Gardening offers its enthusiasts endless possibilities for diversion and distraction. From obscure heritage seed varieties to creative pruning techniques, there's always something new to explore.
But fascinating as all this can be, not everyone has the time to spend hours every week experimenting. Sometimes you just want to grow delicious, healthy veggies with the minimum of hassle. This is where low-maintenance vegetable gardening comes in.
What Is Low-Maintenance Gardening?
All plants want to grow, but for a low-maintenance patch, you need species which require as little encouragement or protection as possible. Suitable plants are forgiving of soil conditions and can compete with weeds. They don't need a lot of feeding and don't rely on pruning or other interventions to keep their growth habits in check.
Of course, gardening is never going to be a completely set-and-forget exercise. But with a little thought, preparation, and careful plant selection you can cut your veggie patch maintenance duties down to manageable size.
7 Tips for a Successful Low-Maintenance Vegetable Patch
- Plan your veggie choices carefully, keeping the range to a reasonable size. Starting off too many seed types in spring can quickly lead to overwork and disillusionment as growth accelerates. Keep your selection manageable and focus on the veggies you really like to eat.
- Consider using companion planting techniques to deter both weeds and pests. Although this takes some planning in advance, once the seeds are established nature will help shoulder your maintenance workload.
- Growing in raised beds reduces digging duties and makes weeding easier. This is especially true in areas with heavy soil and an established weed population.
- But if raised beds are impractical, containers can also work very well for many vegetables. You'll be using fresh, weed-free compost each year, and will also have fewer problems with pests. On the downside, container gardening requires more careful attention to watering.
- Whether you're growing in open beds or containers, always apply an organic mulch to the soil surface once the seedlings are established. This reduces weed growth and helps keep moisture levels consistent.
- For suitable varieties which can cope with transplanting, start your seeds early indoors. That way they'll be stronger and more independent when transferred to their final location.
- And if possible, grow your veggies conveniently close to your kitchen. You're likely to do a little weeding or watering more often if it's not an expedition to your patch, helping you to stay on top of things.
However, probably the most important advice is to choose veggies which are suitable for your local conditions and climate, and which won't demand constant attention.
Here are some great examples of easy-to-grow crops:
Radishes are possibly the easiest of all veggies to grow. Sprinkle your seeds onto a clear patch of earth or sow them in a container, keep them watered, and you can harvest your produce within weeks. This fast and reliable growth outpaces weeds, and radishes attract few significant pests. Sow little and often to keep a constant supply, as radishes can quickly turn woody and bitter if left in the soil too long.
Fast growing and versatile in the kitchen, bunching onions require little assistance to reach their harvest size. Sow direct into your patch or deep containers, and thin them as they grow to give a little breathing space (the thinnings can be used in the kitchen). Other than steady watering and a little light weeding, nothing else is needed.
Climbing beans of all varieties are vigorous enough to overwhelm weeds, and aren't too fussy about their growing conditions. Keep them watered regularly along with the occasional liquid feed, and they'll happily scramble up a trellis, cane pyramid, or even just a handy fence to provide a long and prolific harvest.
Silverbeet provides a season-long harvest of tasty leaves and stems, requiring little attention once the seedlings are large enough to survive snail attacks. Keep them watered and stop weeds from getting the upper hand, and silverbeet is almost foolproof. And what's more, colourful varieties such as Golden Sunrise and Rainbow Chard add exotic visual appeal to your patch as well.
Alien-shaped artichokes may create some confusion in the kitchen, but they're perfectly at home in the veggie patch. Once established, the sturdy plants will return each spring for up to five years with no encouragement.
However, the first year requires a little attention. Remove flower buds as soon as they appear to prevent cropping. This will encourage a robust root system, and provide trouble-free harvests from year two onwards.
They also grow happily in containers, and "cut and come again" harvesting keeps the plant from growing too coarse or flowering. The only attention needed is regular watering, as most salads will quickly bolt to seed in hot, dry conditions.
Exceptionally easy to grow, beetroot provides tasty leaves and tender stems as well as the familiar roots. One great low-maintenance advantage of beetroot is that, unlike many other crops, careful spacing and thinning isn't so vital.
Plants grown close together will simply develop more slowly and reach a smaller size. This means you can cut down on weeding by sowing closely, before harvesting some roots young and leaving others to grow on.
Bush Tomatoes (AKA Determinate Varieties)
Tomatoes have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but bush varieties are actually straightforward. Simply plant them in containers for easy weed control, water them with a light hand, and treat them to an occasional liquid tomato feed when they're in flower. They require no pruning or side-shooting, although they'll appreciate some support when they're heavy with fruit.
If your climate is warm or you can grow under cover, then chillies are a surprisingly easy crop despite their exotic reputation. Outside of tropical areas, you may have trouble ripening some super-hot varieties, but less specialised peppers such as cayenne can be grown in nearly any sunny spot.
Treat them like bush tomatoes, and if your frost-free growing season is long enough, you're almost guaranteed a successful spicy harvest.
Lastly, no veggie garden is complete without a few accompanying herbs. Annuals like basil, parsley, and coriander can be sown into a container, then left alone apart from watering and picking the leaves as needed. Perennials like chives, thyme, and oregano take a little longer to get going but will return year after year with almost no attention.
Growing vegetables is a rewarding and productive activity. However, not everyone has the time to take a deep dive into the endless details and lore surrounding the subject. But focus your energies on low-maintenance techniques and varieties, and successful veggie growing can fit into anyone's schedule.