By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
One of the biggest challenges when trying to grow a coastal garden is the salt level in soil. Most plants have little tolerance to high levels of salt, which acts upon them much like salt on a slug. The sodium draws moisture out of the plant and it can burn roots. However, it is possible to have a lush, productive veggie garden by the sea if you choose tolerant varieties and amend your soil with plenty of organic matter.
You should also protect the plants from salt spray with a cloche, row cover, or hedge of tolerant plants. Seaside vegetables grow just as well as those inland with a little planning and effort.
Raised Seaside Vegetable Garden
One foolproof method of growing vegetables on coast areas with high levels of salt is to make a raised bed. Raised beds warm up faster than ground level soil and are easy to cover to protect from salt spray. Fill the bed with purchased garden soil amended with compost. This will start out low in salt, providing a more hospitable environment for baby vegetable plants.
Seaside vegetables are no different in care from those grown elsewhere. Situate the bed in full sun and provide adequate water for fruiting and vegetable production. Watch for pests and keep the bed covered with a row cover.
Growing Vegetables on Coast Soils
If you are determined to plant in your existing soil, dig down at least 9 inches (23 cm.) and work in compost. This increases drainage and nutrient levels. Then water deeply prior to planting to help leach any of the trapped salt down deeper into the earth. Provide fresh water for at least a week before planting young plants to help the salt percolate down to a level where it cannot damage the roots.
Also, choose plants that do well in your zone. In order to give your baby plants a good chance of survival, choose varieties noted for some salt tolerance. Corn will not perform well at all where coastal spray and winds bring in salty brine. Many of the cool season vegetables, such as Brassicas and Cruciforms, grow splendidly in a veggie garden by the sea.
Salt Tolerant Vegetable Plants
Plants having very high levels of tolerance and grow rapidly if given good care include:
Plants that have medium tolerance include the following:
- Some squash
Place these plants in amended raised beds and you will be eating a rich harvest in no time. Avoid plants like radish, celery, and beans. These types of veggies are not suited for the seaside vegetable garden. Choosing plants that have a high likelihood of success will increase your chances of a beautiful veggie garden by sea climates.
Take advantage of the moist air and cooler temperatures but mild climate of most coastal zones. This creates an extended season of growing for many types of vegetables.
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Vegetable gardening can be a family activity.
Spring has arrived and now is the time to begin vegetable gardening. Growing your own produce is a great project for the entire family and it will provide you with fresh, delicious food to enjoy for many months to come. Here are some tips on how you can easily spring into growing your own grocery list for fresh, straight-from-your-garden flavor this season.
Where to Begin
Vegetable gardening should not be overlooked in early spring. Now is a great time to decide where the garden will go and how much space you have available. So many of us wait until after we’ve already purchased the plants to decide where the garden should go and that is when we discover we have purchased too many plants. Save time and money and produce more fruit and vegetables by taking the time to measure now. Then, when you shop for your plants you can use those measurements to plant the space you have.
Tip: Take some pictures of the area with your phone as well as a picture of the piece of paper with the measurements on it—that way the information is with you no matter when you decide to shop.
By taking the time to prepare your garden now, and then following through on watering, pruning and fertilizing the rest of the season, you will ensure your garden is lush and fruitful.
Radishes should be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in full sunlight.
When to Plant
One of the questions I hear most often this time of year is “Is it time to plant?” The answer depends entirely on which vegetables you want to plant.
Early April is a great time to plant cool weather crops such as lettuce, onions, carrots, kale, radishes and spinach to name a few. These types of veggies perform best in daytime temperatures that are around 60-65-degrees and will tolerate some light frost. They are harvested in late June through July before the heat of summer. Warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers should not be planted outdoors until after May 15.
A word about fruit trees and berry bushes: Fruiting trees and shrubs such as figs, blueberries, strawberries, pears, plums and grapes can also be planted outdoors now. As with vegetables, follow the proper spacing, fertilizing and watering guidelines so that you can produce the best possible harvest.
Where to Plant Vegetables
Vegetable gardens should be located in full sun avoid areas that are shaded by trees, buildings or other structures. The soil should drain well and not puddle for any length of time.
Prep the soil by raking and adding a lot of organic material.
Prepping the Soil
Good soil preparation before planting will guarantee healthy vegetable plants and higher yields at harvest time. Mix in a soil amendment with a high organic content such as Dr. Earth Vegetable Garden Planting Mix or compost into the soil. Rake the area smooth and level, breaking up clods and lumps of soil.
It is important to follow the spacing guidelines on the seed pack or plant label for each type of vegetable. This ensures your plants have the room they need to grow and produce fruit. Plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant may require the extra support of a tomato cage or stakes.
Cabbage is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your garden.
Remember, you are what you eat, so choosing an organic fertilizer for your vegetable garden is a must. One of my favorites is Espoma Garden-tone, which is an all-natural, organic, slow release, continuous feeding fertilizer. Apply once a month May through August for optimum results.
Water vegetable gardens only when the soil is dry and needs it. Deep, but infrequent, watering, two or three times a week is best if there is no natural rainfall. Excessive watering may encourage insect and disease problems.
Use a mulch to prevent weeds, conserve water and cool soil temperatures.
Growing your own food is so rewarding. Whether you try planting just one lettuce plant this spring or decide to expand into a larger space, I hope you’ll get it a try. Nothing tastes better than the fruits and vegetables you grow yourself.
Karen Musgrave, CNLP, is a marketing and education specialist at Hicks Nurseries.
1. Onions and Shallots
Autumn planting onion sets are easy to grow and will virtually look after themselves over winter. Onions have a long growing season and won't be ready for harvesting until next summer, so you will need to plan carefully as they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring. Onion 'First Early' is a popular and reliable variety or for a brightly coloured red onion try Onion 'Red Baron'. In recent years Shallots have become more popular with the trendy gardener. Autumn planting 'Echalote Grise' is a particularly choice variety for its intense and concentrated flavour.
3. Ornamental Grasses (depends on particular species)
It’s hard to ever imagine tiring of what are a common sight in coastal gardens and public spaces, as they’re so strikingly beautiful, especially when a breeze catches them and they sway gently along with its current. Thelong and sleek blades makes ornamental grasses a very tactile option, as their grace encourages them to be touched, so long as you can take your eyes off their gentle and calming movement.
They’re particularly good if you’re something of a novice gardener, as ornamental grass is very easy to grow, due to them being able to tolerate a wide range of conditions and not needing much feeding. It’ll take a while to decide which plant is for you, as there are a bewildering number of ornamental grasses to choose from. But that’s all part of the fun, as it increases the chance of there being one which fits with your garden perfectly.
- Sun requirement – there are grasses which prefer both sun and shade
- Water requirement – varies depending on which grass is being cultivated
- Hardiness zone – varies depending on particular grass
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Vegetables for Container Gardens
When choosing vegetables to plant in containers, look for bush or small varieties (often referred to as dwarf or compact), and ensure that your climate has enough growing days for the required time to mature.
Plants that typically grow well in containers include:
- Peas: Put tall supports in the container when planting seedlings. Water frequently, and keep them fertilized.
- Potatoes: Some potatoes need a 120-day growing season, so look for varieties that mature early.
- Tomatoes: Like peas, tomatoes need a support system. Use a rod or tomato cage to keep your plants upright.
- Carrots: Use a container that's double the depth your variety will grow.
- Radishes: Containers don't have to be that large for this spring and fall vegetable.
- Eggplant: When planning which variety to buy, know that many eggplants are fairly sensitive to cool temperatures (lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Summer or zucchini squash and cucumbers: Choose bush varieties rather than the sprawling vine varieties. One plant can fill a 24-inch pot quickly, so don't crowd your seeds or seedlings. A trellis in the pot will supply support for the fruit and allow air to flow around the plant.
- Leafy greens: Spinach and leaf lettuce are among the many greens that you can snip to eat one day and then snip again a few days later. Grow the cool-season crops in spring or fall. They also tolerate partial shade.
- Peppers: Try traditional bell peppers, or spice it up with hot peppers that are perfect for homemade salsa.
Plants that don't usually work well in containers include: