The perfect summer garden is lush, sustainable, affordable and manageable. Creating this scenario in your backyard can seem daunting, but with expert advice, any plant lover can integrate this season’s hottest gardening trends to build an outdoor nirvana.
According to Grant McCarty, local foods and small farms educator for the University of Illinois Extension, gardening trends that became popular during the height of COVID-19 remain strong. Additionally, container and sustainable horticulture have become more trendy in their scope and variety.
“People who started gardening during the pandemic and those who have moved to a new home continue growing fruits and vegetables in their backyards,” he said. “It’s somewhat surprising to see this continue and gain momentum. Another strong trend is the shift to container gardening over plot gardening.”
McCarty suggests several reasons for the popularity of container gardening.
“When you consider the effort of putting in and growing vegetables, planting in containers allows you to get away with using less space and having a good yield,” he said. “Many home and garden centers will stock a wide variety of patio or container-friendly vegetable plants.”
First things firstThe best receptacles for container gardening depend on how many plants will grow in each container. McCarty said a five-gallon bucket is an excellent choice, but one should consider a plant’s root system before choosing a container.
“Shallow planters can accommodate vegetables that don’t have deep roots like lettuce, while root vegetables like carrots thrive in containers with more depth. Adding a layer of rocks at the bottom of the container helps guard against root rot. Pop-up felt bag inserts for containers provide excellent drainage and come in larger sizes to accommodate multiple plants,” he said.
McCarty also recommends using compost as a fertilizer when starting a container garden. “Purchasing compost or making your own and mixing it into your soil helps deliver nutrients to your plants, allowing them to flourish.” Soil testing, he said, can also be beneficial in determining what nutrients are necessary.
Small spaces, big yields“People have scaled back from massive gardens but still want to have something fresh. They want to go out on their patio and pick something that they can cook for dinner that night, and container gardening provides that option,” McCarty said. “Growing veggies with the container method also eliminates bending and kneeling, which can be difficult for people with physical limitations.”
Many options and combinations of vegetables grow well in container gardens. “A woman I spoke with early this spring said that she had created a large container and was successfully growing potatoes on her deck. It worked well, and she had a bountiful harvest,” McCarty said.
According to McCarty, you can use one container for different varieties of vegetables or plants. “Start by growing herbs. Herbs tend to be quick, easy, and adaptable, complementing other fresh produce. Spinach and lettuce are good choices for containers as they mature rapidly,” he said. “Herbs and leafy greens will give you multiple harvests within one pot. Tomatoes and lunchbox peppers can also be successfully grown in containers.”
As with traditional gardening, plant spacing is essential in container gardens. “If you are using a five-gallon bucket, that may only accommodate one pepper or tomato plant compared to multiple spinach or radish plants,” McCarty said.
Mix, match & missMany herbs and salad greens grow well in the same container, but other vegetable combinations don’t. “Mixing vegetables from the same family is fine. Like tomato and basil, complimentary veggies do well in the same container as do root vegetables like carrots and radishes,” McCarty said.
Another fun way to container garden is by planting grow kits that contain all the herbs and veggies needed for pizza, salsa, herb tea, mushrooms, or edible flowers.
McCarty said some vegetable combinations shouldn’t be grown within the same container. “Radishes and tomatoes don’t mix well in the same pot. Larger tomato varieties like the heirloom Cherokee purple are too large for a container, as are vining crops like pumpkin or watermelon,” he said. “Garlic can be grown in a container but should be planted in September so it can overwinter for a harvest the following year.”
Sustainable in sun or shadeEcologically friendly horticulture, which includes perennial flowers and plants that attract butterflies and bees, is a trending garden attraction, according to Michaela Mercaitis, North Main Street store manager at Village Green Nursery in Rockford, IL.
“Milkweed is a highly sought-after plant because it helps in the repopulation of monarch butterflies and bees. Dianthysis, more commonly known as carnations, are popular perennials which can be enjoyed in yards and as cut flowers,” she said. “Coneflowers and other plants that have that wildflower look are also in high demand.”
Mercaitis recommends hostas, coral bells, and bleeding hearts for areas with more shade. “These are all big sellers, and most of these perennials are easy to maintain and will repopulate and spread yearly.”
Homeowners looking to help the environment and ease their yardwork responsibilities are incorporating native plant areas into their lawns.
“I am noticing that natural yards are becoming more trendy. Once the plight of the bee and butterfly population became more publicized, people decided to change up their yards to allow for raised beds, butterfly gardens, and more annuals and perennials,” Mercaitis said.
Mulch vs. groundcover
As homeowners incorporate more natural elements into their yards, Mercaitis notes that groundcover is becoming a more sustainable option in weed control.
“People are realizing that putting in groundcover is safer for plants than mulch or a weed barrier,” she said. “There can be issues like root rot, mildew and fungus, depending on the mulch. It’s also expensive to have mulch and it needs to be maintained and changed every year. ,
“Groundcover is more ecologically friendly; it’s healthier for other plants, and you can fill in large areas without the cost of mulch. We see a lot of larger yards, banks, and offices effectively use groundcover in place of mulch.”