Planning & preparation
- Fruit and vegetables will always grow best in a free draining soil and in a sunny position.
- Improve your soil structure by incorporating organic matter, compost or well-rotted manure.
- Heavy soil can be roughly dug during the winter and exposed to frosts that will help to break it down.
- Wind is the real enemy of fruit and vegetable plants. Avoid growing in exposed sites, or create windbreaks using artificial screens or by planting hedging.
- Before planting, clear the area of weeds by hoeing or digging out, or by using a weedkiller, but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- When planning what to grow, don’t forget to take into account what you and your family like to eat!
- It’s a good idea to rotate crops every year, to reduce the build-up of pests and diseases in the soil.
Do it right
- Container-grown species should be planted in the garden at the same height as they are in the pot. Check the level is right by placing it into the hole you’ve dug before removing the plant from its container.
- As plants become established, it’s a good idea to lay a thick mulch around them. This will conserve moisture and warmth and will help to keep weeds at bay.
- For details on how best to plant fruit trees and container grown shrubs and plants, see our Planting Techniques guide.
- Wear suitable footwear and gloves when digging.
- Wear gloves when handling fertilisers, compost or soil.
- Thin gloves can be worn for most planting and delicate work, but it’s best to wear rigger gloves when handling plants with thorns.
- Fruit and vegetable plants need to be well watered and regularly fed, by using a slow release fertiliser or a liquid, such as a tomato feed. Always follow the advice on the seed packet or plant label.
- It’s a good idea to store labels so you can refer to any specific aftercare advice at a later date.
Step by step
The most cost-effective way to grow vegetables, and some fruits, is from seed. Be sure to follow any specific sowing guidelines on the packaging. Dig over the soil and then rake the surface until you create a fine tilth, or texture.
Using a string line to mark the position, create a small drill (shallow furrow) with a trowel, to the recommended depth. Depending on their size, either scatter or place the seeds into the drill.
Carefully draw the soil over the drill, gently tamping the soil with the back of a rake, before watering in. Use a watering can that is fitted with a fine rose.
To avoid overcrowding, thin out the seedlings by nipping them off at ground level. Don’t be too aggressive when thinning out until the plants are becoming more established, as you may lose some to pests and diseases.
If growing seed under cover, simply sow into seed trays and thin out as above. Wait until the seedlings have 2 or 3 leaves before gently pricking them and planting them in larger seed trays or individual pots.
Plants raised under cover will need to be ‘hardened off'. Put them outside during the day before transferring them back under cover at night. They should be ready for permanent planting outside after a few weeks.
Continue to water and feed plants throughout the growing season as directed on the seed packaging, and always follow the manufacturer's guidelines when using fertiliser.
Strawberries can be grown in most soil types, including in containers or even hanging baskets; just avoid sites that are easily waterlogged. Strawberry plants quickly deteriorate and should be replaced after 3 years.
Plant outdoors from late June up to the end of September, making sure the crown is level with the surface of the soil.
When the fruits are beginning to form, it’s a good idea to put down a layer of straw, or plastic sheeting, to keep the fruit off the soil. If need be, use netting to protect your crop from birds or squirrels.
Raspberries can be planted from late autumn to early spring. Summer fruiting varieties need support, so build a framework of posts, about 2m high, and space them 3-5m apart. Stretch wire or string at 800mm, 1.2m, and 1.6m from ground level. Newly planted canes should be spaced 500mm apart and pruned to 250-300mm. Tie the plants into the framework as they grow.
Summer fruiting varieties should be pruned back to ground level immediately after they crop, whereas autumn fruiting varieties should be cut back in late winter.
Plant the rhubarb crowns in late autumn, so that the growing tip is about 25mm below the surface, but do follow the plant label for specific advice for the variety you are planting.
It’s best not to harvest in the first year, as this can seriously weaken the plant. From the second year on, you can start to harvest a few stems by gently twisting, rather than snapping, and pulling from the base.
Given sun, rich soil and regular feeding, tomatoes will thrive in even the smallest outdoor space. You can either sow seed into trays or buy pot grown seedlings or young plants, but don’t plant them outdoors until the threat of frost has passed.
Cordon varieties will need support, so when planting, insert a cane and tie in the main stem. Remove any side shoots that appear where the leaf branch joins the main stem.
When the plant has 4 or 5 trusses (this is where the flowers and fruit will form), pinch out the growing tip. When the fruit appears, a weekly feed with tomato fertiliser is recommended.
Apple trees are available in a variety of sizes; from dwarf to very large. Few apple trees are self-pollinating, so will need cross-pollination from a compatible cultivar growing within 25 metres or so.
Young apple trees are easily pruned and trained so that shoots grow at right angles from the main stem, or at an angle to create a fan shape. If your tree is heavy with fruit, you’ll need to thin them out; this is best done in early summer after the tree has dropped some of its crop. Remove small or damaged fruit and leave a space of around 100-120mm for the remaining fruit to grow unhindered.
Broccoli can be sown outdoors between April and June. Follow the advice in this leaflet to create a seed drill and plant 2/3 seeds approximately 300mm apart.
Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin to just one. Protect your crop from caterpillars and birds by covering with a horticultural fleece.
Carrots thrive on light soils, but some varieties will tolerate heavier stonier soils. They are best sown outside, directly into a seed drill between March and late June. Carrot seed is very fine, so sow carefully.
Although you will need to thin plants out, crushed seedling foliage can attract carrot fly, so it’s best to minimise this process as best you can.
Thin seedlings gradually, leaving about 50-60mm between them. Carrots need little attention and only need watering if the soil is dry.
The easiest way to grow onions is to plant ‘sets’ which look like miniature onions. You’ll get the best result in a reasonably sunny position with fertile soil.
Plant each set 100-120mm apart, and use a trowel or gently push them into the ground, so that the top of the pointed end is just protruding the soil. When the foliage turns yellow, your crop will be ready to harvest.