1. Build Healthy Soil

The key to any productive garden starts with the soil. Plants grown in healthy, fertile soil that is rich in nutrients and able to retain water will be far more productive during their lifecycle and need less care.

For gardening in containers, always start with fresh potting soil. Potting soil often has ingredients such as perlite (those little white specs) or vermiculite (the shiny specs), which both help regulate soil moisture. You can mix the potting soil with organic compost or add other amendments before planting to boost soil nutrient levels.

Ann-Marie Powell Gardens Ltd

To boost your soil health in garden beds this season, work 3 to 4 inches of organic compost into the soil before planting. During the growing season, lay off synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which can be harmful to beneficial soil organisms.

Try no-dig gardening. If compacted soil or persistent weeds have been an issue, consider a no-dig method of improving soil structure and suppressing weeds. Layer carbon-rich materials, such as small twigs and dried leaves, and nitrogen-rich materials, such as plant and grass clippings, between sheets of cardboard. Allow the whole mixture to rest for 4 to 6 months, during which time worms and soil microbes will help break down the layers, turning them into loose, nutrient-rich topsoil.


2. Choose the Right Plants for Your Garden

The right plants for the location are just as important as building healthy soil for creating a productive garden. Know your climate zone and take note of the sun exposure different beds receive in your garden. Choose plants that naturally thrive in these conditions and you’ll have more flowers, better fruit set and healthy vegetables. For example, in this Bay Area garden, artichokes thrive alongside cool-season veggies like lettucesonions and chard, which all benefit from the mild-winter climate and semi-coastal conditions.

Steve Masley Consulting and Design

3. Start a Kitchen Garden or Grow Culinary Herbs

Even if you only have the room to grow a few pots of herbs on a sunny windowsill, grow at least one thing you can eat. If you don’t think you have any space on the ground, take a look at how edible gardening consultant Steve Masley has planted bush beans in a window box.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

In general, if you have limited planting space, choose highly productive crops like cut-and-come-again lettucescherry tomatoesgreen beansculinary herbs or radishes, which can be planted tightly and are quick to grow to maturity. In contrast, plants like sweet corn often only produce two to three ears per plant, making them less productive for small-space kitchen gardens.

4. Ditch the Lawn

Traditional turf is perhaps the least productive planted area of a typical residential garden and often requires some of the most work. If you don’t need your lawn, consider replacing it with plantings that have benefits to native pollinators, birds and other wildlife or that produce tasty fruits and vegetables.

This front garden by Carmichael Environmental in San Luis Obispo, California, does both with a border of flowering catmint (Nepeta sp.), which bees adore, and a flourishing vegetable bed loaded with kalesquashtomatoes and rainbow chard.


5. Collect Rainwater

Turn your roof into a productive area for catching rainwater with the help of a rain barrel set under a downspout. If you’re wondering just how productive it can be, consider this: If it rains 1 inch, you can collect over 600 gallons of water per 1,000 square feet of roof. Use the stored rainwater to keep a kitchen garden or potted containers watered during drier months.

Tip: Before you purchase or install a rain barrel, be sure to check local laws. Certain states have issued rainwater-harvesting restrictions.


6. Multiply Existing Plants

You may be surprised at how easy it is to grow new plants from existing ones — and how much you’ll save by not having to purchase new plants. Geraniums and chrysanthemums (shown here) are a good place to start with cuttings, as both easily “take” from stem cuttings. Other plants, such as iris, can be dug up and divided after a few years to replant in new areas of the garden. Save the seeds of beanssquash or tomatoes to plant the following season.

Note: Propagation of patented plants isn’t allowed, but it’s OK to save the seeds or take cuttings of most garden varieties.

Woolly Blue

7. Build Raised Beds

Raised beds can help those with poor soil or drainage issues expand the growing space for fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers — and also save your back. For long-lasting raised beds, choose timber such as cedar, pine or redwood that is naturally rot-resistant. Fill completed beds with a mixture of fully decomposed compost, native topsoil (as long as it isn’t contaminated) and some added grit, such as sand or a succulent potting mix, to help with drainage.


8. Grow a Cutting Garden

Productive gardens aren’t limited to those that produce food. Try growing your own flowers for bouquets and you’ll also be supporting pollinators passing through your flower garden while you’re at it. Look for plants that have long stems, last in a vase and bloom for a long time. A few to try this spring and summer: peony, dahlia, zinnia, cosmossunflower, scabiosa, feverfew and alstroemeria.

Before Photo

Specialty Gardens

9. Plant for Pollinators

Pollinators play an important part in boosting the productivity of a garden by ensuring fruit trees, berries and veggies such as tomatoes, squash and cucumber set fruits. By planting nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants, particularly varieties native to your area, you can help support essential pollinator populations.

Before: Take a look at the dramatic transformation of this North Shores, Michigan, garden border. It started as a food desert for pollinators, but in the span of one season it was completely transformed into a pollinator paradise.

Specialty Gardens

After: Now, flowering annuals and perennials bloom from spring through late autumn, providing months of color and a buffet for visiting pollinators.

The designers at Specialty Gardens planted beebalm (Monarda sp.), crocosmia, helenium, yarrow (Achillea millefolium), liatrisJoe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), many of which are North American natives.

Homefront Farmers

10. Put Garden Waste to Use

Anything you clip or rake from your garden can be put right back to use in the soil if given time to break down, save for weeds that have set seeds or any diseased plants. Toss those plants into the green waste bin.

To create a productive compost bin, layer carbon-rich materials with nitrogen-rich materials, including kitchen scraps. Keep the heap well aerated by turning regularly. Afterward, you can spread well-decomposed compost on top of garden beds to return nutrients to the soil.

No room for a compost pile? Try a vermiculture with a worm box. Worms can break down kitchen scraps and finer garden trimmings and leave nutrient-rich droppings that can be added back to the garden.