone to corrosion.
To make the raised bed, it is advisable to make careful measurements. One must note the dimensions of the plot where the bed is to be placed so the proper length of materials can be prepared. There are no ideal height requirements for raised beds as it can be a matter of preference. One can build it low enough for short growing crops and as high as 36 inches. Most plant beds are usually about 11 inches tall.
Height and Length of the Bed
When deciding on the height of the plant bed, one has to consider that the taller the bed, the more pressure there is on the sides. Taller plant beds therefore need additional reinforcement. Corner stakes and cross supports may be necessary.
It is also essential to consider one’s reach when deciding on the length of the bed. Ideally, bed width should be limited to around 4 feet across. This is so the center of the bed can be easily accessed without additional strain on the gardener and leaving out the need to step on the bed soil. Stepping on the soil can cause compression which counteracts the function of a raised plant bed.
After measurements, the desired wall materials are layered and then fastened together up to the desired height. If wood or light metals are used as walls, stakes or cross supports must be placed at the middle of each side to make the bed border sturdier. No flooring is necessary for this procedure.
Wood that is used to build permanent raised beds should be sturdy enough to last for a long time. This is why it is preferable to use treated woods for bed walls. One can purchase wood treated with chromated copper salts (CCA) since this is the ideal preservative for wood that frequently touches soil. It is available at most lumber and hardware supply stores. Redwood and cedar are also ideal woods for raised beds since these are sturdy enough to resist decay and can last for around 10 to 15 years.
Filling with Soil
When the walls of the bed are constructed, it is now time to fill it with soil. To maximize the drainage potential of a raised bed, friable soil should be used. Mix typical garden loam with topsoil and other organic materials to improve quality. Be sure to spread the soil evenly and finely water the bed. Add more soil to the top layer and rake the bed to level the soil again. After filling with quality soil, it is now possible to sow the seeds in the raised bed.
It is necessary to note that raised beds are different from garden planters. Raised beds, unlike planters, do not have any floors and are open directly to the ground. This allows for better root anchorage and enables improved chances for the plants to acquire more nutrients from the ground.
Still another relevant point to consider with raised bed planting is the layout. It is best to have the longer sides of the beds facing south. This is so there will be equal amount of sunlight distributed among the plants inside. As in the case of wide row planting, ensure that the crop layout doesn’t allow taller plants to shade the shorter growing ones.
3. Square Foot Gardening
Square foot gardening is a variation of the more common raised bed gardening. Essentially, they are the same. It still involves growing plants in a raised medium. The main difference between them is that in square foot gardening, the bed is reduced to a smaller square, usually 4 ft. x 4 ft. This square is further subdivided into four sections, resulting to four square plots measuring 1 ft. x 1 ft.; hence, the name square foot gardening. Plants are grown in each of these square foot plot. Typically, gardeners cultivate different kinds of plants in every section of the square.
Square foot gardening is easy enough to set up and very beneficial to a fairly novice gardener because it encourages variation and experimentation on the kinds of plants to grow. Also with square foot gardening, it is possible to grow more plants per unit area compared to traditional row planting. This results to a higher harvest rate per growing season.
The walls of the bed in square foot gardening is constructed like in raised bed gardening. It is also necessary to observe accurate measurements to make a perfect square. Precise dimensions will also ensure even spacing between crops and will prevent imbalance, which is not a beautiful sight to see. When the walls are constructed, the bed is filled with high quality soil.
Amended soil is commonly recommended for square foot gardening. It is usually a mixture of vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. Vermiculite is a naturally-occurring mineral substance often used in potting soil. It loosens the soil and provides better air circulation, enhances the soil’s drainage capabilities and naturally reacts with soil compounds to provide additional nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Peat moss is another great soil conditioner which helps normalize moisture and air circulation in plant roots. Addition of these substances in square foot gardening can decrease chances of weeding and ensures an ideal environment for the plants to grow.
In sowing, carefully observe the proper spacing of seeds. Place each seed at an equal distance from any other seeds of the same variety. The number of plants that can grow per square foot of the bed will depend on the mature plant size. Usually, a seed packet will indicate the right space allotment for each seed sown.
To plant the seeds, make a small, shallow hole in the soil using the finger. Seeds are placed one by one in each hole and are then covered with loose soil. With proper care, these seeds will soon grow into mature plants.
When square foot gardening system is used, one must remember to mulch regularly to prevent weeds. Mulch can be any kind of substance that is used to cover the soil’s surface to retain moisture and keep the soil cool among others. Compost, as mentioned above, is a common example of organic mulch that also helps prevent weed growth.
Weeding can be quite tedious in square foot gardening because of the difference in sizes of the crop varieties. In addition, if one plans to make more than one square bed, he must allot enough space between each bed to act as walkway for the gardener. The ideal allotment for walkways is around 3 feet wide. This should be enough to provide comfortable access to the plants and less strain on the gardener’s part.
Interplanting, also known as intercropping, is a system wherein two specific kinds of crops are grown together to maximize garden space and further boost harvest yield. This is usually accomplished by planting fast-growing plants along with slower-growing ones. Not all crops are compatible to interplant with other crops. This is why careful selection of the particular plants to grow is of maximum importance.
The trick for a successful interplanting is to grow large, slow growing crops together with small, fast growing crops. Large crops require wide spaces between plants to accommodate their size at maturity. The spaces between these large crops are used to plant the smaller but faster growing crops. These small crops will mature faster; hence, it is possible to harvest them sooner before the large crops grow enough to shade them.
One can also plant together crops with different growing habits. For instance, a plant that has a deep root system can grow together with one having a shallow root system as they balance each other out.
Top and Bottom Charts
Interplanting is extremely beneficial when it comes to crop yield and space ratio, but it also requires extensive planning in order to attain maximum yield and good quality crops. One has to carefully consider which plants are best to pair with each other, along with the length of time it takes for each to mature. It is best to keep a record of plant schedules and care to reduce diseases as well as plan for proper maintenance and rotation.
It is also advised to keep “Top and Bottom Charts”. The “top” chart is used to reference plant height at the point of maturity while the “bottom” chart is used to reference root development.
Interplanted crops are spaced close together. Much like in square foot gardening, interplanted crops create a leafy shade that also serves as mulch. This means less weed growth, cooler soil temperatures and better water retention. One should still be wary of overcrowding the plants as this can lead to stunted growth and less crop yield. This is why it is a good idea to provide a good spacing guide for interplanting. Spacing recommendations for individual plants can usually be found on seed packets.
Some examples of interplanting pairings are large, slow growing plants like squash, eggplant, pepper, tomatoes, onions and peas. And small but fast growing crops include spinach, radish, lettuce, beets and kale.
5. Companion Planting
Another system of planting wherein different kinds of plants are made to grow with the mutual benefit of another plant is called companion planting. The concept of companion planting has long been used to help otherwise poor-growing plants. Perhaps surprisingly, plants are like most people in that they also need companions to thrive.
When planted in close proximity, certain plant combinations can bring beneficial effects to each other. This planting technique has been used for many generations now although not every aspect of it has been proven or studied. However, there are commonly observed plant behaviors that help gardeners determine ideal companion plant pairings.
Some plants tend to have a more dominating nature compared to others. Other plants can release toxins that can delay plant growth or even kill weaker plants. There are also plants that are extremely helpful in providing added nutrition to the soil, etc. This is why companion planting should be very carefully strategized to achieve maximum benefits.
The Three Sisters
Perhaps the best example of plant combination for companion planting is the “Three Sisters.” The Three Sisters is composed of planting beans together with corn and squash. Beans are known to fix nitrogen in the atmosphere so plants can utilize it. When the beans have the atmospheric nitrogen fixed, the corn and squash will then subsequently use it for speedy growth.
Using the right types of plants, companion planting can help control insects and other pests in the garden. Basically, companion planting can bring about a more balanced environment. In this, a more desirable crop is planted close to the crop that the gardener is trying to protect. As a result, the insects will be lured away from the valued plant and will congregate on the “trap crop.”
When the pests are gathered in the trap crop, it will be easier to pick them out manually. Example of this is the Blue Hubbard winter squash, which has been planted to attract cucumber beetles away from summer squash.
Companion planting requires adequate research before implementation because as previously mentioned, certain plants, instead of giving beneficial effects, may cause detrimental effects to other plants. Some examples of incompatible plants are beans and onions, corns and tomatoes, cucumber and aromatic herbs, and carrots and dill.