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Top Peppers for Sowing

Now that spring is here, we’re ready to get our hands in some dirt. And what better way to do that than by starting some seeds. All you need is light, heat and an organic seed starting mix.

Before you begin, check the last spring frost date in your area,  then count back 4-6 weeks. That’s when you’ll want to start seeds.

First up on our list for planting, is peppers. There’s nothing better than adding a spicy pepper to a garden fresh salsa. Plus, once you’re ready to grow outside, peppers can even be grown in containers.

5 Spicy Peppers for Sowing

1. Cayenne Pepper

This extremely red pepper is long and skinny. It is very spicy, which is why it’s best in a dried, powdered form. Cayenne peppers are known to boost metabolism, aid with digestion, relieve pain caused by migraines, prevent blood clots and relieve joint/nerve pain.

2. Habanero Chili

This pepper is one of the hottest in the world, next to the ghost pepper. It can be found in many different colors ranging from red, light yellow, brown, and orange. The heat of this pepper can be unpredictable, but regardless is always hot.

3. Serrano Pepper

This small pepper has think walls and is commonly used in hot-salsa. It starts out green, but as it ages it turns red then yellow. The best time to pick Serrano peppers is while they’re still green or in the beginning stages of changing colors.

4. Thai Chili Pepper

Also known as the Bird’s eye chile, Thai chilies are relatively tiny, but spicy. It could be either green or red. These plants are commonly grown year-round and can be brought indoors in winter.

5. Tabasco Pepper

This pepper got its name from the Mexican State, Tabasco, where it originated. It starts out as a yellow-green color, turning completely yellow, then orange, and then bright red at its ripest point. This plant can take up a lot of space in gardens being that it has the potential to grow nearly 60 inches high.

Ready to start seeds? Learn how here.

Fall is for Planting: Cool-Season Veggies

There is nothing better than the taste of fresh picked produce, except maybe when its fall, and you expected your garden to be put to bed by now!

Even though leaves are starting to change, your organic veggie garden has plenty of time left to produce. Help your fall garden thrive with these four tips from Behnke’s Garden Center.

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Fall is For Planting: Four Tips for Growing a Cool-Season Organic Veggie Garden

  1. Start planting. Now is the time to plant fall veggie seedlings. Fast growing, frost-tolerant plants such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, beets carrots, lettuce, spinach and herbs will keep growing even as the temperature drops.
  2. Fertilize. For a bigger harvest, feed veggies monthly with an organic fertilizer. Your soil has been hard at work all summer and is in need of nutrients. Keep your garden growing with a healthy feeding.

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  1. Harvest soon. Once your crops start ripening, go out and pick every day. Here’s when to harvest your organic veggies:
  • Lettuce and spinach: Cut outer leaves when young and tender.
  • Kale: Pick when the leaves are as big as your hand.
  • Carrots: Pick when the top of the carrot is 1” wide.
  • Broccoli: Cut broccoli when its head is 4-7” wide.
  • Cauliflower: Cut when its head is 2-3” wide.
  1. Don’t forget to Cover. If frost arrives sooner than expected have a plan to protect your crops from the cold. Water your bed and then cover with a sheet, blanket or tarp. Keep the cover from touching plants with stakes and use bricks to hold it in place. Remove cover when temperatures warm again.

What are you growing in your fall garden? Let us know in the comments!

Behnke Nurseries garden center in Beltsville, MD has provided plants, ceramic pots, and gardening supplies to gardeners since 1930.  Behnke’s offers a very wide selection of perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees and houseplants, and the experienced staff will advise you on the best options for your garden. The Holiday Shop provides a charming Christmas experience and carefully chosen accents for year ’round, while the selection of bonsai by Ducky Hong is unsurpassed.  Behnke’s welcomes gardeners of all levels of expertise: come and learn at their frequent free lectures.

July Garden To-Do

Lazy days of summer? Think again! July can be a busy month in the garden.

While watering and deadheading may seem like tedious tasks, harvesting and enjoying the bounty are the reward for months of hard work.

Here are seven things to do in the garden this month.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

1. Follow the Watering Rule

Follow the primary rule of summer watering to ensure garden plants get the right amount of water. Water thoroughly and deeply in the morning by making pools in the soil around the roots. Deep watering allows roots to grow deeper and stronger, making them less likely to dry up and die.

When you water will depend on your weather. Check dryness by touching the soil. It should be moist at least 1” below the surface.

Water containers and hanging baskets daily until water runs from the drainage holes.

2.Pick, Eat and Replant

You can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Harvest tomatoes, peppers, peas, carrots, cauliflower, beans, broccoli, leeks, onions, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, melons, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, pumpkins and rutabagas.

Harvest tree and vine fruits when they are able to be gently plucked or twisted from their stems. Berries, apples and stone fruits should all be ready for picking in July.

Pick, dry and freeze herbs for use later in the year.

Sow seeds of cool-season crops such as greens and root vegetables for harvesting throughout August and September. Plant garlic for harvest next season.

Prune tomato suckers weekly and cut off any leaves growing below the lowest ripening fruit trusses to improve air circulation and prevent diseases. Thin fruit trees for a more robust harvest.

3. Plants Need to Eat, too

Continue to feed hanging baskets, container gardens and faded annuals with liquid fertilizer Bloom! every 2 to 4 weeks.

Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders. Continue to feed every 2 weeks with organic fertilizers Tomato-tone or Garden-tone.

Feed roses monthly through the summer with Rose-tone.

Houseplants are actively growing now and will benefit from monthly feedings of Grow!.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

4. Continue to Create a Safe Paws Lawn

Using an organic lawn food, as well as organic mulch will eliminate the hazards that chemical fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic mulches present to you, your family and pets. July is the time to feed your lawn with the summer revitalizer from our annual feeding program.

Water lawn regularly, slowly and deeply. Mow to 3″ to protect from summer heat.

5.Keep an Eye out for Pests

Watch for insect or disease damage as the weather gets hotter and plants become more stressed.

Beetles, aphids, slugs, snails and spider mites are just a few of the pests that visit your garden in summer. For best solutions ask your local garden center for suggestions and consider the Earth-tone Controls.

Keep an eye out for powdery mildew. Remove any affected leaves to prevent further spread.

6. Weed, weed, weed

Clear weeds regularly, as they fight your plants for nutrients and water. Plus, you’ll want to pull before they have a chance to flower and go to seed. Otherwise, you’ll fight even more weeds next season.

Cover freshly weeded beds with a layer of compost or mulch to conserve water and blanket weeds reducing their spreading.

summer gardening tips, garden checklist, summer garden

7. Prune and Deadhead

Prune summer flowering shrubs as soon as the blossoms fade. Deadhead annuals to promote more growth. Pinch fall blooming flowers such as coneflower and asters in mid-July to promote a fall garden full of color.

Try to hold off on planting anything new until the fall as the hot temperatures and dry conditions can strain young roots. And you’ll benefit because most stores  offer major end of season sales. If you do plant or transplant, make sure to fill the hole with Bio-tone starter plus and keep well-watered.

Bonus: Enjoy! Take time to slow down and enjoy your garden with friends and family. We sure will be!

Turn Your Tomato Garden Upside Down

Everyone loves growing tomatoes. And tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow.

This summer, put a new twist on growing tomatoes by adding upside-down tomato planters to your organic vegetable garden.

Growing upside down might seem crazy, but it’s actually the perfect solution for those with limited space.

When choosing a variety, opt for smaller tomatoes like cherry or grape or those best suited for containers. Their small size and light weight prevents them from falling off the vines before they’re ready to eat!

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Choose Your Container

Purchase a 5-gallon bucket or container to serve as your planter. Drill a hole about 3” big in the bottom of the bucket. If you’re feeling creative, paint the bucket to match your outdoor décor.

Start Planting

Fill 1/3 of the bucket full with Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix.

Carefully remove the tomato plant from its pot and loosen roots from soil.

Turn the bucket onto its side and put the roots of the plant through the hole. Hold the plant in place while turning the bucket upward.

Fill the bucket half way with Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix.

Pick a spot to hang your planter that gets at least six hours of sun daily. The container will get heavier as the tomatoes grow, so be sure to choose a sturdy base.

Water your upside down planter regularly. And fertilize with Espoma’s Tomato-tone, a premium plant food formulated specifically for growing plump and juicy tomatoes.

Watch this Garden Answer video to see how you can DIY your own upside down planter.

Soon your garden will be filled with delicious ripe tomatoes! For more tips on growing tomatoes, check out our organic gardening guide!

How to Create an Upside Down Tomato Planter

Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to make an upside down tomato planter. She uses Espoma’s new liquid fertilizer, Start!, to give plants the nutrients they need to grow.

Learn more about planting tomatoes in our organic guide.

Plant Tomato Seeds in 4 Easy Steps

Nothing beats that first bite into a delicious, ripe tomato – even better when it’s fresh out of your summer garden! Just talking about tomatoes has us craving homemade salsas, Caprese salads and a delicious medley of fresh summer veggies.

If you’re as excited about tomato season as we are, why not get started now?

In practically no time at all, you can start tomato seeds. The best way to get a head start on growing tomatoes is to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your region.

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Pick Your Plant

The first step to starting seeds is deciding which tomato is the one for you. With thousands of varieties, it can be hard to choose just one! This list of easy-to-grow tomatoes will make your decision simple and stress free.

Start Seeding

When starting seeds indoors, you only need three simple things: warmth, light and an organic plant food.

Fill seed trays to within ¼” of the top with Espoma’s Organic Seed Starting mix. Follow instructions on the seed packets to see how deep and far apart to plant. Cover with soil, press down and lightly water.

Place tray in a larger pan of shallow water for a minute so the water seeps up from the bottom.

Place seeds in a warm spot between 65-75°. Try the top of the fridge, or purchase a heat mat.

Loosely cover tray with plastic wrap or the cover from your seed-starting kit. Check seeds daily for moisture and water as needed.

Give seeds 12-16 hours of light daily. Supplement sunlight with grow lights if needed.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Getting bigger

Once you see sprouts, remove the cover and move seeds to a sunny, south-facing window that is 65-75°F. Then, turn the container a little each day to prevent leaning seeds.

Add Espoma’s Organic Tomato-tone, a premium plant food formulated specifically for growing plump and juicy tomatoes, once seeds have sprouted. Tomato-tone’s organic composition feeds your plants naturally and will not force rapid growth at the expense of blooms and tomato yield.

Ready to Plant

Once the last frost date has passed, you’re almost ready to plant! Start by hardening off plants and placing seedlings outdoors for seven to 10 days for a few hours each day. Cut back on watering, as well. Now that plants are good and strong, it’s time to plant!  Gently remove plants from containers without damaging the roots. Plant in a prepared bed and mix in organic starter plant food, such as Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

Now you’ll have delicious tomatoes in no time!

Go forth, and grow! When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as growing heirloom tomatoeshybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes

For good reason, tomatoes are the popular kid in the garden. Everyone wants to grow them, but not everyone knows how! So we have collected everything we know about tomatoes – from choosing which tomatoes to grow to how to harvest – and put it in one place!

Have success with Espoma’s Total Guide To Growing Tomatoes!

Five questions to ask before growing tomatoes – Know your tomatoes! Answer these five questions before deciding what tomato varieties to grow.

Best Tomato Varieties for Beginners – Depending on what you’re making and where you live, some tomatoes really are better! With more than 7,500 varieties, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for.

Should I grow heirlooms? – Heirloom tomatoes come from seeds that have been handed down from farmer to farmer for generations for their special characteristics and varieties must be 50 years old at least. Because of this, heirloom tomatoes have minimal disease resistance.

Hybrid tomatoes – With over 7,000 varieties, picking the right tomato to grow can seem overwhelming. If you want your tomato to have it all — flavor, disease resistance, texture and more – try modern, hybrid tomatoes.

Non-Red Tomatoes – When growing tomatoes in your organic garden, you probably envision swathes of red. However, tomatoes were not always red. The earliest varieties were yellow and orange.

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Starting tomatoes from seed – In practically no time at all, you can start tomato seeds. The best way to get a head start on growing tomatoes is to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your region.

How to start tomato and pepper seeds indoors – The best way to get a head start on growing tomatoes is to start seeds indoors. Whether you’re growing cherry tomatoes or hot peppers, visit your local garden center to pick up supplies.

How to plant tomatoes – Seeing red tomatoes peek through the green leaves in your garden is a true sign that summer is here. The first harvest of the season provides opportunities to finally try those delicious garden-to-table recipes.

How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers – Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to grow tomatoes in planters.

Ensuring soil health – Soil, as you may have thought, is not dirt. Healthy soil is a collection of creatures, minerals and living material that holds water and nutrients like a sponge, making them readily available for plants. To continue to grow big, juicy fruits and vegetables, you need to make sure you’re feeding your soil.

Growing tomatoes in containers – Tomatoes grown in portable containers are just as tasty and satisfying as garden grown. Plus, containers are versatile and can easily be moved from one spot to another to suite your gardening needs.

Growing tomatoes upside down – Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to make an upside down tomato planter. She uses Espoma’s new liquid fertilizer, Start!, to give plants the nutrients they need to grow.

Turn your tomato garden upside down – This summer, put a new twist on growing tomatoes by adding upside-down tomato planters to your organic vegetable garden.

Growing tomatoes  – To pick the tomatoes best for you, decide if you’d like to snack on tomatoes throughout summer. These are known as Indeterminate. Or if you’d like your crop to ripen at once at the end of summer, select determinate.

Companion Planting for Beginners – Find out how to your plants can help each other in this tutorial with Laura from Garden Answer. She’ll walk you through the basics of what it is, how to get started and how she companion plants in her own garden.

organic tomatoes

How to fertilize tomatoes – Tomatoes and peppers have big appetites, so they need plenty of organic food. Since plants get all their nutrients from the soil, their all-you-can-eat buffet runs out quick. Feed them right, and they’ll burst full of fresh produce.

3 Ways to Support Tomatoes – Use tomato cages, wood or metal stakes, or a trellis to give plants extra support. It’s really a matter of preference which one you choose. The most important thing is that you’re keeping plants off the ground to avoid pests, diseases and rot.

How to mulch tomato plants – Add mulch, a natural covering on top of soil, to keep moisture in, block weeds and provide added nutrients.

How to prune tomatoes – Tiny tomato seedlings can vigorously turn into huge bushes in no time. In fact, they’ve even been known to bend cages and pull stakes out of the ground!

What are tomato plant suckers?  – Tomato suckers are small shoots, or leaves, that sprout out from where the stem and the branch of a tomato plant meet. Although relatively harmless to the plant, suckers don’t serve much of a purpose.

How much water do tomatoes need? – When, and how frequently, you should water your tomato plants depends on the variety, size and location.

6 Secrets to Get The Best Tomatoes – Every tomato has the potential to be great and some extra attention now will pay off big time come harvest. Set the stage for a stellar performance by this year’s crops with these tips.

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Blossom end rot – If a dark, water soaked spot has formed on your tomato you may have blossom-end rot. This problem is likely caused by an imbalance of calcium in the plant.

Tomato woes – How to solve common tomato diseases – If you spot a worrisome sign on your tomatoes, here’s how to identify and fix it – the organic, natural way!

Keep Tomatoes from Cracking and Splitting – Tomatoes split open when the fruit outpaces the growth of the skin — usually after a heavy rain. The bad news: split tomatoes can introduce bacteria into the fruit and cause them to rot.

Protect your plants – 4 common tomato pests – It doesn’t matter if you’re growing hybrids or heirlooms, there are a few pests you don’t want around. Identify harmful pests early before damage is done.

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Harvesting tomatoes made easy  – Whether you’re cooking, canning, freezing or simply eating your tomatoes raw, you’ll want to pick them at the perfect moment. These harvesting tips will ensure your organic tomatoes are ripe when picked.

Step-by-step Instructions to Can, Save and Preserve Tomatoes  – Preserve tomatoes now to enjoy the sweet rewards of your summer veggie garden long after harvest season is over.

Saving tomato seeds – Tomato seeds might be available at the store year-round, but saving your own is satisfying and easy.

Tomato recipes – Make sure to pick tomatoes when they are just right to enjoy with your favorite tomato recipes. These harvesting tips will ensure you get a flavorful tomato every time.

Our Favorite Tomato Varieties: Hybrids

With over 7,000 varieties, picking the right tomato to grow can seem overwhelming. If you want your tomato to have it all — flavor, disease resistance, texture and more – try modern, hybrid tomatoes.

The term hybrid means tomatoes are bred from two different varieties to get the best traits from each parent. Kind of like you!

Hybrid tomatoes are bred for traits such as long shelf life, disease resistance, high yield and even for their looks. After WWI, hybridization made tomatoes easier to grow, sell and transport to restaurants and grocery stores across the county.

These hybrid varieties can be just as tasty as heirlooms. Especially when fed organically with plenty of Tomato-tone during the growing season. 

The Best Hybrid Tomatoes to Grow

Better Boy Tomato

Better Boy Tomato

Better Boy – A Guinness Book of World Records champion, yielding nearly 350 pounds of tomatoes from a single plant over one season, Better Boy really is better! This disease-resistant, flavorful and easy-to-grow tomato is a classic with the perfect balance of acid and sugar.

  • Disease Resistance: F, V, N, T
  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 70-75 Days
  • Taste and Texture: Beefsteak
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Plant Size: 5-8’
  • Spacing: 36”
  • Staking: Yes – cage or stake
Early girl tomato. Photo courtesy of Mika Matsuzaki

Early girl tomato. Photo courtesy of Mika Matsuzaki

Early girl – If you want tomatoes ASAP, this is the plant for you. This disease-resistant and flavorful plant is a favorite of many gardeners. Its little sister, Bush Early Girl, is perfect for growing in containers.

  • Disease Resistance: F, V
  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 50 days
  • Taste and Texture: Meaty with a great aroma
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 6-8’
  • Spacing: 36”
  • Staking: Yes – cage or stake
Juliet Tomato

Juliet Tomato

Juliet – Referred to as a mini roma because of its shape, Juliets are sweet, crack-resistant tomatoes. Long vines continue setting fruit all summer long and can withstand hot temps.

Keep in mind that if you grow hybrids, you’ll have to buy new seeds each year. Seeds from a hybrid tomato are not as strong as their parents.

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as growing heirloom tomatoestomatoes for beginners or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

The Easiest Tomatoes to Grow

Depending on what you’re making and where you live, some tomatoes really are better! With more than 7,500 varieties, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for.

So whether you say to-may-to or to-mah-to, we’re here to help you choose the easiest tomato variety for you.

Cherry Tomatoes ­­are the easiest tomatoes for beginners to grow. They produce crop after crop and have very few problems! Here are a few of the best.

Super sweet 100 tomatoes.

Super sweet 100 tomatoes.

Super Sweet 100

The name says it all – these are sweet and easy. Just one plant can bear more than 1,000 tomatoes. Super Sweet 100s grow in long strands or clusters of more than 100 tomatoes. You’ll have thousands of tomatoes that are high in Vitamin-C by the end of the season.

  • Disease Resistance: V, F and N
  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 60-70 days
  • Taste and Texture: Super sweet and juicy with a firm texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 8-12’
  • Spacing: 18-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Napa Grape

This classic tomato tastes and looks just like its bigger rivals, but has a higher sugar content than any other grape tomato. Known to be one of the tastiest tomatoes out there, the Napa Grape produces sweet tomatoes that taste yummy in salads or as snacks.

  • Disease Resistance: Very disease resistant
  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 65 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sugary with a firm texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-6’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Golden Nugget

These sweet tasting tomatoes love cool weather and can withstand the heat. Looking more like tangerines than tomatoes, Golden Nuggets ripen early and produce lots of fruit.

  • Disease Resistance: V and F
  • Growth Type: Determinate
  • Time to Maturity: 55-65 days
  • Taste and Texture: Balanced, mild with a hint of sweetness and a thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 2-3’
  • Spacing: 18-24” apart
  • Staking: No
Yellow Pear Tomato

Yellow Pear Tomato

Yellow Pear

Tangy, beautiful and tiny, Yellow Pear tomatoes look charming in salads or as snacks. A favorite of chefs, these dynamic tomatoes love to sprawl, so contain them with a cage or stake.

  • Disease Resistance: Not susceptible to blossom end, but can develop early blight
  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-80 days
  • Taste and Texture: Tangy yet mild with a slightly firm and mealy texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 6-12’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

 

Sungold tomato

Sun gold tomato

Sun Gold

These orange tomatoes taste like tropical fruit and thrive in hot, sultry climates. Grown in long clusters of 10-15 tomatoes, Sun Golds produce fruit well into fall. Plus, these cherry tomatoes can be grown in containers.

  • Disease Resistance: V, F and T
  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 55-65 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet and fruity taste with a firm, crisp texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 5-10’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

 

Go forth, and grow! When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.  

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as growing heirloom tomatoeshybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Make Like a Garden and Grow

This year, let’s grow your best garden yet! All you need is a sturdy pencil, a blank notebook and a vivid imagination. You’ll almost be able to smell wild lavender and delicate roses.

With a detailed garden plan, your organic garden blooms right off the page.

 Grow On! How to Plan Your Dream Garden

1. Reflect to Perfect. Think about last year’s garden. Jot down all your flowers, edibles and shrubs. Mark your favorite and most used plants. Cross off those that didn’t produce, succeed or required too much effort. What plants do you wish you had? What edibles did you spend too much on at the store? Add those to your plant list.

2. Wise Size. Sketch your current garden space. Should you expand or cut back? Consider if and where you’d like to place new garden beds, raised beds, containers or another vegetable garden. If this is your first garden, plan for 50-75 square feet.

garden plan, garden design3. Site for Light. With your garden design sketched, it’s time to color coordinate! Fill in each area with a different color based on how sunny or shady it is.

4. Single or Mingle. Tweak the list of plants you want to add, keep or remove. Then decide which plants you’ll cluster and which to keep separate. Pair plants with similar water, light and soil needs. Plan where to plant them, and circle the plants you’ll start from seed.

start seeds, plan garden5. Pick to Mix. Scrutinize your list to make sure you have a good mix of: plant types, scents, bloom times, beneficial plants, texture, sizes and color. Do the Safe Paws check to make sure all plants are safe for your pets.

Step back and admire your handiwork! In just a few short months, your hands will be in the soil making your garden plan spring to life.