Tips to Grow the Best Garden in Chicago

gardener plating shrubs

Are you looking to grow a beautiful starter garden in Chicago? Arbeen Landscaping can help you achieve the Chicago garden of your dreams. Sales of gardening supplies are up nearly 169 percent from the same period last year, according to Critero, an internet marketing and advertising company that tracks consumer trends. This article will help give you some tips on how to grow the best starter garden in Chicago, as well as information on Chicago’s hardiness zone. Let’s get started! 

Grow the seedlings yourself 

Buying starting seeds- whether its for zucchini or zinnias- is way cheaper than buying already transplanted plants at the nursery. It is also way easier than you think. Here’s a quick recipe to grow some seedlings: 

  • First, make a seed starter with compost, peat moss, and a drainage aid such as Perlite. Next, grab an old cardboard berry box or egg carton and fill them with the seed starter. You can even put the seeds right in eggshells and plant them in the dirt with the seedling; they add nutrients to the soil (just be sure to wash your hands when working with eggshells to avoid contamination of salmonella). 

Plant the easiest vegetables 

If you are growing food for the first time, start with easy crops such as: 

  • Cherry tomatoes 
  • Cucumbers 
  • Green beans 
  • Zucchini 
  • Lettuce 
  • Leafy greens 

These vegetables typically do not take much more than good soil, a reasonable amount of sun, and consistent watering. You can even grow these food plants in containers! 

Get free seeds and plants 

You can easily get free seeds by searching for “seeds”, “seed swap” or “seedlings” on local news sites like Patch or NextDoor, where your neighbors may be offering their extra seeds. Or join the Seed Savers Exchange, where you can get free seeds of heirloom plants from gardeners across the country (you pay for shipping).

Start Small with Plants 

Buy shrubs, trees, and flowering plants a bit smaller than what you ultimately want. Smaller plants usually experience less stress when transplanted, and establish their roots faster. You will also save more money and expend less effort planting a smaller specimen. 

Match your Container with your Plant 

If you’re planting in pots, save the natural clay pots of terra cotta, which don’t hold moisture well for plants such as lavender and rosemary that tend to like dry soil. Stick to plastic, resin, or a composite- such as concrete and fiberglass- for moisture-loving plants like basil and impatiens. 

Pack your plants properly 

With large containers 2 feet or taller- you can ensure proper drainage and use less potting mix by adding drainage materials in the bottom third of the pot. Crumbled plastic foam packaging or empty plastic seedling containers turned upside down work well. 

Most plants, like flowers, and herbs, don’t grow deep roots, so substituting drainage material for potting mix in the bottom of a tall pot won’t be a problem. With small pots, just add a few stones or marbles before adding potting mix. 

Ward off animals 

If you’re plagued by squirrels, groundhogs, or other critters that may eat your growing vegetables, try tying tin or aluminum pie plates to sticks in the starter garden beds, which then rattle in the wind to scare them off, so substituting drainage material for potting mix in the bottom of a tall pot won’t be a problem. With small pots, just add a few stones or marbles before adding potting mix. 

Depend on compost 

Simply adding some compost to the soil around the base of vegetables, herbs, and other plants in your beds each season keeps the soil fertile and moist. You want enough to create a 2-inch layer on top of new beds. You can make your own compost by using food scraps and dried leaves, grass clippings, and sticks. Put them into a composter (sold online from around $35 to more than $3500) directly on the ground. All you have to do is aerate it by turning over the mixture. You’ll need to do this once a week for a compost pile, or every three or four days if you have a composter. 

To make this job easier if you have a compost pile, attach a “bulb auger” which costs about $20! 

Spread Homemade Mulch on Beds 

In the first year that you plant your shrubs, trees or perennials, lay down mulch over your 2-inch layer of compost. It holds moisture and blocks weed growth. You don’t necessarily have to buy mulch- shredded newspaper, dry leaves, chipped sticks and twigs, straw, or grass clippings will do. Just remove grass clippings from your mower’s collection bag right after you move so that you do not begin to decompose inside the mower. 

Don’t wait to weed

Weeding early gives plants more room to grow- and crowd out the weeds in the first place. If you keep up with it early in the season, you’re not weeding so much in June and July. 

When You Should Start Planning for your Chicago Garden  

Chicago’s hardiness zone is in USDA Zone 6a, which means that the growing season is generally from late April until early October. But do not wait until the last week of April to begin! To ensure the longest growing season during Chicago’s hardiness zone, you will likely need to start in March. Check your seed packets to determine exactly when to plant each vegetable. Many plants, like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Fill small containers called flats with seed-starting soil and plant your seeds!

Once your seedlings spout and develop into plants, it is time to harden them off. To harden off seedlings, place them outside during the day and bring them inside at night for about two weeks. Transplant the seedlings in your Chicago garden or outdoor containers after the last frost. This is also the time to plant seeds for plants that don’t do well with transplanting. Carrots, squash, and cucumber are some examples of vegetables that should be planted directly into the garden. 

 

By planning your garden space, you are sure to have an excellent Chicago garden this year! For more information on gardening in Chicago, check out Arbeen Landscaping! We are sure to help you out with any questions about your Chicago garden. Contact us today at 630-280-4239!