20 Tips for How to Maintain a Healthy, Attractive Vegetable Garden
Most of us plant backyard vegetable gardens to grow some of our own food, to teach our children about growing food or as part of adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Some gardeners are looking for a healthy, outdoor hobby to incorporate into their daily routine, others are looking for ways to reduce the chemicals their family comes in contact with and consumes, and some want to lower their environmental impact by growing some of their own food at home.
Whatever the reason you choose to plant your backyard garden, you most likely want it to look good and enhance — rather than take away from — the overall visual appeal of your yard.
If you have much experience with gardens, you probably already know that vegetable gardens are often more functional than fashionable, and not every garden looks like something you would want your guests to see during outdoor dinner parties.
It can be particularly difficult to keep your fruits and veggies looking happy and healthy during times of drought, since these conditions can lead to dry leaves, dying plants and plants that are prone to disease.
But with proper planning, regular maintenance and an eye towards design, you can grow fruits and vegetables in a garden that will feed your family and impress your guests.
Here are 20 tips to help you keep your vegetable garden looking good and producing well.
1. Don’t plant in rows.
Rows may be the traditional garden design that most of think we have to use, but there are few vegetables that actually need to grow in these single-file lines.
Your garden will be much more appealing if you stay away from rows, other than for corn and similar plants that do best when grown in this manner.
2. Use raised garden beds.
Raised beds give your garden a cleaner look, make it more manageable and allow you to have nice walkways between your plants.
This will help corral your plants into neat, little boxes and allow you to come up with an attractive garden plan to enhance its visual appeal.
Raised garden beds also allow you to use the soil of your choice and can help you have more attractive root vegetables at harvest time.
3. Treat it like a flowerbed.
When planning your garden, create a design just like you would in a border, an island or a flowerbed.
For example, plant taller items in back, moderate-sized plants in the middle and shorter plants towards the front.
If you are planting in raised beds that can be seen on all sides, place your tallest plants in the middle and work your way down to your shortest plants along the edge.
4. Plan before you plant.
Haphazardly planted gardens are rarely attractive, but that is exactly what happens when homeowners head to their local garden center and pick plants or seeds without a plan.
Start by making a list of fruits and vegetables your family eats often and that you would like to grow.
Then do a little research to find out which plants on your list are easiest to grow in your area.
This will help ensure that you select plants that are more likely to look appealing and healthy after you plant them in your garden.
5. Choose healthy plants.
One of the best ways to avoid disease and have attractive plants in your garden is to do your best to only bring home healthy plants.
Check for fungus, aphids and discolored leaves, and do not be afraid to take the plant out of the pot (gently) to check the health of the root system.
If you are starting from seeds, make sure you purchase them from a reputable company.
6. Choose plants that can handle drought conditions.
Unfortunately, growing fruits and vegetables requires water, which you cannot afford to waste if you live in Southern California.
This does not mean that you cannot have a backyard garden, but it does mean that you will need to take some extra steps to responsibly grow your food.
The first step in this, which will also help you have a garden that will look better with less water, is to choose plants with lower water requirements, such as peppers, kale and some varieties of zucchini.
7. Choose disease-resistant varieties.
Some diseases are more common among particular types of plants.
For example, squash plants are particularly prone to fungus.
Because this is so common, seed and plant retailers point out on packets and signage which varieties are resistant to the most common pests or diseases for that plant type.
This is very helpful for gardeners who want to avoid diseased plants in their garden, which can very quickly take away from its visual appeal and potentially devastate your crop.
8. Play with color.
A plant-based diet that includes fruits and vegetables of various colors is better for you and your family and is also better for your garden.
Choose plants with differently colored fruits and leaves to create a colorful garden with abundant visual appeal.
Some plants you could consider include red tomatoes, yellow peppers, deep-purple eggplants, orange pumpkins, green peas and white scallop squash.
9. Place plants closer together than generally recommended.
In most cases, you can plant your plants a bit closer together than it says on the seed packet or pot.
In fact, it is common to see plants much closer together in French kitchen gardens than in traditional American gardens, but these potagers successfully produce an abundant harvest.
Placing plants closer together will make your garden look fuller, inhibit weed growth, help the soil retain moisture and help you save water by wasting less on your watering days.
If you plant them a little too densely, you can always thin them out as they mature.
Keep in mind that plants prone to fungus and similar issues should not be planted too close together.
10. Incorporate flowers into your garden design.
The main purpose of your garden may be to produce food, but throwing a few flowers into the mix can make your garden much nicer to look at when enjoying your outdoor living spaces.
Flowering plants bring different colors and textures to the landscape, can fill in empty spots and can hide less-attractive, food-producing plants.
11. Plant a flower border around your vegetable garden.
This is something you can do when you are first installing your garden or to block the view of an established garden that may function well but is not that attractive.
Planting flowers also invites pollinators to your garden and, in some cases, can help protect your garden from pests.
For example, planting marigolds around the perimeter of your garden can help protect your plants from nematodes, aphids and other pests.
This means that something as simple as planting flowers can increase your harvest and keep your plants healthier (and better looking) while adding color and visual appeal to your garden.
12. Pull weeds regularly.
Weeds seem to allows grow much faster than desirable plants, and they will definitely take over — if you let them.
To keep your garden looking its best and to keep your plants healthy, it is imperative that you stay on top of weed control and pull them regularly.
We can all agree that weeds are unattractive and can very quickly make your garden look less appealing, but it is important to remember that they also compete with your other plants for water and nutrients.
13. Keep your soil healthy.
Healthy plants require healthy, nutrient-rich soil.
Without good soil, plants may not thrive, may not produce well and become more prone to disease.
Add compost or mulch to increase the nutrients in your soil, and pick up a soil test kit at your local garden center.
For less than $20, you can test the levels of certain nutrients in your soil, as well as the soil’s pH.
These easy-to-use kits come with instructions explaining how to amend your soil once you know how the state of your soil compares to the type of soil your plants like.
14. Deadhead and prune your plants.
Removing dead leaves and flowers, trimming dead stems and completely removing dead plants is integral to keeping your vegetable garden looking its best.
This should be part of your regular gardening routine, particularly if your garden can be seen from your outdoor entertaining areas.
Besides, this does not just make your plants look better; it also makes them healthier and can help them produce more.
15. Fall in love with mulch.
Mulch serves so many purposes in gardens that we should all make sure we always have some on hand.
Before we go any further, it is important to note that mulch is not the same thing as wood chips, and some bags labeled as mulch may be made from chemically colored or treated wood products.
This is mostly true of low-end, low-quality mulches, which might be okay to use around plants you do not intend to eat, but you definitely do not want to use them in your vegetable garden.
You want natural, untreated mulch that brings rich, organic material to your garden and nothing more.
Natural mulch can be spread around the plants in your vegetable garden to cover patches of bare earth, inhibit weed growth, help the soil retain moisture and even help prevent some diseases.
16. Include attractive walkways.
Pathways are a necessary part of garden design and allow access to different areas for pulling weeds, pruning, watering, planting and harvesting.
While the primary purpose of garden paths is to provide this necessary function, they can also enhance the overall look of your garden and help to connect it to the rest of your landscaping.
For example, continuing a paving stone walkway that runs through your yard into your garden provides sturdy, slip-resistant access for gardening tasks, while also harmonizing this space with other parts of your yard.
You can use paving stones, gravel or wood chips to create a functional, attractive walkway that will keep you out of the mud, cover up exposed dirt, keep the dust down and increase your garden’s visual appeal.
17. Fence it in.
If your garden has gotten way too out of hand this year, or if you want to grow vegetables but you do not have the time to pull weeds and remove debris regularly, it may be time to consider separating your garden from your outdoor living areas with a fence.
Installing a fence is an easy way to hide a less-than-appealing garden; plus, it will protect your plants from pets and local wildlife.
You can include a gate or an inviting arbor as an entryway to enhance the look, and you can plant flowers as a border along the fence to make the fence look more like an integrated part of your overall landscape design.
18. Incorporate it into your landscaping.
Fruit trees, herbs, melon vines and other edible plants do not need to be relegated to a specific garden patch in a corner of your yard.
There are many colorful, attractive varieties that you can incorporate throughout your yard in hanging planters, borders, flowerbeds and containers.
Lettuces, strawberries and herbs are particularly well suited for use around your yard and can be easily intermingled with your non-edible landscaping plants.
19. Know how to treat common issues.
Ladybugs can help save your plants from pests the might leave unsightly holes in their leaves, and there are several folk remedies for treating different fungi that affect certain varieties more than others.
To keep your garden looking its best, you need to know how to quickly treat the most common issues that could potentially affect your plants.
20. Surround it with artificial grass.
You can always count on synthetic turf to look green and attractive, which makes it the perfect backdrop or foreground for a garden that may not always look its best.
The vibrant color of grass that is always green can perfectly set off colorful blooms and the various textures in your garden, or it can distract your guests from a garden that has seen better days.
This low-maintenance option also helps keep the dust down, inhibits weed growth and is a drought-friendly landscaping option that always looks lush and verdant.
Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, Seeman; morgueFile, NDPetitt; morgueFile, Seeman; morgueFile, JudiBarrett; morgueFile, gracey