Planning for a More Productive Garden

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Companion planting flowers to draw beneficial insects in to the vegetable garden.

There’s one silver lining to the cold winter lull: time! Time to sit back, catch your breath and take stock of the last growing season – and time to consider what can be done differently for the next.

The pragmatic gardener will use what was gleaned last season to improve on the next. With all else being equal each new growing season has the potential to be slightly better than the one that went before, while the arrival of a new year means new ideas and fresh resolve. Here are a few things I’ll be concentrating on over the coming growing season…

Attract Beneficial Insects

I met an inspirational gardener last summer who goes all out for flowers. Far from sacrificing valuable food-growing space, the addition of insect-attracting flowers, she swore, actually improved overall yields. Beneficial insects improve pollination, help to keep pests such as aphids to a manageable level, and encourage a more natural balance to the garden. The likes of borage, calendula, cosmos and masses of frothy parsley left to burst into bloom ensure a real dynamism to her plot, while the backing track as she tends it is the hum of bees and the high-pitched trill of hoverflies (syrphid flies) – not a bad way to garden.


So, my first new season’s resolution is to plant at least 10 percent of the total area of my productive beds with flowering companion plants. If you want to add some flower power to your garden take a look at this video or read up on the best flowers for the vegetable garden.

Keep on Top of Weeds

Like our New Year’s ambitions to cut down on alcohol, stop smoking or lose weight, every growing season starts off with the best intentions. Keeping to them is a battle of willpower, but the rewards are worth it. Never is this truer than with my second resolution: to keep on top of weeds at all costs. I’ll be watching my beds like a hawk and will pounce on weeds as soon as I spot them.

Hoeing between potatoes to keep weeds down

The old adage that ‘one year’s seeding is seven year’s weeding’ is so apt. Start with clear ground and it’s far easier to keep it that way. Seek out weeds in between your crops. Hoe regularly on sunny days so that the weeds wither and perish. And, with ground clear, apply a generous blanket of mulch to smother upstarts and reduce competition. Swot up on the best approaches to weeding and stick to a rigorous routine of search and purge!

Grow More Soft Fruit

My garden is frustratingly small, which is far from ideal for a self-confessed plantaholic! So for my third new season’s resolution I’m going to concentrate on growing more plants vertically – after all there’s no shortage of fence space in my narrow garden. Top of my lofty aspirations is soft fruit, particularly raspberries and their many hybrids.

Berries of just about any type are the original superfoods: chock-full of vitamin C and perfect for anything from juicing to baking. They cost a pretty packet in the grocery store, yet they’re a doddle to grow once you’ve mastered their basic pruning needs.


Berries are hungry feeders, so plenty of well-rotted compost will be the order of the day. While I’m waiting for the cane fruits to establish I’ll attach some planters to the fence posts then fill them with quick-to-crop strawberries. I’m salivating at the prospect of even more sun-ripened berries by early summer!

Plan Succession Crops Successfully

We’re all guilty of short-termism: it’s human nature to concentrate on near-future priorities over distant possibilities. But when it comes to gardening it pays to think at least two seasons ahead.

For my final resolution, then, I will be making a concerted effort to plan for succession crops, where one crop is followed on by another within the same gardening year. That means more cold-season salads and vegetables after the summer staples are over. Think rocket, spinach and Oriental leaves such as pak choi following on from onions, squash and beans. Or leeks hot-tailing beetroot, bulbing fennel in close pursuit of garlic, kale on the heels of lettuce… you get the idea! I am particularly keen to grow more winter greens for my smoothie-making – this winter’s meagre supply of greens has already been exhausted.


If you haven’t tried it out yet, our Garden Planner is an obvious starting point for planning your succession planting. It includes a powerful feature that enables you to search for crops that can be sown or planted in a particular month in your location. These can then be added to your garden plan as gaps appear throughout the year, making efficient planning for succession crops genuinely straightforward. You can try the Garden Planner for free to see if it’s for you.

So, those are my new growing season resolutions. They’re modest enough, though there’ll be some hard graft ahead to keep to them. I’d love to know what your plan of attack is for the coming growing season. Drop me a comment below and let me know.

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"This past season I had about 8x the usual number of flowers and herbs in our garden. Everywhere there was an open spot, I stuck in some kind of flower or herb. I attempted to look at companion planting guides for direction, but in some cases I just dropped a few leftover seeds in and hoped for the best! What I noticed was that I did far less weeding, for one thing. We definitely noticed a lot more flying insects around and I even saw birds swooping down to eat insects early in the morning. I also noticed a lot less damage from insects overall. The best part was the sheer beauty of our little garden, which is not normally a thing of beauty except to me! It was quite satisfying to look out at any point in the season and see a sea of colors -- and hear a constant buzzing of activity. We had a bit of everything: Morning Glory, Zinnia, Sunflower, Nasturtium, Marigold, Calendula, Sweet Pea, Basil, Tarragon, Rosemary, Cilantro, etc. Many of the herbs we did not use for eating; I just let them do their thing in the garden. We plan to do the same thing this year and try other varieties of flowers and herbs as well. "
Jeremiah on Friday 15 January 2016
"Hi Jeremiah. Many thanks for sharing your experiences. It's so good to hear that others have such success with packing in the flowers. Your selection of flowers sounds perfect by the way - no wonder your garden was so alive with insects - great stuff!"
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 17 January 2016
"A few years ago I planted some Hibiscus (perennial) along the edge of my garden. They act like a Japanese beetle magnet, drawing the little devils away from the annuals. I just dust the hibiscus once a week with DE. I didn't plan on this as a trap plant, but it works great."
Ken on Thursday 19 January 2017

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