Here are some gardening hints that might help If you struggled with your garden last year, but don’t get discouraged, as some are common challenges that all gardeners miss at some point. Sometimes we learn our lesson the first time, but sometimes we need reminding!

Spacing plants appropriately is something that many struggle with. When we start positioning new plants, it seems like the spacing recommended is way too generous. ‘There’s no way they’ll get that big’ we think as we plant them in closer than they should be. But they will get that big. And having vegetables in particular too close together can cause lower yields, require more watering, and make it easy for pests and disease to spread faster. If your plants seemed too crowded last year, take a ruler with you this year when you plant.

Planting too early when you are itching to get your seeds into the ground. You’ve bought the seeds, and they are burning a hole in your, well, wherever you keep them. You just want to start them. Or you picked up some plants on the first lovely weekend of the year. What can it hurt to begin planting early? As it turns out, quite a lot. Planting too early can result in spindly plants because of too little light, they can be more prone to bolting, and you’ll also have to transplant them up in pot sizes more times, which sometimes isn’t good for the plant. Bougainvillea doesn’t take kindly to being moved too often is one to look out for. If you put bedding plants out too early, they may not have the right soil temperatures they need to establish well.

Weeding is the bane of every gardener’s life, and the trick is to get them under control before they overwhelm your garden. There are three secrets to weed management - start early, do a little at a time, and be consistent. If you start early enough, they won’t have a chance to get established. The more regularly you weed, the more you’ll keep them under control. Don’t attempt to go out and weed the whole garden in a day. Pick one bed, one row, or one type of plant, or one patch, and weed for 5-10 minutes a day. You’ll be surprised how much weeding you can get done in 5 minutes.

Watering, too much or too little, is a balance that can be hard to achieve. It’s one of those gardening skills that takes practice. For outdoor gardens, this can sometimes be difficult to control because we are at the mercy of the weather. Check your pots (or plots) every two days during cool weather and every day during hot weather. Feel the soil with your hand. If it’s dry 2-3cms down, you need to water it. On hot days you may need to water potted plants every day. Early in the season, when your plants are still babies, it’s a good idea to check the soil every day since they’re much more susceptible to water stress. And even pots collect weeds, so pull them out when you find them.

Fertilising is sometimes something we forget. Many of the most common vegetables we grow are heavy feeders, and they can deplete the soil of all its nutrients fast. In the short term, fertilize your plants consistently through the summer, especially plants like tomatoes and peppers. In the long term, enrich your garden soil with compost if you can, and consider a crop rotation routine, so you’re not growing the same kind of plant in the same space and same soil every year. It’s also very easy to replace the soil completely with potted plants, or even when you dig out an old plant, make the hole left behind a little bigger, and line the hole with fresh soil.

Plant location matters. Particularly if your garden is new to you, make a ‘sun map’ of your garden, which will give you an idea of where you have full sun, complete or partial shade. Check your plants’ labels for location guidance or check with the staff at the centre when buying.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan