As we enjoy the lovely warmer months of summer, green-fingered enthusiasts reap the benefits of their annual outdoor gardens. With each new growing season, most gardeners are keen to grow bigger and better than ever before. Below are my top tips on what to consider when planting outdoors.
The Growing Medium
The most important factor about a growing medium you should be conscious of is not the nutrient content available, as that can always be administered, but rather the growing medium’s ability to retain water, properly drain, encourage air pockets and perform wicking action.
Before planting outside for the season, consider how to improve the aeration and water retention of the medium using either perlite, vermiculite, small pieces of biochar, diatomaceous earth, or expanded clay balls.
Anyone of these will improve the longevity of the growing medium, and promote a higher oxygen environment so the roots and beneficial bacteria thrive. Adding these substrates to the soil between now and harvest will help your plants better retain water, meaning they’ll also be able to withstand hotter days.
Moving Pots Around
Some growers prefer pots, even if they have the option to bury a plant deep into the ground. There are many reasons why somebody would go this route, such as plant count, security, or light deprivation. Some growers use fabric pots for the purpose of plant-pruning, or because they eventually plan on switching growing mediums to something that is more customized to the plant’s flowering needs.
If you are currently growing in pots, avoid moving them around, especially once the plant has entered the flowering period. The leaves of any plant will act like solar panels, storing the energy from the sun. They can often adjust by pointing their leaves upwards at 45-degree angles. It is more beneficial to have an established area and allow the plants to adapt to the lighting conditions there, rather than move your pots around to chase a few more hours of sunlight.
Planting In The Ground
Before you do anything, dig down into the earth and get a feel for how plant-friendly the medium is. When I lived in Southern Spain, the ground was naturally hard from the sun. Of course, the vegetables, fruits, and flowers have adapted to this harsh terrain; however, you may not be so lucky, and you don’t want to find out the hard way.
Once you have dug at least one meter down and confirmed the integrity of your soil samples, you might need to add an organic medium such as compost or worm castings to supercharge the earth. When you are happy with the depth and width of the planting area, you can transplant your clone or seedling into the ground knowing it will settle into its new home for the season.
You may never have considered security to be a preoccupation for your outdoor garden. Wildlife may be beautiful to look at, but many of the critters coming into your yard are hungry. Protect vegetable gardens with enclosures or deer fences. Place wire cages around the base of your plants to keep animals from chewing on them. In states where medicinal and recreational cannabis are allowed to be grown outdoors, security can be as much a financial decision as a legal one.
There’s only so much you can do, but thinking smart and blending your plants with companion plants or trying your best to camouflage them with their surroundings is suggested. Be vigilant about the height of your plant, as well as who may know about it in the area. Personally, I love using homemade polytunnels, as they offer protection from the elements.
South Facing Is Best
Your plants will thrive if you place them in a south-facing location, where the sun is at its peak temperature and intensity from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. As the sun sets, the plants will respond and prepare for the dark period.
If you are lucky enough to receive sunshine all day long, then this rule does not apply, however, locate a spot that faces south or as close as possible. It is also an excellent idea to grow higher than lower if you have the option. Not only will the plants receive more lighting in the long run, but the risk of powdery mildew or mold due to high humidity in a wet, grassy area, for example, will be reduced.
During the pinnacle of the summer months, heat stress can be a serious threat to farmers. Water usage typically increases during these times, and growing mediums can become saturated as a result. A spike in temperatures can cause crops to suffer, affecting both their growth and development.
For many plants, even a small increase in temperature can pose a problem. In the mustard plant, for example, stems grow longer and leaves become thinner in extreme heat. Corn and soybean crops are also very susceptible to heat stress during both the early vegetative and critical growth stages. Spinach bolting often occurs during heat waves, resulting in bitter-tasting leaves. And when growing cannabis, hot weather can trigger hermaphroditism in female plants.
Responding to a natural threat, the plants will pollinate themselves to produce seeds for the next generation. Adding shade to your plants during the hottest time of the day can help them perform as they should, and keep your flowers seed-free. This is why polytunnels work so well. However, using a homemade net or transparent sheet will be just as effective. In the long run, it is better for the plants to be kept in a shaded area when the temperatures are overwhelming.
Depriving plants of light during the summer months is a great method to induce flowering and harvest much earlier. The beauty of using light deprivation is you can harvest multiple crops as long as you have another crop naturally growing outdoors that will begin to flower later in the summer, depending on your gardening zone.
Once you have a basic deprivation tent in place, you can now work with seedlings or clones. By using a cover and keeping the plants limited to 12 hours of darkness or more, blooming will naturally commence in response to the light and dark periods the plant receives. Look for examples in California, where light deprivation is used very commonly.
Insects and Pests
Fruit and vegetable bearing plants have some of the most enticing terpenes on the planet, so do not be surprised if your plants are a magnet for pests of all shapes and sizes. Whether it be tomatoes, spinach, zucchini or cannabis, before you plant outdoors, consider companion planting.
Companion plants grow alongside your crops, serving a much greater purpose than just camouflage. These clever little helpers contain natural insecticides that release when predators and pests are lurking. Examples range from basil, costmary, fennel, marigold, peppermint, rosemary, mint, coriander, dill, garlic, and chrysanthemum.