7 Things To Do Right Now To Get Ready For a Fabulous Summer Garden

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Hold on to your hat! Spring and its warmer cousin, summer, are just around the corner. Yes, even if you’re looking out the window at piles of crystalline, white snow — believe! One day soon, the days will lengthen and your summer garden will become just as real as those freezing temperatures! Here are seven things you can do right now to get ready for your most fabulous summer garden yet!

image: two raised bed summer gardens, one with low-growing leafy greens and a second with vegetables climbing a trellisIf you haven’t yet taken my Gardening Self-Assessment, now is the perfect time to do that. By answering just 11 questions, you’ll have the basics for a plan that will help you grow your best summer garden ever, and the printable assessment is free at this link.

Seed companies from companies like Seed Savers, Territorial Seed Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds have their catalogs at the ready. Be sure to request them now before supplies run low. Here’s a comprehensive list of seed companies to peruse.

Even before the catalogs arrive, though, there are a number of actions you can take right now to get that summer garden ready before the spring thaw.

1) Improve your soil, if it needs it.

Conditioning your soil is one of the first things any gardener should do. Keep in mind that soil composition can change over time and should be re-evaluated every so often.

Our summer garden was growing tomatoes non-stop, even throughout the winter, when suddenly everything pretty much died. We learned, later, that our soil had accumulated too much nitrogen and had to back up several steps to make some adjustments. You might need to:

  • Have your soil tested by your local extension office.
  • Mix compost in with the soil you now have.
  • Add amendments, per instructions from the extension office or local growers.

This article outlines even more mistakes a backyard gardener can make on her way to developing a healthy, productive garden.

2) Push your composting into high gear!

Make sure everyone in the family knows what can and cannot be added to compost. Place “compost catchers” near the kitchen sink and anywhere else food is prepared. You really can compost through the winter.

Get the kids busy shredding newspaper and old mail (remove plastic windows in envelopes before shredding). Be careful about using anything chemically treated. Visit a nearby coffee house and ask for their old coffee grinds. Ask neighbors for grass clippings, piles of old leaves, and vegetable peelings. If it’s too cold outside to venture out to a compost pile, keep a rolling compost bin like this one on the patio, just outside the back door, or in an outbuilding. You can always move it when warmer temperatures arrive.

3) Research what grows best in your area and microclimate.

If you’re not sure what to plant in your summer garden and when to plant it, visit a farmer’s market and talk to the pros or search on the internet for local gardening blogs.

Out of curiosity, I did a search for “Phoenix garden blog” and came up with 28,900,000 results. OK, most of those didn’t have the information I was looking for, but the way I figure it is that if someone cares enough to write about their gardening efforts, they probably have some pretty good information and tips to share!

Local nurseries (probably not the big box store nurseries) will likely have good advice about what grows best in your climate. Remember that many of us live in micro-climates, and our backyards may have more than one microclimate, which affects what we can grow and when it should be planted and harvested. Master Gardener events are also great for picking up tips from experts.

4) Check your watering system.

Replace any missing or damaged valves or hoses. There’s nothing quite like spending some money on seeds and/or seedlings, amassing a good amount of quality compost, and then coming out one day to discover that your plants are nearly dead from an unexpected heatwave.

This has happened to us, and it’s so disappointing. If your garden depends on a watering system, this is an area that can’t be neglected.

5) Think about what you like to eat a lot of.

There’s no point whatsoever in planting lima beans in your summer garden if no one, and I mean no one, in the family will eat them!

Once you have a list of what you and your family enjoy eating, check with gardening blogs, farmers, local nurseries, and planting calendars and schedule planting dates.

Take time to do your research. You may find that some carrots, for example, grow poorly in your soil and climate but there are other varieties that will thrive. I learned that in the Phoenix desert, I needed to grow a variety of carrots that produced short, stubby carrots that loved hot weather and the type of soil in our raised beds.

By the way of a bonus tip, winter is a great time for building and preparing your raised beds. Bookmark these tips for what you can do next year when you’re itching to garden but can’t.

6) If your planting season is still a month or more away, solarize your garden area.

This is a very easy thing to do, and I wish I had done this last month. It’s a simple way to rid your garden area of weeds.

Water your summer garden area very, very well and cover it with a huge sheet of clear plastic; this allows the UV light to still penetrate. I’ve seen some gardeners use black plastic, but it’s not necessarily the best choice.

Weight the plastic down around the edges to make sure that it doesn’t fly away, even in a good-sized gust. Wait for 4-6 weeks. This allows the weeds to sprout, thinking, “Yaaay! We can begin adding hours of backbreaking work to this poor gardener’s week!”

However, the joke is on them because once the seeds have sprouted, they quickly die, either from the heat beneath the plastic or from being smothered with no air or sunlight.

Some seeds won’t sprout at all but will still die from being overheated.

Add good microbes back into the mix with compost.

How lovely to enjoy a gardening season with very few weeds to spoil the fun!

7) While you’re messing around with your soil and summer garden area, check for earthworms.

I was pleasantly surprised this week to discover a nice, healthy assortment of worms in our herb garden that I didn’t realize were there.

If your garden area doesn’t seem to have worms, they can be purchased and added to both your garden and your compost pile. As long as your compost bin is in a sheltered area and safe from freezing, those earthworms will do their part in getting the compost ready, and if you live in an area that doesn’t freeze, the worms will be safe in the ground.

Remember to print your free Gardening Self-Assessment and create a customized plan for your best garden ever.

What are your favorite ways to get ready for a fabulous summer garden?


This article was originally published on May 29, 2020, and has been updated.

23 thoughts on “7 Things To Do Right Now To Get Ready For a Fabulous Summer Garden”

  1. Hay, great information. We are getting ready for our first plant soon too! You know as I am reading your post I am wanting to see a link to buy seeds or even worms for that matter ๐Ÿ™‚ You might want to add one..
    Thanks again.
    Preppers News Today

  2. Love this info!! Our garden area has a problem with Bermuda grass we plow we pull and every year it comes back any advise?

    1. Dig deeper to get every runner. Or, if you can go without that space for a year, spray a soil sterilant on it. Have to have green leaves so it absorbs. Even if it looks dead it might come back. You have to stay on top of it. If you can’t leave it dormant, protect your surrounding plants (with plastic?) and spray the bermuda several times over a month or two.

  3. IndividualAudienceMember

    I especially liked number 6. It would work very well for container gardening I think. Now if I could just figure out how to keep the seeds from trees out of the containers during growing season, maybe put the plastic back on later and poke holes in it for what I plant?

    I wonder if I put earthworms in my containers if they would stay there or just crawl out?

    Some of my containers are near where rainwater runs off the roof. I’ve often wondered if there were bad substances from the roofing material or if it’s a non-concern.

    I can think of one reason, two reasons why grow something like lima beans if you don’t eat them. For the practice and knowledge gained, and the flowers feed the bees and such. Although I admit those are not very good reasons and flowers would likely be a better choice.

    I also wonder if all the wasps in the Summer which love to suck at the lettuce stalks change the taste of the lettuce in some small way? One thing I learned, wasp traps do not work, except to catch small wild honey bee looking insects.

    Pardon the worse than usual grammar, pre-coffee.

  4. I used to fertilize our plants with commercil fertilizer. It made a bit of difference but not that much. A couple of years ago we got a bunch of laying hens. I started dumping the litter from the coop onto the garden. What a huge surprise! Things grow like crazy now.

    1. Chicken poo is one of the best fertilizers known to man, I’ve used it on my fescue fields and what bumper crops I had.

      1. Chick poo is indeed the bomb. My grandfather had bumper crops every years because he used generous amounts of chicken poo. He started spreading it in January and let it sit because it was “too hot” and then he would plow it under a few weeks before starting the garden. It was only a third of an acre but it fed five families with enough for all of us to can.

        He sold some and gave away some too. I used to ‘pick lunch’ with my grandmother in the mornings. I miss those all fresh vegetable meals. However, tomatoes got a three foot hole filled half way with horse poo, seems that worked better.

  5. Great idea about the cover and early sprouting of weeds.
    I love Lima Beans and will planting some this year.

  6. Thanks for all the info! I am looking forward to planting a nice, big garden this year. I want some practice in how to tend a garden in case my family’s food supply ever depended on it. Keep up the great work!

  7. Also check into permaculture. It is a good way to ensure some food is available even if you cannot tend your garden at some point in the future.

  8. Mike the Gardener

    A quick way to improve your soil is to use 1 part compost, 1 part peat and 1/2 part Perlite. Mix the compost, peat and Perlite thoroughly and use this as your garden soil or mix in with your current soil to amend it.

    Measure by volume, NEVER by weight, you’ll see why after you do it once. Mix all three in a large bucket. I like to use a clean 5 gallon bucket to to do my mixing in.

    If you do not have a compost pile, get one started, and until that is ready you can pick up some compost/humus from any home or garden center for a couple of bucks per bag (depending on the size of the bag).

    Perlite is also readily available at any home center, and you can substitute that for vermiculite if that is cheaper, which is rare, or your area simply only carries vermiculite as opposed to Perlite (which is also rare).

    Peat is available anywhere, and while some won’t use it because of environmental concerns, that choice is yours. You can substitute peat with coir, which is the husk of coconuts. You will have to soak your coir in water first to get it to expand.

  9. As a master gardener in my state, here are some additions/clarifications to your list

    2. Don’t use anything in the compost that has been chemically treated, also, only use paper products that have been printed with soy ink… stay away from things printed with petroleum based inks because they often have heavy, toxic metals, and you definitely don’t want those getting into your soil/plants.

    3. Visit a local Master gardener event, they are usually at local libraries and farmers markets on the weekends. Also, look at your state’s university extension office for plants recommended to your local environment.

    6. People are always surprised when I tell them to use clear plastic for solarization — the reason is because it allows the UV rays to shine through. UV is what actually kills all the nastyness in the garden ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, remember to add a nice helping of compost to the garden after solarizing, because it’s like antibiotics, it kills the good along with the bad, and you need to add the microbes back in.

  10. Hi, in response to the bermuda grass question. I read in “Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners” that if you sow turnips densely in that area they can get rid of it, if you don’t like turnips then lupin or tomatoes can do the same trick. I tried it and it worked. We call it couch grass in New Zealand.

  11. Pingback: 101 Vegetable Gardening Tips & Ideas | Mom with a PREP

  12. We are in an area of very heavy clay, in some areas it’s almost (is?) good enough for pottery. After years of trying soil amendments, we figure the only thing that will work is raised gardens doing the square foot method. A couple places we tried the soil amendments were just starting chickweed, plantain, dandelions, and a couple other useful ‘weeds’ so I will be encouraging them and buying a pkt or two of the French dandelion seeds to plant, and I want to try getting some jewelweed (great treating poison ivy, itchy skin, rashes, bug bites… leaves bruised, salve or soap) in the low area along the road. I’ll probably just collect seeds or see if I can dig up a few of them no one wants.

  13. Gustavo Woltmann

    Thank you for the advice for a Fabulous Summer Garden. You have a great idea. I will definitely try it.

    – Gustavo Woltmann

  14. I’ve heard that autumn is an even better time to focus on compost, as a lot of decomposition can happen over the winter. And if you have enough material, you can even heat water with it, or use it to help heat a winter grow space as it decomposes.

  15. This is a great list! We’re in Ohio (Zones 3-5, typically) and we always recommend our customers that have gardening or landscaping plans get started early. There is so much you can do in fall / winter to ensure a great growing and/or landscaping season!

  16. I am transitioning from container gardening to either in ground or raised rows this year. I covered my intended area with cardboard to kill grass/weeds. I also made plans with a neighbor to contribute to his compost pile for a share of it. Same neighbor and I will split a load of rabbit manure.

  17. Concrete Contractor

    Our recommendation, would not only to plant as much as you can but also organic. Avoid all that bad stuff. Other than that great article.

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