Everything you need to know to start your 2021 vegetable garden

Reporting, writing and photos by Martha Belden 

Did you spend more time in your garden last year? If so, you weren’t alone. A recent survey by Axiom Marketing indicates that 49% of people spent more time working in their garden in 2020. This year, they predict 86% of people plan to garden the same amount of time or even more. 

Given the growing popularity of gardening, we talked to local experts about some of the best ways to start a vegetable garden and to discover what grows especially well in our corner of Northeast Ohio.

What grows well in Akron?

Akron’s hot summers are a gift to gardeners. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squashes, eggplants, okra and greens grow well in our area.

 In addition, we are fortunate to be able to continue growing vegetables after the dog days of summer have passed. “We are lucky in our area to have a growing season that can be extended by growing cooler crops,” says Karlie Graf, PR and marketing manager at Graf Garden Shop and Landscape. Such vegetables include broccoli, carrots, turnips and garlic.

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Seeds or seedlings?

The first decision is whether you want to start your vegetables from seeds or buy starter plants, also called seedlings. So, which is best for you? 

“This is all about your level of patience and gratification. I do not recommend seed starting for low patience or instant gratification personalities!” says Noelle Akin,  director of communications and education at Petitti Garden Centers.

“Peppers and perennials can take forever to germinate, so they would be my first choices when it comes to buying plants versus starting seeds. Your budget is a big factor here too. Startup costs for seed starting are fairly low — $10-$20 dollars, less if you use recycled containers. You may get 5-10 starter plants for the same cost,” Akin adds.

“My top recommendations for plants to purchase as seedlings are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb plants and berry bushes,” Graf says.

Of course, choosing to start from seeds or seedlings isn’t an either-or-situation. You can certainly grow a combination of the two.

Starting from seed

There are two ways to start seeds. The first is to plant seeds indoors several weeks ahead of the last frost of the season, which is usually around mid-May. 

Starting seeds indoors requires some basic equipment, much of which can be used year after year. Local garden centers and big box stores will generally have the seeds and supplies that you’ll need. A basic list includes:

  • A grow light (optional, but helpful)
  • A clear plastic cover to create a humid environment to encourage germination
  • Peat pots or recyclable containers 
  • Seed starting soil
  • A blank calendar (optional)
  • A small fan to keep the air circulating (optional)

The second way to start seeds, direct sowing, involves planting seeds right in your garden bed or container. The instructions on the packet of seeds should indicate which is the best method for that specific plant.

“There are also a lot of quick growing vegetables that I recommend directly seeding in your garden. Those include green beans, peas, beets, zucchini, carrots, corn, garlic, lettuce, mustard greens and collard greens,” Akin says.

Graf Garden Shop and Landscape shared the following list of suggestions for budding gardeners:

  • Do select varieties of seeds to start that are easy if you are new to gardening such as kale, lettuce, spinach, potatoes or onions.
  • Don’t try to grow everything if you are new to seed starting. Try a few varieties and purchase the rest as seedlings. You’ll gain confidence and knowledge and be ready to grow even more your second or third year.
  • Don’t grow more seeds and seedlings than your garden will have room for. Your plants will yield more fruit if they are not cramped in the garden.
  • Do consider using a blank calendar to plan when starter plants should go in the ground and when they will be fully mature. Then work backwards to see when you should start your seeds based on germination rates and maturity dates. 
  • Do read the actual seed packet to see germination and planting times.
  • Do keep a notebook to keep track of what is working for you, what you would do differently and which plants have been successful. You will thank yourself when you begin to plan for a new year.

So, when is it safe to put plants outside?

Ah, this is a question that stumps many gardeners. The answer varies depending on the cold hardiness of each plant. The seed packet or plant tag will indicate if it should be planted before or after the last frost. A general rule of thumb is that it is safe for tender plants to transition outdoors after Mother’s Day. However, the weather can differ every year, so follow weather reports to determine a safe date.

Keep in mind that plants growing indoors will need to be brought outside for short periods of time until they have acclimated and hardened off.  

In late March or early April, plant cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli and spinach.

In late May or early June, plant tomatoes, peppers, basil and other herbs. 

Still have questions?

We are fortunate to have great resources in our area to answer your questions. questions specific to your situation. Both Petitti Garden Centers and Graf Garden Shop and Landscape provide helpful online resources. Let’s Grow Akron also offers spring and summer workshops

Martha Belden, a gardener who learns by “trowel and error,” writes about gardening for The Devil Strip. She can be reached at marthabelden1@gmail.com.

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