Growing Green, A Family Gardening Series: Week 2

Planting for quick gratification (quick-sprouting or quick-fruiting plants; edible flowers (calendula, viola), annuals vs perennials, hardiness zones

Don’t worry, it’s not too late to start planting your garden! You can believe me on that because I still have a lot to plant. 

You don’t need fancy tools to plant  - I’ve done it before with a sturdy stick – although it’s helpful to have a trowel and/or a hoe to dig a row or a hole for a plant. For optimal results, though, there are a few distinctions to learn about.

First, you can plant some flowers and vegetables from seed, and others work better as seedlings or bedding plants. Bedding plants are available at nurseries, and primarily exist for two reasons: a) to give a plant a head start on the growing season so that they fruit or bloom before frost, or b) because they are difficult for gardeners to grow from seed. You will commonly find tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, herbs, and most flowers as bedding plants. Seeds work well for beans, squash, and leafy greens. Root vegetables like carrots must be grown from seed because they don’t survive to transplant.

Second, you need to know the difference between annuals and perennials. Annuals grow for one season then die; perennials keep coming back because their roots survive the winter. Trees are an obvious example of a perennial, and lilies are another example. Beans are an annual (yes, I keep mentioning beans; they’re my favourite vegetable!) however, for many plants, the difference between annual and perennial is the hardiness zone that they are grown in. Where I live, I am in hardiness zone 3b. The classification takes into account average summer and winter temperatures, rainfall, and other indicators. Basically, it means that most things grow as annuals where I am because the cold winter kills them. For example, sweet potato is a perennial in the southern United States, but there are very few places in Canada where it will grow for more than one season.

How do you know if your plant is suitable for your hardiness zone? Once you’ve identified your zone, you can check the tag on the plants you get from a nursery and it will tell you what zone it will grow in. Don’t be fooled  - nurseries don’t always sell only plants that suit the zone you are in. Last year, I was so excited to find a perennial that liked dry conditions and poor soil that I didn’t notice it was for Zone 5 and it didn’t survive the winter. Instead of zones, seed packets often indicate “time to maturity”. You should be sure that the time to maturity isn’t longer than the days between the first and last frost dates in your area. The seed packet has a wealth of information you can follow, from how deep to plant the seed to how far apart to how much sunshine the plant likes. [find and insert a picture of the back of a seed packet?]

One way to be certain a seed will work where you are is to buy seed from local growers. There is a list of local Canadian growers here. Local seeds will not only suit your climate conditions but also often offer varieties that you cannot get elsewhere. And you can feel good about supporting local producers!

The information above might seem a bit overwhelming, but in the end, it’s simple: plant what you want! If it doesn’t work (and let’s face it, with the weather we have, there are no guarantees), then try something else next time, or try it again.

Here are a few tips for getting your kids interested at the planting stage:

1) Plant for quick gratification. Quick-sprouting plants that will poke above the ground in a few days include beans and radishes. Radishes are also very quick to mature and could be the first thing you eat from your garden. You can also purchase plants from the nursery that are quick fruiting, such as baskets of strawberries or a tomato that has fruit already on it.

2) Plant something strange: edible flowers such as calendula or nasturtium, or a purple cauliflower.

3) There are many enjoyable tasks for small hands such as putting large seeds (beans!) in a furrow, watering with a watering can, and digging holes.

Naomi Beingessner has lived and gardened in the Prairies for most of her life. She has two children, an enthusiastic gardener and an enthusiastic eater. She was a high school teacher and is now back in university studying food sovereignty. Her favourite vegetable is green beans but she finds that the most significant taste difference between store-bought and home-grown is in tomatoes.