Gardening is a relaxing and educational activity for your whole family that yields delicious edible results. Even if you’re working with a limited amount of space, you can still grow a stunning selection of tasty, nutritious herbs and vegetables that will add life to any recipe.
Chicagoland is located in USDA Zone 6A, an area that includes parts of Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, and Kansas. The growing season here is typically from the middle of April — or after the last frost — until early October.
You’ll want to start your preparations in advance to enjoy the maximum amount of growing time and get a bumper crop. Ready to get your hands dirty and plant the seeds of success? Read on for more info on how to get your garden going this spring.
Make a Plan
The first step is to take accurate measurements of your available area. According to the Chicago Botanic Garden, you’ll want a spot that gets six to eight hours of sunlight, ideally oriented north-south, with access to water.
Whether you have a large yard, a patio, a balcony, or even just a window box, you can still maximize your square footage and enjoy fresh organic produce with a container garden. Many edible plants flourish in small pots or on trellises, and if you have a bit more room, galvanized steel tubs full of lush greenery are a crisp, modern addition to your backyard landscape.
Raised growing beds are ideal for a bigger garden. You can craft them from any strong material like wood, brick, concrete, or PVC. This gives you complete control over the soil and a better choice of which crops you can grow. Elevated beds are also great for those with back pain.
If your HOA allows you to, many vegetables can serve as borders or accents in your front yard. Nothing adds easy curb appeal like an abundance of beautiful, healthy plants.
Your Herbs and Veg
Now it’s time to decide which crops would you like to plant. There are many veggies that do well in our climate:
- Lettuces and greens
It’s a good idea to start growing your favorite herbs inside and then bring the pots outdoors after the last frost.
If you adore French cuisine, you’ll be more than familiar with herbes de Provence — a spice mix that’s a crucial ingredient in a variety of delectable dishes. The traditional blend consists of thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram, and basil.
Fresh parsley is beneficial for your digestive system and is also featured in many iconic dishes, such as tabouleh, pesto, and chimichurri. Dill is also a fabulous choice for your herb garden, as it’s delightful on eggs and seafood, and a must-have if you want to explore the pickling arts. Mint pairs exceedingly well with many meat dishes and it’s a necessity for making the perfect Mojito.
You can also keep some of your herbs, small tomato varieties, and dwarf sweet peas in your kitchen to add a cheerful pop of green and a fresh scent.
Fun in the Sun
Once you’ve decided which crops to plant, now it’s time to dig in. Your local garden center will have everything you need to get started, or there are many specialty shops online that feature heirloom seeds and an array of pots and containers. Independent nurseries in your area offer a chance to get invaluable advice from local experts.
There are also online programs that are designed for the horticulture novice. They can walk you through every step of the process, answer questions, and help you reap the benefits of all your hard work.
Here are the basic items you’ll need to start building your culinary garden:
- Hand tools like a trowel, pruning shears, and weeding fork
- Hose with a sprayer attachment and watering cans
- An angled shovel (triangular head)
- A sturdy rake
- A cart or wheelbarrow
- Containers with drain holes
- Planting bed border materials
To achieve the most desirable results, plain old backyard dirt won’t do the trick. For plump, healthy produce, you’ll need soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
If you haven’t yet, you might want to start composting. This is a simple and sustainable way to transform kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and yard clippings into a powerful organic fertilizer for your culinary garden. Until your homemade compost is ready to go, you can purchase ready-made from a garden supply store.
Vegetables, in particular, need plenty of drainage and aeration to thrive. Soil should be moist and earthy, without too much sand or clay. A 50/50 mixture of compost and topsoil should be a good medium for almost any herb or vegetable.
Growing a garden of heavenly herbs and vegetables isn’t difficult, but it does take a bit of work and careful observation.
While we get plenty of summer rain here in the Windy City, we also regularly suffer through intense heat waves that can wilt your tender seedlings. Plants need at least 1 inch of water per week, and more if it’s over 75 degrees. If it’s hotter than 85, you’ll want to give them a refreshing drink every day.
Of course, you can’t water them too much or that will also harm your crops. Just maintain a regular watering schedule and watch your plants for any sign of too much moisture, such as yellow droopy leaves, no new growth, and mushy soil.
Weeds can also make an unwelcome appearance in your garden. Some weeds are beneficial and add a certain flair to your beds, like nettle, crow garlic, lemon balm, and dandelion (which can be used to make wine). But they’re also competing with your produce plants for valuable moisture and nutrients in the soil. Any weeds you wish to get rid of should be plucked out ASAP so they don’t have a chance to spread.
Harvest Your Gourmet Ingredients
A garden chock-full of luscious vegetables, nutritious greens, and fresh herbs will help you wow your family and friends with farm-to-table, chef-quality meals. There’s nothing more satisfying than enjoying the literal fruits of your labor come harvest time.
While your garden grows, you’ll love spending time outdoors surrounded by fragrant plants and flowers. Lush greenery also adds value to your home and boosts your curb appeal.
When Home Means More, You Need a Team With More to Offer
For many of us, the way we think about our homes has changed — and that might mean you’re ready to make a move to find one that better fits where you are now. After all, home is about so much more than just four walls. Sometimes, you need more of what’s outdoors. Buying or selling a home is a big deal, our homes have never been more important. That’s why your local Baird & Warner agent is with you at every step of the way, with the tools and support you need to make your real estate journey easier — including in-house connections with local experts in mortgage and title. So whether you’re looking for more space to run and play or just enough for a seat in the sun, your Baird & Warner agent can help you through every part of the buying and selling process to find the place that’s just right.