Get Your Vegetables Off to a Good Start
Growing a vegetable garden in Alberta’s short growing season can be a challenge. So, to expand your timeline for growing awesome food, consider starting your plants indoors early. With some seed starting trays and some little pots, you can start all kinds of veggies and fruits as early as January or February, moving them out to your garden when the weather is nice enough. Alternatively, consider using an inexpensive or portable greenhouse in your backyard to amplify our natural resources (sunshine and moisture), helping your plants to grow and produce faster in the same short growing season.
Purchase Properly Zoned Plants
Growing regions are separated into zones in the plant world, and different types of plants do well in certain zones. Cochrane & Area is generally considered anywhere from Zone 2 – 4, so plants that are ‘Zoned’ for 2-4 are more likely to survive and thrive in our environment. The lower the zone, the hardier the plant (so Zone 2 is hardier than Zone 4). We help gardeners by only providing Alberta-hardy perennials, trees and shrubs at our greenhouse, so our customers know that anything from these categories that they purchase from us is going to be properly zoned.” Click here to download a list of hardy trees, shrubs and perennials that are perfect for growing in this climate.
Use Good Soil
Often understated, the importance of your soil is absolutely key. The soil in which your plants grow is the vehicle for their nutrients and moisture control. By providing a well-balanced soil that promotes proper nutrient transfer, as well as appropriate moisture retention and proper drainage, you can set your plants up for success. In the right soil, a plant can efficiently gather nutrients and water, which is the absolute foundation to their hardiness and survival through the winter. Most commonly, we recommend a 3-in-1 soil that contains peat moss, loam and compost, which provides a simple, cost-effective, well-balanced soil.
Planting the same crop in the same place year after year can deplete the soil of specific nutrients, since each plant will feed a little heavier on certain micro and macro nutrients. Changing the locations that specific flowers and vegetables are planted in each year helps to maintain balanced, properly-conditioned soil. Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and beets are common culprits for depleting soils, but this rule applies to all plants!
Water, Water, Water
Another super-duper-understated step in creating a healthy, prairie-hardy garden! Our dry summers and clay-filled soils can make it difficult for new plants to get established. As they grow, plants will develop a root system that will get them access to natural water sources – however, this can take years. Water new (planted this season) trees, shrubs and perennials daily, for one to three minutes, to provide a deep and thorough watering. Trees, shrubs, and perennials planted within the last 3 seasons should still be watered regularly, as they are still establishing themselves. Check on flowers and vegetables every day, especially if it is hot outside. Typically, the natural precipitation that we get here in Alberta is not enough.
Adding an organic fertilizer to the soil is an important part of supporting the right growing environment for our plants. By providing some organic supplements, especially during the first few seasons, we can help create a bio-active environment that becomes more and more self-sustaining over time. Organic nutrients are far more effective at this process than synthetic, and in fact, most synthetic fertilizers can actually destroy the beneficial bio-activity that is already present! Here are some quick tips for choosing your fertilizer:
- During growing season (usually May to July), use a fertilizer with higher nitrogen, which promotes above-ground, green growth in your plants.
- Preparing for winter (August – September), use a fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen, but higher in micro-nutrients like fish or kelp, which strongly encourages the development of healthy root systems and cellular health. These systems are key for winter hardiness!
Water-in and Mulch-Over Before Winter
Before the winter frost comes, it is important to water-in your new plants (give them a good, long drink as it begins to get cold) and place mulch around the base of your perennials, trees and shrubs. By adding mulch over the top of your plants roots during the summer months, you can help to create a more sustainable watering situation, as mulch makes a huge difference in moisture retention. But it’s especially important over the winter, because it helps to insulate plants’ roots against the drastic temperature changes of Chinooks.