How and When to Start a Vegetable Garden in Ontario

Living in Ontario means dealing with fluctuating temperatures year-round, which can be a challenge for novice gardeners. But you can still have your own successful vegetable garden if you plan it right and take regular care of your plants. Here’s a starter’s guide to starting a vegetable garden in Ontario.

Size and Location

If you’re new to growing your own food, it’s best to start small. The bigger the garden, the more maintenance it’ll take to keep it healthy. We recommend choosing an area in your yard between 3 and 5 metres square. You can always expand it next year if you find you have a knack for gardening!

Choose a spot where the ground is level to ensure water doesn’t pool at one area of the garden. Vegetables need at least six hours of sun a day, so choose a spot on the southern or western side of your house that gets plenty of light.

It helps if you can pick an area close to your faucet. This will reduce the time it takes to water your garden.

Preparing the Soil

Before you start planting, prepare the soil by raking out stones and pulling weeds. The best soil for gardening is soft, loamy, and rich in nutrients. If you’re planning an organic garden, be sure your soil is organic as well.

Choosing Plants

Ontario has a short growing season, but there are still many vegetables that do well in our climate. Easy beginner plants include tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, chard, radishes, peppers, cabbage, lettuce and beets. Pick your favourites, but be sure to have a mind for companion planting. Not all vegetables do well when planted side-by-side.

As a beginner, one of the decisions you’ll have to make is whether to start from seeds or seedlings. Seeds are less expensive, but they can be a challenge to get going. Buying plants from a nursery costs more, but it gives you a leg-up by eliminating the trouble of germinating the seeds. Planting seedlings also lets you start later in the growing season; seeds need to be in the ground as early as spring.

When to Plant

Here in Ontario, the weather is far too volatile to set strict planting dates. Instead, it’s best to pay attention to the soil temperature and frost when determining when to plant.

Most seeds should be planted a certain number of week before or after the ‘last frost date’, meaning the date after which there’s only a 10% chance of a hard frost. That falls mid to late May for most of southern Ontario, but it can vary year-to-year. The soil temperature can also fluctuate with the weather.

This is another reason seedlings are an easier option for newbies!

Planting

When it’s time to plant, mark your rows with stakes to indicate what kind of vegetable is there and when it was planted. Follow the instructions on the seed packet or card that came with the seedling; otherwise, you can find guidance on how to plant different vegetables on the Farmer’s Almanac site.

Be sure to plant taller plants on the northern and eastern side of your garden plot. Otherwise, they could shade the shorter plants and reduce the amount of sun they get.

If you’re working with seedlings, choose an overcast day but dry day on which to plant. This will reduce the stress on the plants.

Weeding

You should start weeding your garden right away, as they compete with your plants for nutrients and growing space. If you let them grow too much, you risk damaging the roots of your vegetables when you pull the weeds out. Set a regular schedule of once or twice a week, depending on your weed situation.

Weeding is easier on days when the soil is moist, such as the day after rain or watering.

Watering

Most vegetables need 3-4cm of water each week to thrive. You must water your plants several times a week if it doesn’t rain, especially when your plants are young. Small plants have shallow roots, so they can’t reach the moist soil further below the surface.

Always water in the morning or early afternoon. Watering later in the day means the leaves will be wet overnight, which makes them more susceptible to pests and fungal disease.

Mulching

Mulch is a soil cover made from organic material like hay, leaves, peat moss, or grass clipping, Once your plants have reached a height of 10cm or more, you should lay mulch around them. This helps to prevent weeds and cools the soil down to conserve moisture.

Planning a Landscape in 7 Steps

Creating a beautiful landscape takes time.

A landscape should be both beautiful and functional for the people who use it. Home renovation shows make it look easy, but good landscaping takes a lot of time and planning. Before you break ground, be sure you’ve considered each of the following steps in the landscaping process.

1. What Do You Need?

Think about how you plan to use the space. Do your kids need somewhere to play? Are you hoping to start a vegetable garden? How often do you have friends and family over for dinner? These answers should inform the decisions you make regarding your landscape. Don’t forget to consider special needs, such as pollen allergies and the need for wheelchair access.

2. What Do You have?

Many landscaping mistakes occur because the person forgot to consider the space they’re working with. It’s worth the time to study the sun, wind, and drainage patterns of your yard before you start planning the landscape. For instance, you may not want to put a patio in an area that gets tons of sunlight, but a vegetable garden would go great there.

3. Consider Maintenance

How much time and money are you willing to spend keeping your landscape beautiful? Think about how much effort it’ll take to mow that lawn, water those flowers, and weed that garden bed. You can cut the time you spend on maintenance by adding some low-maintenance plants, like shrubs and trees, and covering areas of lawn with a patio.

4. Sketch it Out

While you surely have a vision of the perfect yard, it can be hard to visualize the steps you need to take to make it come together. Once you’ve decided what need from the space, draw an overhead map of your yard on a piece of graph paper and start sketching it out.

5. Start with the Hardscape

Hardscaping refers to elements of the landscape that will remain static, like a porch, sidewalk, driveway, deck, fence, patio, or rocks. Adding the hardscape usually involves some construction, so you should get it done before you start planting.

6. Lay the Soil

It takes time for plants to grow in and look their best, but you can speed up the process and ensure your plants take root by adding good soil with organic matter. Loose, fertile soil will help your new plants establish quickly. The DIY Network recommends using a garden hose to lay out the lines of your garden beds, then use orange spray paint to mark the lines before you put down soil.

7. Choose the Right Plants

Your choice of plants will depend on your personal preference and the climate where you live. However, there are a few key points for greenery success in any landscape:

  • Plant to compliment your house. Put low-growing shrubs and plants in front of low windows an porches, and larger plants at the corners of the house to help frame it.
  • Plant around focal points. Choose a stand-out feature that draws the eye, like a tree, sculpture, rock, or shrub, and coordinate your flower beds around it.
  • Plant with variety. Select plants of various sizes, shapes, and colours to make your landscape interesting. Spread them throughout the yard to pull the design together.