Whether you are a seasoned gardener, or a first-year grower, it's pretty much guaranteed that during the mid-July to late August season, you'll have some questions. The weather gets really hot, the rain can come for days on end, and suddenly tomato leaves may look withered when they weren't just days before. Herbs may turn downcast. Bugs may be stuck underside squash leaves.
And while there are plenty of resources for gardening tips out there (including FoodPrint's Get Growing guide), these days Instagram, TikTok and other social channels have become a main source of inspiration and guidance. The hashtag #gardeningtips has been used on Instagram nearly 580,000 times and interest in gardening, in part sparked by the pandemic, has turned some gardening enthusiasts into bonafide influencers.
Food writer Kristin Donnelly started her podcast "Plant Out Loud" in April 2021 to share the voices of these gardening enthusiasts. After spending time at Ohio's Culinary Vegetable Institute while helping to write "The Chef's Garden" cookbook, Donnelly wanted to learn more about plants. "I think the podcast was a way to indulge my curiosity, number one," she says, "but also just to share some of the people who were interesting to me throughout the process of [working on] "The Chef's Garden" and people I had been talking to after that as well."
Donnelly interviewed a wide range of people on "Plant Out Loud," including chef and longtime supporter of the farm-to-table movement Peter Hoffman; Linda Shanahan, an herbalist and nurse; and gardening coach and tomato enthusiast Resh Gala. "It's so fun. It's endless. It's like cooking, right?" says Donnelly, who recently wrapped up her first season of the podcast. "I think once you start going down the gardening path it's never ending." She hopes to cover native plants, winter gardening and houseplants in the second season.
If you are wondering what to do about pests, how to fertilize your garden without using chemicals, or the best way to mulch, you can turn to the guidance of others, as Donnelly did. Whether you are a first-time gardener, or a seasoned grower, there is always something new to learn. Here are some great gardening tips from our favorite social media influencers.
Don't be afraid to prune
For gardeners just starting out, pruning can feel like a bit of a mystery. How much do you trim? When do you cut? Can you prune too much? Pruning and thinning helps provide better access to light and air, letting plants reach their maximum potential. Each plant is different, but some general tips do apply. For tomatoes and peppers, as the plants grow, trim the bottom branches to keep leaves off the ground, and thin out middle branches. And when it comes to seedlings, it's important to thin out your plants: removing some seedlings to make space for the remaining to grow to full maturity.
Houston, Texas-based Timothy Hammond (@bigcitygardener on Instagram and TikTok) recently reminded followers to also prune their herbs. "They will thank you by growing additional leaves for you to harvest," he recently posted. And if you don't have a use for the extra plants you trim, Hammond reminds followers that planting extra herbs for pollinators is also a good idea. "Simply letting these herbs flower can provide food for the pollinators."
Follow Hammond for quick gardening tips, DIY projects, recipes and helpful video tutorials from his backyard gardening adventures and/or sign up for his newsletter.
Learn what works for you (alternatives to tomato cages)
There are a lot of things that you are "supposed to do" when gardening: wait until after the first frost to plant vegetables, don't overcrowd your seeds. As Megan Gilger, who shares gardening tips from Traverse City, Michigan on Instagram @freshexchange, recently wrote, you need to learn what works for you and in your garden. "What works for one person doesn't work for others," she writes "but by sharing our experiences and knowledge we help each other make decisions and choices that are right for you." More specifically, she's talking about using tomato cages: "There is no one way in the garden and tomatoes prove that but for the love of your tomatoes and yourself can we all agree the tomato cage is poorly named? It is far better for eggplant, beans and flowers than our tomatoes."
Megan finds that tomato cages aren't the best way to support her growing vines; she finds them difficult to work with and unstable. Instead, on her blog and podcast, she gives instructions for creating a lattice framework with twine. Jill McSheehy, who Instagrams and blogs @thebeginnersgarden, tested two different methods one season, homemade cages and a staking method, to find which worked best for her. And some gardeners are pro cages, as long as they are sturdy; another helpful gardening Instagram, Homestead and Chill (@deannacat3) gives DIY instructions for successfully making your own. Check out their advice and tips to help decide what will work best for you.
Add some shade or change up the location
One of the biggest bummers for a new gardener is when a newly-bought seedling or plant withers a day or two after its been planted. The reason could be as simple as location; the light and conditions of your backyard are likely different from the garden store's. As Houston-based Marcus Bridgewater reminds followers on TikTok (@gardenmarcus), consider your location.
"I hadn't thought much about how the summer sun would affect the plants until May heated up, but I installed an umbrella over the bromeliads to shade them," he says. "Gentle reminder: It's important to adapt as the seasons change, and my bromeliads are much happier now."
Seed packages and gardening guides can help determine the best place in your yard or garden to place different plants. If your plants aren't mobile (in a pot), use a shade or umbrella, as Bridgewater suggests. During extremely hot weather, this is especially important. Planting tall plants, like sunflowers or sunchokes, alongside garden beds, is another common way of protecting against afternoon sun and heat in hot summer regions.
Start mulching with what you have
When temperatures heat up, plant growth may slow down because the moisture levels in the soil reduce. Besides shading, another great way to protect your plants is by mulching. Applying two-to-three inches of mulch around the plants will keep the soil temperatures lower and slow moisture evaporation. Mulching also insulates soil during the cold winter months. Along with its temperature control benefits, mulching helps block out weeds, protects microbes and other soil organisms and provides nutrients to plants.
While mulching materials are sold at gardening stores, Misilla dela Llana (who Instagrams @learntogrow and is on TikTok) suggests using materials you have on hand. "We try to be resourceful as much as possible," she says, suggesting pine needles, shredded dry needles and dry grass clippings. dela Llana, who has a vegetable gardening book due out next year, also gives several mulching tips: "When laying organic mulch, make sure to keep it away from the main stem of plants and tree trunks. This will prevent rot and harboring pests and disease around that area. I usually place mulch around the plant like a doughnut. For trees: Mulch 12-18 inches away from the trunk. Other plants: 3-6 inches away from [the] main stem."
Give your plants a boost
As for fertilizer, newbie gardeners tend to either overuse or not use it at all. Some gardening books suggest buying high grade chemical fertilizers (we don't suggest this) or using commercially available organic fertilizers. Compost and worm casting are also used as fertilizers.
If you follow Marco Thomas on Instagram (@marco_is_growing), you'll find a slew of gardening tips, along with directions for growing your own organic fertilizer. He uses fermented plant infusions, a technique that has been popularized by JADAM farmers, also known as Korean nature farming. "Want a low cost, clean, and easy way to grow your plants?" Thomas writes. "Start making your own JLF Liquid Fertilizer [JADAM Liquid Fertilizer] today. You need a bucket, plant material, IMO or good soil, and water. Good for every plant! Let the microbes do the work 24 hours a day."
In this case, IMO is not the internet slang acronym for "in my opinion," but stands for Indigenous microorganisms, the beneficial fungi, bacteria and yeasts present in healthy soil. By steeping these materials with certain beneficial plants, natural farmers can help boost plant productivity. Along with Thomas, following the accounts for the JADAM technique's founder and hashtags like #naturalfarming and #fermentedplantjuice can provide more inspiration and advice for using natural repellents and fertilizers like neem oil, fermented fruit juice and more.
Get rid of weeds and pests (naturally)
Along with feeding your plants the good stuff, gardeners also need to deal with those pesky weeds. Since chemical pesticides are a no-go in our book, we look to advice from account's like podcast host and horticulturist Chloe Thomson's (@beantheredugthat) on how to deal with the weeds. Her tips include mulching (which helps smother the weeds), identifying and eating the edible weeds and embracing the art of hand weeding, which she finds therapeutic. Pro tip: Hand weeding is easier after the rain, when the ground is softer.
But her two biggest tips include being proactive and preventive. First, make sure to catch weeds before they flower, spreading new seeds around your garden, casting out more future weeds. And for long term weed control, Thomson suggests "dense plantings – the LESS bare ground you have for weeds to inhabit, the less weeds you will get. So PLANT that garden & cover that bare ground."
When it comes to pests, one of Kristin Donnelly's (@kristincdonnelly) biggest gardening tips is planting a diverse garden. "A lot of times, the flowers attract beneficial insects and then those beneficial insects will eat some of the pests like aphids," she says, recommending the book "Vegetables Love Flowers." "This is not going to prevent [every bug], I've certainly had other pests, but having a biodiverse garden helps."
Getting rid of blight and leaf spots
Another common issue gardeners tackle are the spots and withered leaves that appear on plants, particularly tomato plants, often in early July. Resh Gala (@reshgala), one of our favorite Instagram accounts to follow for gardening tips, recently shared some great insight on how to tackle these problems.
"Septoria leaf spots, early blight, late blight are all fungal diseases that affect tomato plants (and others too)! It usually occurs due to heavy rains, conditions of high heat and humidity and wet foliage," she writes. "As July rolls around, many of us can spot these in our veggie gardens!"
To combat the problems, she first prunes the diseased leaves, then cuts bottom leaves and branches to encourage airflow. She then uses an organic fungicide, spraying every five to seven days. Gala recommends Arber's Bio Fungicide, while Chloe Thomson's (@beantheredugthat) suggests @ecoorganicgarden products. After pruning, don't forget to wash your gardening shears with soap and water, then wipe with an alcohol-based cleaner, so the disease isn't transferred to other plants. Gala also suggests rotating the area where you grow your plants (tomatoes or other nightshades like eggplant or potatoes) the following year.
Start planning for fall
Although it may feel as though the summer produce season is just getting into high gear, as Resh Gala recently reminded us, gardeners should also start thinking about their fall planting plans. Using a succession planting plan, also known as successive planting, allows you to extend your harvest by staggering plantings of crops of varieties with staggered maturing dates. You can stagger the same vegetable, spacing out the plantings every two-to-four weeks, or you can plant vegetables with different maturity times, so you always have something to harvest. In the late summer, you can plant cool weather crops to be ready for a fall harvest.
Here are a few things Gala recommends for planting/direct sowing in August for a fall harvest: bush beans, beets, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, brassicas (such as cabbage, broccoli and kale), peas and swiss chard.