Whether you’re new to vegetable gardening or have been at it for years, having some easy to grow vegetables in your garden plots allows you to maximize your yield without adding extra work to your schedule. In strange times like these, growing your own food is a great way to support your family by avoiding grocery store trips, while also giving you some garden therapy to help you relax. Growing some easy veggies ensures you a successful harvest, even if you’re busy entertaining kids, working from home, or just feeling overwhelmed. A tiny bit of effort now will pay dividends this spring and summer!
Here are 5 vegetables that are super easy to grow in Iowa and require very little maintenance or attention. Plant them, water them, and soon you’ll be harvesting your own homegrown produce aisle!
Green beans, purple beans, pole beans, and yellow beans are all super easy to grow. Beans are pretty resilient and self-reliant. If you choose a climbing type, make sure they have something to climb like a lattice, poles, chicken wire, or a fence. Beans are also a great way to get kids involved because the seeds are large enough for little hands to space out properly in furrows. Beans also grow pretty fast, so you’ll be eating them fresh in no time.
Carrots are another easy grower that pretty much take care of themselves. Because carrot seeds are tiny, it may be challenging to space them well. Once they are about 4 inches tall, it’s a good idea to thin out the seedlings a bit. Look for the tiniest seedlings and pull them out. Give each seedling a little more space, aiming for an area about the width of your thumb in between seedlings.
Cherry tomatoes are delicious, and like beans, they don’t require much maintenance. Because they are considered determinate tomatoes, also called bush varieties, cherry tomatoes don’t need any pruning. They will do better with support of some kind, like a tomato cage, but otherwise, you can simply make sure they’re watered and fertilized regularly. Before too long, you’ll have some delicious baby tomatoes for salads or snacking on straight off the vine.
Lettuce is super easy to grow, and this one you can even do indoors near a south-facing window. There are many different varieties of lettuce available, from red leaf to romaine. Kale, spinach, and arugula are also very easy to grow. If you plant a new crop of seed every two weeks, you’ll have fresh lettuce for sandwiches and salads all year long, even through the winter.
Cucumbers are also quite easy to grow. There are many varieties available for eating fresh or pickling. Cucumbers do tend to spread, so make sure they’ve got lots of space in the garden bed. Giving them a structure to climb, like a lattice or wire hoops, will make it easier to pick them later and keep them off the soil where they may start to rot. It’s a good idea to wear gloves and long sleeves when you’re harvesting cucumbers, as they have rather prickly stems and leaves.
The most important thing to remember when growing these veggies in Iowa is to keep an eye on the soil moisture. Tomatoes especially tend to be thirsty plants, so make sure they’re getting watered regularly if it’s not raining much. During Iowa’s hot mid-summer days, you’ll need to water more or less every day unless it rains. That’s another activity kids are usually more than happy to help with, so get the whole family involved in your gardening efforts!
If you’re feeling inspired, why not try adding a few herbs to your easy-grow garden as well? Herbs like chives, parsley, mint, and oregano are just as simple to grow as the veggies above. Whatever you need to get started growing, from containers to soil to seeds to plants, we can help you out. With curbside pickup or delivery, just call ahead and tell us what you need, and we’ll get it ready to load straight into your vehicle.
A little garden therapy can help reduce stress, improve mental health, boost our mood, release endorphins and engage our creativity. In these challenging times, it’s even more important to look after our mental health. Gardening can also help give us more of a sense of stability and security since we can take an active role in growing some of our own food.
While the Ted Lare garden center is not currently open for browsing, we still want to support you to try some “garden therapy” for yourself. We’ve adapted our operations to still allow you to safely shop for the things you need for your garden—from plants, to tools, to soil.
We’re implementing a curbside pickup option for orders. Currently, you can view a variety of items we have available on our Facebook or Instagram. Keep your eyes on our social media, as we’ll be posting daily videos of the exciting items we have in-store.
We’re offering free local delivery for all purchases of $50 or more in the Des Moines metro area and surrounding suburbs.
Options for Ordering
Ordering On the Phone: We want to make it as easy and safe as possible for you to get what you need for your garden. To that end, we have arranged a dedicated cell phone and concierge service so you can shop from the comfort of your home. You can text us, FaceTime us, or phone us, and we’ll walk through what you need. We’ll then put your order together, get it set up for curbside pickup or delivery, and give you the total for your order and then we’ll take payment over the phone. Once your order is ready to go, we’ll give you a call to let you know it’s ready for pickup, or to schedule delivery.
Online Ordering: We are in the process of uploading all of our products to our website for online shopping. We’re adding more items every day, so keep checking back. If you don’t see the product you’re looking for, give our concierge a call at 515-205-6985.
Gift Cards: If you’re not sure what you quite yet, or if you’re looking for a great gift idea, consider a Ted Lare gift card! We’re currently offering our gift cards on a 20% off sale. Whether you want to purchase later in the season, stop by once we open to the public again, or give a gift to cheer up a friend, gift cards are a great option for everyone. You can purchase them online via our website, or you can call our concierge to get set up.
Garden Therapy: Sensory Gardens
Sensory Gardening is a great way to engage all five senses to help you be mindful and present. A sensory garden generally includes plants that can trigger each sense: touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. Sensory gardens can also fit spaces of any size. Whether you have a corner of the yard to work with or a single pot on the porch, you can create a sensory garden.
Herbs can often do double duty, stimulating your senses of taste and smell, as can easy-to-grow vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.
Plants with larger leaves that rustle together in the wind add a gentle, soothing sound. Water, whether in a large water feature or a small tabletop fountain, also creates calming white noise to help you stay in the moment.
Brightly-colored flowers, like pansies, add that hit of brilliant color for an energizing visual effect. In the gardening world, there’s no shortage of options for creating a visually beautiful design! For the best effect, choose the colors and shapes that you feel most drawn to. If it makes you feel happy, it’s good for you!
We’re committed to keeping our community of Des Moines safe, and encouraging positive mental health care during this time. Give us a call if we can help you get set up for some garden therapy. By supporting each other, we can make it through!
Bright, cheery flowers are certainly a welcome sight after a long dreary winter in Iowa. Sure, there are the show-stealers like tulips and daffodils, but what about tiny jewels of early spring? The dainty little blooms that bravely burst into blossom early on, standing proud in the garden—and sometimes even in the snow!
We’ve got a few all-time-favorite must-haves for our own flower gardens that herald the arrival of spring. By the way, if you find yourself wanting to get your hands on these for your garden, you can pre-order them as bulbs to plant this fall and fill your garden with early spring flowers next year!
Winter Aconite(Eranthis hyemalis) are bright yellow little charmers, each standing about 5″ tall. Don’t let their small size fool you, though; even a small clump will produce an impressive display of vibrant flowers in March when everything else is still dormant and brown. These little guys are native to dark woodlands of France and Bulgaria, which means they will perform well even in dense shade gardens. Did we mention they are rabbit, deer, and squirrel-proof?
Snow Crocus(Crocus chrysanthus) are dazzling flowers, not to be confused with the larger Dutch Crocus (usually solid in white, purple, and yellow). Instead, Snow Crocus is a bit smaller in size and blooms two weeks earlier in March. They’re available in a variety of pastel and even variegated colors! Snow Crocuses are about 5″ tall and naturalize easily into lawns because their foliage looks just like grass.
Snow Iris(Iris reticulata) is a favorite among our staff. Many of our employees have these in their gardens, and they all agree: they are amazing! They bloom about the same time as Snow Crocus, in early March. These beauties of late winter come in colors like electric blue, royal purple, or golden yellow. They grow to be about 6″ tall, look stunning in clumps, and they will naturalize over time.
Lenten Rose(Hellebore) is a little different from the others on our list. They are not technically a bulb, though we plant them in a similar way! Lenten roses come in a wide range of solid or mixed colors ranging from white or buttery yellow to intense black or purple. Some varieties even have luscious double blooms! They grow to about 1′ tall and usually flower in mid-March, although their little flower buds can often be seen poking up even earlier. This perennial has nicely shaped leaves that hold up well throughout summer and even into early winter. Hellebores are a gardener’s joy as they’re squirrel, rabbit, and deer-resistant, and they love a good shade garden! Hellebores should be purchased and planted in spring.
We saved the best for last: Greater Snowdrop(Galanthus elwesii). Snowdrop is our absolute favorite early spring flower, but not just any snowdrop–it has to be the Elwesii Snowdrop! This plant is incredibly hardy and is the first to flower every season, usually popping up and blossoming in February. It has even been known to bloom as early as January here in Iowa! They grow to about 5″ tall and feature a graceful white bell-shaped flower. Early foraging pollinators flock to its pollen. Snowdrops are also rabbit, squirrel, and deer-resistant. This flower is one of the few plants that pop up like magic at the first sign of warmth in spring!
Are you ready to add some early spring flowers in Iowa to your garden? Stop by our garden center to ask about our favorites or pre-order online. Hellebores will be available as bedding plants for planting later this spring; the rest of this list should be planted in fall. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on what to plant each month for a full year of gorgeous color!
Having a bouquet of fresh flowers on your counter, desk, or kitchen table brings positive energy and vibrant color into your home. Catching a glimpse from the corner of your eye as you pass by, or taking in a deep breath of their fresh scents will make you smile and help you relax. However, buying a fresh bouquet every week is a big expense! Cutting flowers from your garden and creating your own arrangements is affordable, rewarding, and easy to personalize. You get to pick your favorite blooms while they’re still fresh, their scents are much stronger than store-bought flowers, and you can enjoy the tactile experience of arranging them yourself. You’ll also get to update your vases whenever you want to feature the freshest blooms in your garden. Better yet, regularly harvesting your flowers for fresh-cut bouquets encourages many plants to produce even more blooms!
Plan your planting this summer so that you can have beautiful bouquets all season long from your cutting garden of Iowa annuals and perennials! You’ll be able to enjoy fresh, gorgeous arrangements in every room of the house.
Here are our top plant picks for a gorgeous cutting garden:
Incrediball Hydrangea is a stunner all on its own, even without other flowers around it. It has giant flowerheads loaded with tiny white blooms. The flowerheads can reach up to 12″ wide! This perfectly-named plant is an excellent hedging perennial that blooms on new wood.
Lilies are a reliable and elegant perennial choice. Both Asiatic & Oriental lilies are hardy for Iowa and available in many colors. Most lilies bloom quite profusely, and their bold blooms stand out in any bouquet.
Peonies are an early-blooming perennial favorite that are powerful on their own or in an arrangement. The large, almost dinnerplate-sized blossoms feature seemingly endless layers of petals and are available in a range of shades, including reds, pinks, whites, and even purples.
Coreopsis, also known as tickseed, is an easy-care prairie-native perennial. They bloom in bursts throughout the summer and well into the fall. Their tall blooms, in shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, and white, can add height and texture to bouquets.
Black-Eyed Susan is another native perennial prairie dweller. It’s available in a variety of shades like orange, red, yellow, and white, with single or double blooms. They bloom for months and are super easy to grow.
Garden Phlox is a profusely blooming perennial, often producing from summer until well into the fall. Available in shades of white, pink, and purple, and some gorgeous variegated options, Phlox fills out the midlevel of a bouquet, helping the whole arrangement make a statement.
Yarrow is an incredibly easy perennial to grow. Its clusters of tiny blossoms are around all summer long and can have a similar effect to baby’s breath in a bouquet. Yarrow is available in a wide range of colors, including white, pink, red, orange, and yellow. The delicate frond-type leaves of yarrow also make an excellent greenery addition to arrangements.
Shasta Daisies are a classic cutting garden perennial. Whether you use them in bouquets, or to make daisy crowns, they’re a cutting garden must-have! They bloom all summer, and cutting the flowers will encourage more blooms.
Dahlias have a strong personality (in the best way!) and are available in every color you can imagine—from rich, deep shades to pale pastels, and everything in between. Single or double-blossom, every dahlia is striking and makes every bouquet a joy to look at it.
Gladiolus are easy to grow and exude drama, confidence, and stamina. If you cut gladiolus just as its first blossom is starting to open and keep their water fresh, they’ll last for weeks in a vase. They’re an excellent statement flower that adds height to a bouquet.
Annuals from Seeds
Zinnias are annuals that are nearly foolproof to grow from seed and will bloom all summer long. They’re available in almost any shade and variegation and also come in specialty varieties with unique petal shapes.
Cosmos are also easy to grow from seed and are likely to self-seed and come back every year. Their pretty pink, white, or purple daisy-like blossoms add a delicate note to fresh-cut bouquets.
Sunflowers are a diverse family of annuals. There are small ones designed for cutting that fit perfectly into a full garden bouquet, and there are much larger ones that act as a dramatic feature for a themed arrangement. The leaves of sunflowers are great for adding greenery to your cutting bouquets.
Love in a Mist, also known as Nigella, is unique, almost strange, and yet delicate and ethereal. They’re a self-seeder and are great for multi-season arrangements. Of course, the fresh blooms are beautiful, and the delicate fennel-like leaves add elegant texture. When the growing season comes to an end, the dried seed heads look fantastic in fall or winter arrangements.
Start planning your cutting garden now so that you can fill your home, your office, and your friends’ homes with gorgeous arrangements from spring to late fall! Pop by our garden center for some more inspiration or tips from our expert staff.
Gardens on their own are an expression of art, but sometimes adding a tangible piece of art to the garden can elevate the whole space in a new way. Art and gardens blend quite naturally together. There are plenty of garden and yard art ideas available online to help you get started. If you’re considering adding art to your garden, or if you’ve impulse-purchased a piece of art and need to decide where to put it, there are a few things to consider.
7 Steps to Creating an Elegant Art Installation
1. Start with inspiration
There are plenty of options for finding garden art inspiration. The first one that pops to mind is Pinterest. Even if you don’t find much inspiration on Pinterest, it’s a great place to start a photo collection of garden art that you like. You can also gather ideas by visiting botanical gardens around Iowa and observing their art installations, wandering through your local garden center, watching garden shows on TV, attending home/trade shows, and even observing how your town or city has integrated art installations.
2. Refine your style
Once you’ve collected a variety of inspiring ideas, it’s a good idea to narrow it down. If you haven’t browsed through Pinterest before, now’s the time to start! You can easily review the things you’ve added and start to notice patterns in your choices. You can also easily remove things that you don’t love as much as when you first saw it. You should be able to see patterns in the personality or feeling your choices evoke. You’ll also notice consistencies in what mediums you like.
Since a piece of garden art is going to be exposed to the elements year-round, you’ll probably want to stick with either metal, wood, stone/concrete, or something that will hold up to rain, high heat, wind, and below-freezing temperatures. Garden art pieces are most commonly sculptural, in some way. In fact, many famous sculpture gardens are planned exclusively to complement art installations.
3. Source it
Once you’ve refined your style, it’s time to decide if you want, or if your budget allows, for a custom piece of art made by an artist, or a commercially available option from a supplier. There are plenty of options for where to find your art piece once you’ve decided what you’re looking for.
For commercial art, garden centers and boutiques typically carry a nice selection of garden art pieces. You can find art pieces that glow or move in the wind. As well as art in all sorts of shapes and sizes from contemporary to traditional.
For custom art, there are a few options you may not have thought of. Most garden centers and boutiques in Iowa (like us) are likely to have custom art from local artisans, so they’re still a great option. But if you want a truly custom piece, it’s worth doing a little more investigation to find an artist local to Iowa. If you like metal art, talk to local welders, machine shops, or blacksmiths. They may have someone on staff or know of someone who creates beautiful art on the side. The same goes for wood pieces— check with a local carpenter, cabinet maker, or furniture builder. For stonework, check with your local stonemason, concrete company, or landscaping company. We have a nice list of artists we refer our customers to help them create
You can also often find artisans at local farmers and craft markets. We offer a spring and fall art market where you can find dozens of artists. Several other popular art shows in central Iowa such as Artfest Midwest, Des Moines Art Festival, and Reiman Gardens Art Show are some great ones to check out local artists. Don’t hesitate to reach out— most skilled tradespeople have a surprising amount of creativity in them and are capable of creating some amazing things with their day-job skills. There are plenty of talented artisans in Iowa, so keep your eyes peeled for something that aligns with your ideal aesthetic.
Last but not least, and perhaps the most obvious, you can check in with local art galleries, or browse through the Etsy marketplace online.
If you’re artistic yourself, it can be fun to create your own custom piece of beautiful homemade garden art for your space. If you need some inspo, search for some DIY tutorials on fun, easy art projects to do at home.
Some of the best garden art installations are the simplest. It’s a good idea to start with just one piece, or you’ll risk overcrowding or mixing too many styles that don’t mesh well together. If possible, try placing your art piece in a few different locations around your garden before permanently installing it. Leave it in one spot for a while, even a day or two. Notice how the light hits it at different times of day, and how it looks from different angles and perspectives in your home.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot, install it, or get it professionally installed. If you’ve had a custom piece created by an artist they can probably advise how best to install it. If you’ve picked up large commercial pieces, it’s probably best to consult with a local landscaping company, or your local garden center, about the best installation method.
5. Enjoy it
Observe and enjoy your art piece for some time, even up to a year. Notice how the plants interact with it, complement it, or don’t.
6. Document the process
If your art piece is integrative, if it is part of a fountain, or if it’s a frame that climbing plants will grow over, document it throughout the year. You’ll love being able to look back on how your art piece has changed your garden over time.
7. Consider adding another piece of art to your garden
Chances are you’ve fallen even more in love with your art piece (or maybe you secretly hate it now?!) Either way, after you’ve had your art in the garden for a whole year, you’re probably ready to add another art element, or replace the first one— whatever suits you. It’s your garden!
The best gardens are more than just beautiful. Some of our favorite outdoor designs incorporate function and beauty. Outdoor spaces that have been transformed into someplace unique to the homeowner and their tastes, while offering an oasis for them to enjoy their time at home. While the visual appeal is an important element, what you leave up to the other senses is what completes the experience.
From fragrant flowers to delightful textured plants, your personal outdoor space can be full of everything you want to experience. And what better place to relax and enjoy time with family, friends, and loved ones than a calming garden getaway that provides a platform for entertaining? The easiest way to add sound and tranquility to your yard is with a water feature. Not only are they incredibly personalized and customizable, they are simpler to install than most people think – especially with the assistance of our team of landscape and design experts to guide the way.
Why We Love Water Features
The benefits of adding trickling water to your garden are clear as soon as you step into a garden that has a water feature. The sound immediately provides a relaxing and calming atmosphere for you and your guests . They also pack a ton of other benefits by boosting ambient humidity for your garden to enjoy, and providing shelter and water for your favorite wildlife and beneficial insects.
In terms of design, there are many reasons why people fall in love with the idea of having a water feature in their backyard. While they are certainly more than achievable for nearly anyone’s garden today, we can’t help but associate fountains and ponds with luxury. In ancient Babylon, Kings used water (along with feats of engineering and lots of manpower) to create lush tropical oases in the middle of the desert. More recently, in France, the royal family created impressive fountains and gardens for their opulent palace in Versailles.
These days there are so many customizable options that anyone can have all the luxury of the royal water features of the past in their own backyard. You’ll appreciate the benefits of having a place to go home and relax, even if you don’t rule a kingdom.
Our gardens are our own sanctuary, so it makes sense that we optimize the space for sharing with loved ones and for relaxing. With the sound of water dripping and flowing, your whole yard is filled with ambient noise that promotes relaxation. The constantly moving water will also help to boost your garden’s health by increasing humidity, which your tropical plants will enjoy, and by attracting the right type of natural visitors to your backyard space.
Water features themselves offer a host of benefits to the overall experience in your yard, but they are visually stunning as well. There are so many options for types and styles of water installations, your options are endless for designing a beautiful water feature that perfectly compliments your existing outdoor aesthetic.
Water Feature Options
There are a few basic types of water features to choose from. Depending on your ambition, you can opt for a pre-made feature, or something completely one-of-a-kind.
The simpler method of starting a water feature is with a fountain. These are easy to source and come in all shapes, sizes, materials, and prices. Fountains add a certain elegance to your garden – we can’t help but associate them with formal French gardens. This elegant solution comes with relatively simple upkeep and maintenance. They’re easy to install, are affordable, and often offer a simple enclosed system of circulating water that is easy to manage. While you can always scale your project to be bigger and more elaborate, the simplest of fountains are easy to add to an existing landscape design without much extra work.
Ponds are popular options for people that are willing to put in a bit more work and regular maintenance for a stunning centerpiece that really ties the whole landscape together. Instead of a feature in your design, ponds tend to be a commanding central point that focuses the entire look of your yard. These features add a naturalistic beauty to your yard that’s perfect for relaxing conversation spaces.
Waterfalls and water walls can either be incorporated into a pond or built to be free-standing. Waterfalls and water walls can be sculpted with concrete, granite or natural stone to create a dramatically beautiful focal point. Our experts are a great starting point for an ambitious project like installing a waterfall. With help from the Ted Lare design team, you can create a water feature that works well with your home and lifestyle, with the confidence that it will be done right.
However you decide to incorporate your water feature, you’ll be rewarded with an outdoor experience that rewards all your senses. Installing a new feature is an investment in your property as well as an investment in your time spent outside – for you and everyone you welcome into your home each year.
Blueberries have recently gained a lot of attention for all of their health benefits, making these delicious treats from the garden even more desirable. Not only are these berries good, but they’re good for you, too! With so much buzz about these berries it’s understandable how they have become the new “it” edible that everyone wants to be able to grow in their own backyard. With our garden tips you’ll have all the know-how to grow delicious berries that are the envy of your friends and a sweet treat with any meal.
Blueberry 101 – Blueberry Basics The blueberry is actually a native North American, which explains why they are such successful growers in our gardens. These tasty treats were discovered thousands of years ago and have been a popular snack since. Their humble beginnings are a bit of a contrast from their science-focused superfood status now, but now we’re able to appreciate all of their delicious flavors while also knowing that they are full of vitamin C, can help to lower blood pressure, and could even slow the growth of cancer cells!
Blueberry plants boast gorgeous fall foliage, grow tasty and healthy berries, and attract very few insects. They are also easy to maintain and don’t have the prickly thorns that other garden berry bushes have. And while they are self pollinating and you can make do with a single bush, you’ll enjoy a much more bountiful summer if you have more than one plant.
The Best Soil for Blueberries Blueberries are acid lovers, and this is often the biggest stumbling block for gardeners looking for a delicious blueberry harvest. These plants like a soil pH of 4.5 to 5, which is considerably lower than normal soil, but easy to achieve.
The process is best started before you plant a new blueberry bush so that you can build your soil properly. Start with blending a generous serving of peat moss into your soil so that it is at a 1:1 ratio with dirt in your planting area. Peat is naturally acidic, so mixing in lots is a great way to quickly lower the pH while providing excellent drainage. While a healthy amount of peat is good, don’t plant in straight peat, as you’ll get so much drainage that you’ll be watering your bush more than the rest of your garden.
Testing your soil pH is super simple, and a great way to be exact about your soil amendments. Simply pick up a test kit from our gardening center to find out where your pH is. If you need to lower it even further, or are looking to lower the pH around an existing plant, consider using sulphur, coffee grounds, or pine and spruce needles on the surface to dip a bit further to the acidic side.
We all want to have delicious blueberries that are the talk of the neighbourhood, and a sweet treat as a snack or in deserts. We have some tips from the most successful blueberry growers so that you, too, can have a truly impressive crop:
As tempting as it is, you’ll want to restrict your blueberry harvest in your first year after planting. Pinch off all of the blooms so that your bush can focus its efforts in establishing healthy roots, so that all of your harvests are better for the rest of the plant’s life. It’s a sacrifice worth making for the long-term benefits.
Blueberries grow best in acidic soil that is well-drained but consistently moist. While the right peat mix is the first step to this, mulching under the drip line will keep their shallow roots from drying up in the summer heat and lock in more consistent moisture all season.
Stay away from the pruners for the first 2 years while your plants are still getting established. These bushes can live up to 100 years, so you’ll have plenty of time with delicious harvests to enjoy. After the initial 2 years, trim off 1-3 of the oldest shoots per year to keep your plant healthy and vibrant.
Be patient. These bushes are slow growing and long living, so understanding that the first year or two of harvest will be just a nibble is all part of the process. After a few years of getting established, though, you’ll have enough berries to be making pies and dropping off bushels of berries to all of your friends and neighbours.
Blueberries are nature’s treat and we can’t help but want to take part in our own backyards. With a couple of our best tips and tricks you’ll have a blueberry bush bursting with berries and ready to be nibbled on all season.
We’re not sure if there’s anything that tastes more like summer than a delicious, garden-fresh tomato. The supermarket can’t even touch the quality of these gems fresh from our gardens. When you bite into a sun-ripened tomato straight from the plant, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would bother buying them from a store.
Tomatoes are simple and easy to grow, but if you want that knock-out flavor without the frustration, our pros have some recommendations for how to make your plants thrive this summer. Garden success has never tasted this good.
Tip #1: Do Some Research: There are so many delicious tomato plants to choose from, so it can be daunting to make a decision on which one(s) to include in your garden. When it comes to annuals and pretty blooms, we advocate for falling in love with your favorites and letting some creativity flow. But when it comes to the more practical tomato plant, a bit of research ahead of time is important. Ask yourself what kind of tomato crop you want — small cherry tomatoes, big beefy tomatoes or something in between, and what kind of plant you want to be growing — determinate or indeterminate.
Think seriously about your garden and what you want from it: are you willing to put in more hours of work for the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes from more challenging plants? Or would you rather spend your summer relaxing and enjoying a beautiful garden with determinate plants that mostly take care of themselves? Thankfully it’s not an all-or-nothing game, you can plant as much of however many types as you want! A bit of research is all you need to start on the right foot and avoid any summer surprises as you grow.
Tip #2: Some of Our Favorites: Picking a tomato variety can be difficult because there are just so many good choices to pick from! To make it easier, these are some of our favorite tomatoes for all garden needs.
Roma is a great jack-of-all-trades tomato that doesn’t require much maintenance. For a simple and straightforward garden, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Beefmaster is an indeterminate variety that requires some work like pruning and staking to keep it in line, but the resulting harvest is worth the effort. Consider staking these plants, as their tomatoes are so heavy that they can bend or damage the stems!
Early Girl is another indeterminate, requiring a modest amount of maintenance. But with an early maturity, you’ll get to enjoy tomatoes sooner in the season and for longer with this plant.
Sweet Million has it all in the name, an indeterminate with millions (ok, hundreds) of tasty little tomatoes — perfect for snacking!
Green Zebra and Black Krim are heirloom tomatoes for those that are both adventurous and traditional. Heirlooms are varieties that have been passed down for decades, and these tomatoes offer unique looks for their heritage. You’ll also be impressed by their delicious taste.
Tip #3: Start Off Right: Whether you’re growing from seeds or buying starter plants, at some point you’ll be taking small little seedlings and planting them outside into your garden or containers. Only stocky plants, ones that aren’t lanky and floppy, should make the final cut and be planted in your garden. These are going to be the most successful at growing with the least amount of work from you.
Tip #4: Sun and Heat: Tomatoes thrive with some warm weather and soil, so choosing a spot with maximum heat and sun exposure is the best way to get the tastiest tomatoes. We promise that with a good location, you’ll be able to taste the difference that sunshine makes.
If you have the option, the best places for many tomatoes are in big containers or raised beds, where their soil and roots are easily warmed by the sun. Pass on the traditional bed with one of these methods, and you’ll have your friends and neighbors begging for your secret when they have a taste of your tomatoes.
If you plant in a traditional bed make sure to plant your tomatoes in a different spot than the previous year. This will help prevent disease and insect problems that can lay dormant in the soil until the following year.
Tip #5: Drainage: Tomatoes don’t like to have wet feet, so make sure your soil drains well. If it naturally retains water, you don’t have to give up, though. Simply add some peat moss into the mix before you plant, giving them the structure, nutrients, and drainage that they crave.
These plants are heavy feeders, too, so make sure you establish a fertilizing schedule to give them the nutritional boost they need to produce delicious crops. Use an all-purpose fertilizer for the best results.
Tip #6: Planting: Tomatoes will sprout roots wherever the soil touches the stem. Start by submerging a third of the stem when you plant — you’ll get a head start on developing a healthy root system! Just make sure you take off any leaves that will be buried so you don’t invite rot.
If your tomato plants got a little lanky while you were waiting to plant, simply plant them a little deeper than normally would. This technique transforms that lanky and floppy stem into a healthy root system, saving the plant and encouraging successful crops.
When you plant consider adding an organic fertilizer to your planting hole to give your plants an extra burst of nutrients. You can also consider adding a handful of egg shells, which contain calcium and will help deter blossom end rot.
Tip #7: Mulching: Mulch is a fantastic tool in the garden, as it suppresses weeds and insulates the roots of your plant keeping heat and water in. Your tomatoes will benefit from keeping more heat and moisture at their roots, which is exactly where they want it! Perhaps the best part about mulching is how much it cuts down on garden work by stifling weeds, which also leads to less competition for nutrients for your plants. Spread a natural mulch in a generous layer around your plants and reap the benefits!
There are lots of options for natural mulch that work fantastic in the garden. For your edibles, we suggest something that isn’t chemically treated. You can choose from all kinds of naturally-occurring woods and barks to find something that satisfies both your practical and design needs.
Tip #8: Proper Staking and Tying Up: This tip is for indeterminate tomatoes primarily, because the determinate types have a bushy habit and generally take care of themselves.
When you’re tying up your more wild-growing indeterminate tomatoes, try to use something soft and flexible so that their stems aren’t broken by the ties. You can purchase ready-made ties for your garden that are designed for the task, or even use something like strips of old pantyhose to keep things tidy. Tie it loosely but secure with a knot to keep your plant in order and off of the ground. Sturdy tomato cages can also be used to stake your tomatoes.
Tip #9: Pruning is for Suckers: Tomato plants, especially indeterminates, send out “suckers” during the growing season. These growths don’t help you and your tomato crop very much and actually pull nutrients away from the fruit that you are trying to grow. Prune away these growths, keeping all of the nutrients and hard work that your plant is doing focused on important things, like growing fruit!
Near the end of the season, pruning can also be useful for other parts of the plant that are wasting energy. As you near the first frost of the season, start thinking about cutting your losses and discarding some tomatoes that simply won’t make it to maturity so that your plant can focus its efforts on the last few crops of the year.
Tip #10: When to and Not to Refrigerate: The ideal temperature for ripening tomatoes is at room temperature. Place fresh produce that you plan to consume right away on the counter to get the most out of their superior, from-the-garden taste. Trying to ripen tomatoes in the fridge is likely to leave you with tomatoes that lose their fantastic flavor and could end up mealy and lacking in texture.
While you might want to refrigerate some tomatoes if they are already ripe and you won’t be eating them quite yet, you can still end up losing flavor and quality this way. Instead, think about all of the fantastic dishes that you can cook them into now that you can save for later. Things like pasta sauces or salsas will help you make the most of your garden produce.
Growing tomatoes is popular and easy, but there’s more to know than just putting your plants in the ground and watching them grow. With a couple of simple tips, you’ll have all the tools you need to have phenomenal crops all summer long, to be enjoyed by you, your friends, and your family. If only we had tips for what to do with all of your bountiful harvests!
Getting in our daily serving of vegetables can be a challenge, and when your produce from the supermarket tastes less than stellar, it can be even harder. Having delicious, fresh edibles straight from the garden makes getting your daily servings a whole lot easier. With a patio garden, you’ll have all of the best garden flavors as close as possible to your kitchen— you’ll barely even need to leave the house to pick tomatoes straight from the vine! Get your fresh produce from plant to table in record time by growing your favorite flavors on the patio.
Container Gardening with Vegetables: Gardening trends are always evolving and vegetable gardens are not immune to the growing understanding of the “best” way to go about growing your freshest flavors. These days, our homegrown produce isn’t limited to rows upon rows in a garden bed in the backyard. You can grow food just as delicious in containers, mixing up your gardening routine to something a little more convenient.
Container gardening has lots of advantages that make the most of their space. This growing style offers simpler upkeep, is easy to place wherever is most convenient, reduces the amount of work needed, and often even boosts the flavor of your edibles!
Best Patio Vegetables: Patio gardening has traditionally been confined to little plants, like herbs. While herb gardens are still a valuable part of your patio garden repertoire, there’s so much more that you can do just outside your door! Container gardens are surprisingly flexible and there are lots of ways to bring beautiful and functional edible gardens to your home:
Herbs For edible garden beginners, home chefs, and those that like to keep things simple, herb containers are the perfect place to get started. They are low-maintenance, filled with delicious herbs that will elevate your cooking to the next level, and are adaptable to fill your balcony, patio, or windowsill with lush and fragrant foliage ready for the picking.
Each plant has its own unique set of needs, but many of the most popular herbs are happy growing in a smaller container and don’t grow to an unmanageable size. Simply ensure proper drainage, use good quality potting soil, and find a watering schedule that is right for your plants. Then, get ready to enjoy their delicious flavors in your cooking!
There are lots of herbs that pair well together in dishes and in containers for growing, as they have similar needs. We love the fragrant and lush look of rosemary, oregano, and thyme together for a Mediterranean blend, or a combination of basil, parsley, and mint for a container for more temperate homes.
Tomatoes These are one of the garden staples that simply can’t be forgotten when putting together your patio containers. We’re lucky that this delicious vegetable staple absolutely flourishes in containers, making it easy to care for and perfect for the patio. You’ll instantly be able to taste the difference between your homegrown tomatoes and those you pick up from the supermarket—and these lush plants dripping ruby jewels of produce for you makes for a pleasant addition to your backyard.
Determinate tomatoes are the best choice for containers because of their more compact growing habit that doesn’t require as much maintenance to keep upright. These plants ripen quickly and need only a little support from a trellis or cage. Choose from a variety of sizes for all of your snacking, salad, and sandwich needs.
The key to impressive tomato flavor is consistent watering. Keeping the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged, will give you produce that is the envy of your whole neighborhood. Try using self-watering containers for a stress-free way to keep your plants hydrated, or develop a schedule that has you checking your plants regularly in the mornings.
Peppers Given the right love and care, some peppers actually grow better in containers than they do in the garden, thanks to their need for warmer soil temperatures. Bushy plants with small, delicate—and brightly colored, ornamental-looking—fruits are perfect for container growing.
Keep your peppers in a sunny spot where they can soak up all the heat that they can. Especially important for hot peppers, a little heat is important while they are growing to bring out the spice in them! Keep your peppers well hydrated to help them make the most of the constant heat and exposure.
Don’t be shy to repot your peppers as they grow and flourish into gorgeous mature plants. With a pot that’s a little bigger than normal, you’ll have a much easier time keeping their roots well hydrated even in the hottest days of the summer. For the best, tastiest, and prettiest pepper results, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer every 1-2 weeks.
Leafy Greens There’s nothing quite as satisfying or healthy as a fresh, crisp serving of greens from the garden. Favorite leafy greens, like lettuce, spinach, and kale, are extremely popular options that really fill out a container garden. Not only will you enjoy the easy access to get them into your kitchen, but you’ll also love that their proximity to your home in containers discourages backyard critters from nibbling away at them before you have the opportunity to!
Most leafy greens are vegetables that prefer growing in the cool season, thriving in the spring and fall, but diminishing in the heat of the summer. These vegetables are perfect for grazing on and pulling a little bit to eat at a time rather than harvesting it all at once.
These greens grow with roots that are shallow and spread out, so planting them in a fitting, wide, and shallow container is ideal. This is a great way to add visual interest to your container garden, too, with a bit of a new size and dimension to enjoy. Plant lettuce, spinach, and kale with lots of sunlight so their broad leaves can soak up the rays. Plant with good quality soil and in a container with drainage, and keep them consistently moist for the lushest and tastiest results.
Bulbs Bulbs do most of their growing work underground, so bulb edibles aren’t naturally the first option people think of with their container gardening. However, they’re actually a perfect fit for containers, which actually keep them very low maintenance and just as delicious. Onions and garlic are great container garden options as they are key ingredients in so many of our favorite dishes.
Plant garlic in the fall, with a bit of time to get established before the first fall frosts arrive. If you missed the fall planting, you can still plant in the spring, but you won’t get to experience end results that are nearly as big. Make sure that you use new, bagged soil and not recycled soil from the garden with your garlic so that you will have fewer problems with pests and disease. Place the container in a sunny part of your patio and watch it flourish with very little work from you!
While you can plant onion from scratch it’ll be much more worth your time and patience to start from sets. Plant them in a large and wide container so that you can get more harvest, and keep consistently moist.
Vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task and you don’t have to commit large parts of your landscape to gardening to be able to enjoy the most delicious produce. You can have a source of tasty, fresh edibles that are good for you and your family and bring unparalleled flavor to your kitchen. With plants that grow lush, green, and often adorned with beautiful produce, you won’t even need to sacrifice aesthetic to have it all this summer.
Some of most difficult spots to fill in your garden are those that are shaded – but they don’t have to be. Many of the most popular classics that we love to fill up our yard with are sun-loving blooms, but there are just as many beautiful plants that thrive with a little more protection from the sun’s rays. Whether you’re looking for some fabulous foliage to fill up a sheltered spot beside the house or you’re trying to find a splash of color to plant in a darker area in your yard, there are lots of options to make every part of your yard and garden lush and beautiful.
Although there are just as many options, shade loving plants enjoy different conditions and as a result, play by some different rules than their relatives that love to soak up the rays. Here’s some advice from our plant and landscaping experts on filling your garden’s shaded areas with color.
Ted Lare Tips for Growing in Shade: Shade-loving plants will have a few different things to keep in mind when growing than plants that prefer to bask in the sun. No matter what type of shade growing plant you choose, keep these things in mind to make your shady spot the best fit for your plants as possible:
Identify Your Shade Type – Each shady location is just as unique as the rest of your yard and home. To pick the best plants, you’ll want to know the conditions of your chosen spot. Types of shade range from deep, to partial, to dappled shade. While the deep shade areas get no direct sunlight at all, less shaded locations could have sun for part of the day or filtered through leaves. There are plenty of options of plants that will thrive in each type, but pairing them up well with the right conditions is the best way to have low-maintenance and beautiful plants.
Soil Type and Quality – Taking note of your soil type before you plant gives you the opportunity to amend the soil quality. Soil ideally has nutrients and structure to support your plants as they develop and grow, giving them the foundation that they need to thrive and grow beautifully. Here are some amendments to consider to modify your soil:
Add organic fertilizer – Adding compost is the perfect way to add nutrients to support the long-term growth of your plant. While you can always use chemical fertilizers after the plant is established to give them a boost, starting with some organic nutrients will give your plant the long-term fuel it needs to continue to thrive. Typically, just adding a inch or two of compost goes a long way, then till the new compost into the soil before planting.
Making Room for Roots – Aerate the soil with a pitchfork before planting to help make the air pockets that your plant will need to grow root systems. A good foundation is important for shade-loving plants especially to find nutrients and water.
Mulch Well – After you plant, use mulch to help lock moisture into the soil. Shade from the sun often means shade from other elements like rain, meaning that keeping water near the roots is vital for shaded plants. Mulching to a thickness of about 3 inches is usually sufficient to protect the roots of your plants.
Popular Perennial Flowers for the Shade: There are hundreds of popular perennials to choose for that shady spot in your yard. These are some of our favorite popular choices for the shade that will keep returning to thrive each year:
Hostas – An elegant classic that has graced protected corners of backyards for decades, and for good reason. These plants come in many varieties that boast different shades and shapes, but they all provide gorgeous ground cover in shaded and partially shaded locations. Hosta are still the tried and true plant for dense shady areas.
Christmas Fern – Ferns have a delicate style that catches the eye and captures the imagination. Not only good ground cover, these plants offer some drama and a little bit of texture and height to a shady spot in your garden. Christmas Fern is a quick grower that will easily take up whatever shaded spot you have in mind for it, but isn’t invasive and is easy to control with just a little trimming.
Bleeding Hearts – A beautiful and traditional shade decoration, bleeding hearts have delicate pink flowers that are their namesake, adding a pop of color to shady areas. This classic flower is long-lived, mild-mannered, and will fit in well with other shade loving perennials.
Ligularia Dentata – These attractive annuals have fun lily pad-shaped leaves that can vary in color and provide contrast to other plant foliage. During the summer, they burst to life with a yellow flower display. Ligularia Dentata are usually vibrant growers, but they can lay down during hot summer days.
Astilbe – Astilbes give great height to flower beds and come in a wide range of shades. For shady spots, we recommend the ‘Maggie Daley’ variety. Maggie Daley shows off stunning feathery magenta blooms during the summer. This variety also has a reputation for good performance.
Shade Loving Shrubs: Shrubs are great options for filling large empty spaces and adding structure to your overall garden design. These shrubs thrive in shady patches.
Hydrangeas – Hydrangeas often become the crown jewel of any garden, making it clear that plants in the shady parts of your yard can also be in the spotlight. We love how vibrant and how much life a hydrangea shrub can pack into a spot in the shade, and find them the ideal choice for lining the shaded spots along fences or walls. Our favorite varieties for shade include Little Lime, Mystical Flame, Quickfire, and Endless Summer.
Japanese Yew – These evergreen shrubs have great texture and look a little more interesting than other shade-loving foliage plants. The Everlow variety keeps a low-profile and looks fantastic
Rhododendron – Rhododendrons add an elegant shape and gorgeous pink flowers to your shade garden. Our favorite varieties are the Korean rhododendron and PJM rhododendron.
Azaleas – Like rhododendrons, the shape of azalea shrubs look magnificent in shade gardens, with bold blooms in some lovely jewel tones. Try the deep fuschia Orchid Lights variety, the hot pink Northern Lights variety, or vibrant orange Mandarin Lights variety.
Shade Loving Annuals: Annuals lack the lifespan of perennials, but they pack a lot of enthusiasm, color, and life into the one season that they do have. While some of our favorite annuals love to bask in the sun, there is no shortage of popular options that will thrive with a little less exposure.
Begonias – With shiny foliage and beautiful cheerful flowers available in every shade of the rainbow, there’s a Begonia out there for any landscape style and taste. Most begonias thrive in full or part shade, offering pretty colors to most sheltered corners of your yard.
Lobelia – These plants are dainty and delicate that have delightfully cheerful pastel colors that thrive in partial shade. Offering great ground cover, this is a great way to have some beautiful color over every inch of your yard.
Impatiens – These multi-colored annuals are the gorgeous poster children for shady locations. While they have a “wildflower” look that adds some whimsy to your garden, filling up shady or partially shady spots with beautiful color.
Sweet Alyssum – These dainty white flowers bloom for the whole summer season, offering a unique and intoxicating fragrance, even into the cooler temperatures of fall.
Bulbs in the Shade: The classic option for those that want stunning flowers but like the “plant it and forget about it” method, there are many bulbs that will thrive in the shade. Many of these flowers create a natural focal point in your garden, despite being in the shade.
Crocus – Crocus are an always-elegant option that offer a classic late spring look. Try them in delightful shades of white, purple, and yellow.
Galanthus – Also known as Snowdrops, these white flowers stand out against their shady home and offer color surprisingly early in the season.
Daffodils – If you’re looking to brighten up the shaded spots in your garden, these flower’s signature yellow flowers add a little splash of sunshine where there is none.
Tulips – For a classic springtime look, there’s nothing that impresses quite like the tulip. Adaptable and able to bloom nearly anywhere from full shade to partial sun, they offer a truly stunning array of colorful options and styles.
The sun-filled spots in your yard and garden don’t have to be the constant spotlight of your landscape and garden design. With so many different varieties of shade-loving plants to choose from, the lighting conditions don’t have to limit your options and design for your outdoor space. With shade loving plants this stunning, there are options for everyone to enjoy that are the right fit for their home, lifestyle, and landscape design.
If you’re looking for more guidance on planting a shade-friendly garden, visit our garden center, just 10 minutes South of West Des Moines.
Ted Lare Design Build specializes in Des Moines Landscaping Design and Installation.
We cover a wide range of Central Iowa. We have installed landscapes for many years in all areas of the Des Moines metro, including West Des Moines, Des Moines, Waukee, Clive, Urbandale, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, Indianola, and Norwalk.