Growing Zucchini 101: A Beginner’s Guide

different varieties of zucchini

Zucchini continues to be one of the most popular squashes.  A versatile vegetable, it can be eaten raw or cooked, and it can be enjoyed by itself or included in casseroles and pasta dishes. People not only love to eat it, but they also love growing zucchini.  It’s a popular crop with home gardeners, perhaps because it grows well in most climates and produces abundant fruit.

If you’re thinking of including zucchini in your garden, but are a little nervous about trying it for the first time, relax!  You don’t have to have a green thumb to grow it.

It does, however, help if you understand a little about the process of growing zucchini.  In this article, I’ll share an overview of how to plant and care for zucchini and when to harvest zucchini. 

Russian Sage Vs. Lavender? The Choice is Yours!

lavender blooms

Like many gardeners, you probably want to include a mixture of annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, and ornamentals in your garden.  Lavenders and sages are particularly appealing because they have both culinary and aesthetic value.  

You might be drawn to both lavender and Russian Sage, but you think that you might not have the time or garden space for both.  Which one to choose, and how do you make that choice?

First, understand that it may not be necessary to choose. It’s possible to grow both, although you might want to consider growing lavender in your herb and vegetable garden.  Then, you can display your showy Russian Sage in a perennial bed or wildflower garden.

In this article, I’ll share with you some information about both plants, including a description, a little about growing them, and some hints on what varieties might work best for you.  Then, you can make an informed choice on the question of Russian Sage vs. Lavender. 

Pumpkin Growing Stages: From Seed to Harvest

green pumpkin growing

Pumpkins bring out the child in all of us.  We love seeing the colorful Jack O’ Lanterns at Halloween, and it’s exciting to see pumpkins ripening in the fields, their bright orange colors blending into the autumnal landscape.

Did you ever consider growing your own pumpkins?  Pumpkins are a fun addition to any garden, and while they require a little space, they’re not hard to grow. 

Pumpkins do require full sun, and the larger varieties require space because their vines can grow 20 feet long.  However, if you’re space-challenged, there are smaller varieties available, and there are also some space-saving tips we’ll discuss later.

Before you begin planning your garden, you might want to read more about growing pumpkins in raised beds.

You’ll also want to learn more about the pumpkin growing stages, how many pumpkins you can expect from each plant, what the plants look like and how long they take to grow. In this article, we’ll dive into those topics and get you on the (garden) path towards growing pumpkins successfully.

Watering Potatoes: Best Practices for a Healthy Harvest

when to stop watering potatoes

Potatoes are a delicious part of most gardeners’ diets. They’re tasty no matter how you eat them – baked, fried, mashed, or stuffed, with or without a big pat of butter. And if you know how to care for them correctly to set them up for success, they can be easy to grow in your home garden. 

Once they plant potatoes, many gardeners have questions about the best practices for watering potatoes. Like all vegetables in the garden, potatoes do need a regular supply of water throughout the growing season to ensure an abundant harvest.

How and when to water depends a lot on the climate in which you live. In general, most vegetable plants need 1 inch of water per week. I’ve written an extensive article with lots of details on watering your vegetable garden.  Here we’ll cover watering potatoes specifically. 

Green Broccoli Bugs: What Are They + How to Deal With Them

Cabbage Moth Vegetable Garden

Every day in the summer I take my lunch break on my front porch, which looks out into my vegetable garden. From where I sit I can watch a lot of different insects and birds flitting and flying around my garden.

The one that’s always present, from spring through fall, is a little white butterfly that constantly circles around my garden. And there’s never only one. I can usually see at least three or four lazily flying about in the sun.

Have you noticed these insects in your garden, too?

If so, then this little white cabbage butterfly has also been responsible for the green broccoli bugs in your harvest and the culprit of the holes you see in the leaves of your cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. (These plants are all in them same family, Brassicaceae.)

Gardening Journal Template: Build Upon Your Success

front yard vegetable garden

One of the easiest ways to start garden recordkeeping is to use a gardening journal template. My real life garden journal consists of a few different parts which I’ll explain in this article.

Garden recordkeeping helps you become a better gardener over time.  You train yourself to pay attention to what is happening in the garden and that knowledge assists your learning and skill building.

Recordkeeping  also reduces the guesswork from year to year.  After awhile, the gardening seasons begin to run together in our memories.  How many basil plants did you plant last year and in what bed?  What about two years ago?  Three years ago?

What variety of tomato was that orange one in the corner of the garden?  It was delicious, but you can’t for the life of you remember its name.  Too bad, you’d like to grow it again if you knew what it was…

I believe that keeping records is an essential part of gardening, especially if you don’t want to make the same mistakes year to year. And, I’m a big proponent of simplicity in the garden.

Keeping things quick and easy increases the chance that you’ll stick with them.

Does Herbal Tea Have Caffeine + How to Grow Your Own

chamomile flowers

With the current interest in healthy, plant-based foods and beverages, many consumers are turning to herbal teas as an alternative to sugary beverages. But, if you’re switching to drinking tea for health reasons, you may be wondering, does herbal tea have caffeine?

I’m a huge tea drinker, but not a fan of caffeine. I’m already a morning person, so I don’t need a big jolt to get me going when I wake up. But, I do like to sit with a warm beverage every morning while I read and relax before work, and caffeine-free herbal tea has been my go-to for many years. (Specifically peppermint, if you’re curious.)

Most herbal teas don’t contain caffeine, but there are some exceptions. First, I’ll share information about herbal teas that do have caffeine, then we’ll dive into your caffeine-free alternatives, including the best ones to grow in your garden. 

Stop Your Basil Plant Flowering: What to Do!

trimming for basil plant flowering

When you get a whiff of fresh basil, what comes to mind? If you answered, summer, I’m right with you! Basil is up there with tomatoes and watermelon as one of the signature tastes of the summer season.

I think basil is one of the most worth it plants to grow in the garden because once it gets going you can return to the plants again and again for harvesting. But, the key to continual harvests is –  you don’t want your basil plant flowering.

Luckily, that’s a pretty simple task if you know exactly how to harvest basil to encourage the plant to keep growing it’s tasty little leaves. Let’s dive in and learn some simple steps to take!

Watering Cilantro the Right Way: Expert Tips

growing cilantro

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you’re not in the “cilantro tastes like dirty socks” category of people. Whew! Me neither.

In fact, I love eating and growing cilantro, probably because tacos are one of my favorite quick weeknight dinners.  And IMHO, no one should eat a taco without sprinkling some chopped cilantro on top as the finisher.

Unfortunately, I hear from lots of gardeners who tell me that cilantro is a tricky plant to grow.

And I agree.

There are lots of reasons for that, mostly tied to the fact that cilantro is picky about the conditions in which it grows. Cilantro bolting is a very common occurrence in vegetable gardens everywhere during late spring and early summer.

And while you can’t keep you cilantro alive forever, knowing the best tips for watering cilantro will go a long way towards helping it live as long as possible, i.e. for many weeks of Taco Tuesdays!

Simple Ways to Dry Lavender From Your Garden

how to grow lavender

Who can resist the delightful and calming scent of lavender? You may think it’s only a summer scent, but if you learn how to dry lavender, you can immerse yourself in it all year long.

Lavender’s showy blooms will bring a touch of the Mediterranean to any garden. The blooms can also be cut and used in bouquets and, when dried, will retain their fragrance for up to three years. So, it works well in dried flower arrangements or in potpourris, sachets, or homemade soaps.

But how to dry lavender? What growing conditions does it require, and how do you harvest it for maximum beauty?

Relax (ha!)! You don’t need a green thumb to grow lavender, and it’s not necessary to invest a lot of time and muscle work into it. It does, however, help to understand a little bit about this fragrant herb. So, I’m going to share some tips with you about how to grow, harvest and dry lavender.

Pepper Plant Spacing Made Simple!

harvesting peppers

Growing peppers can be so delicious that when you’re out in the garden harvesting the colorful, ripe fruit, you’ll be tempted to bite right into them. But, successfully planting and caring for your plants so they yield baskets full of rainbow colored peppers can be challenging.

First, you’ll want t make sure you choose the right pepper varieties for your region. You can read more about my favorites in this article.

Then, once you have your plants, you’ll want to focusing on planting them correctly so you set them up for a long season of success. This is where pepper plant spacing comes in. And that just happens to be the focus on this article!

When you learn how and when to plant peppers, including the best spacing, you’re well on your way to an amazing season of sweet pepper harvests!

harvesting yellow peppers

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When & How to Plant Peppers

Best Time to Plant Peppers
Pepper plants are very sensitive to low temperatures. They should not be planted in your garden until you’re certain  the last frost has passed. It’s better to delay planting than risk the death of your plants.

I advise regularly checking the 10 day forecast around the time you’re thinking of planting your pepper seedlings. If there’s any chance of frost you should definitely hold off planting.

In my zone 5 (WI) garden, our average last frost is typically mid-May. But, one year I lost 35 peppers plants over Memorial Day Weekend because I was in a hurry to plant before going out of town, even though the forecast called for pretty low temperatures.

I have an article that shows you how to figure out your average last frost date. It also features a printable planting calendar template that’s customizable to your own garden. It will tell you exactly what to plant each week of the spring season. Grab the planting schedule.

Prepping Garden Beds
I don’t recommend tilling your garden because it can create more weeds by bringing seeds to the surface. The soil structure in your garden is also a complex web of bacteria and fungi that serves your plants better if it stays intact. And, wrestling with a tiller can be a lot of work.

You don’t need to dig, flip, till or do any heavy soil lifting. I definitely don’t! In fact, many people are shocked when they find out that I’ve never tilled my garden in the 21 years I’ve been a gardener. You can read more about setting up a no-till garden. I’m all for simple and easy in my garden.  And I share exactly how I go about prepping spring garden beds.

How to Plant a Seedling in Your Garden
How I prep a garden bed depends on what I’m planting (seed or seedling) and what the weather has been in my garden. Peppers are planted by seedlings, not seeds, so this part will go quickly!

There are some specific steps you should take when planting seedlings and I have two ways for you to learn how do it correctly:

You can read this article about how to plant seedlings which takes you through the eight steps I use for planting every time.

You can also choose to watch the video that accompanies the above article. I filmed it in my garden to demonstrate planting a seedling in real-time. The video talks a bit more about how I don’t dig or flip any of my soil before planting. I simply pull the mulch aside and plant. So easy!

Read and/or watch those first and then come back to find out about the specifics of planting peppers.

picking peppers

Everything You Need to Know About Pepper Plant Spacing 

In my experience working with thousands of gardeners over the years, I’ve learned that many gardeners either plant seedlings way too close, which stunts their growth, or super far apart, which wastes space.

I’m a big fan of planting seedlings at just the right spacing to maximize how many I can plant in a garden bed and also give them the room they need to grow.

At their mature size, the leaves of the pepper plant should be just touching the leaves of its neighbor plants on either side. Anything closer and they’re too crowded, anything farther apart means you could have fit more plants in that space.

My favorite pepper plant spacing is three rows down the length of the garden bed. But, this only works if your beds are between 3 1/2 – 4’ wide. If they are this size, I recommend planting your pepper plants 18” apart in 3 rows.

If your garden beds are more narrow or wider, you can simply adjust the number of rows across the bed. For example, if your beds are 2-3’ wide plant two rows down the bed. If your beds are 5’ wide experiment with 4 rows per bed.

You should always stagger the planting of seedlings so that they are offset from each other in a triangular pattern like in the illustration below. This gives them more room to grow.

Below is an example of my pepper plant spacing. Each circle is a plant. They are spaced 18” apart in three rows down the bed. The rows are simply distributed evenly across the 4′ wide bed.

pepper plant spacing guide

Examples of Pepper Plantings

I grow 30-35 pepper plants in my garden each year. Yes, I LOVE growing peppers, it’s true. I usually plant one long garden bed full of peppers and then spread the rest around in my garden where there is extra room.

Below are some examples of how I like to plant my peppers.

examples of pepper plant spacing

This photo shows a full garden bed planted with three rows of peppers down the length of the bed.

If you don’t have a full garden bed to devote to your peppers or you just plant a few, you can plant them wherever they’re going to get full sun, 8-10 hours/day.

This photo shows one of my garden beds with a trellis. I planted a single row of peppers on the south side of the trellis so they wouldn’t get shaded.

how far apart to plant peppers

A Farmer’s tip – In my area of Madison, WI, many farmers use black plastic to grow peppers because it heats up the soil in our cooler climate. I’m not a huge fan of using plastic in the garden, but I did manage to find an old billboard that I use to cover the soil. I cut holes in the vinyl at every 18″, three rows to the bed. 

I then planted a pepper in each hole. I’ve done some experiments where I planted half of my peppers in the bed covered in black plastic and the other half in a bed covered with mulch. I haven’t seen a remarkable difference between the two, but I’m going to keep experimenting.

You can see the black billboard peeking out from under the plants in one of the photos above.

Pepper Plant Care & Maintenance

Don’t overfeed your plants with nitrogen or your peppers will produce a lot of leaves but not much fruit. Using a complete organic fertilizer when planting is a great way to supply some extra nutrients. Read about which organic garden fertilizers I recommend.

Mulching around each pepper plant (I like marsh hay) will help retain moisture and build up organic matter. It will also prevent the pepper fruits from touching the bare soil, which sometimes causes them to rot. Read more about  vegetable garden mulch and why it’s the ultimate garden tool .

Most vegetable plants do best with about 1 inch of water per week, more if you have sandy soil. If it doesn’t rain around an inch during the week then water your plants deeply with a wand and hose or install a drip irrigation system. Read more about the best ways to go about watering your vegetable garden.

Peppers that are fully loaded with fruit have a tendency to lean or fall over because the plant can’t support the weight of the ripening fruit. I recommend supporting each plant to help it remain upright.

In my garden, I tie each plant with sisal twine to a bamboo stake. I also have a few cute U-shaped bamboo stakes I bought at a garden store. 

pepper plant staked in garden

This photo features a 2′ tall u-shaped bamboo stake. I sandwich the plant with sisal twine and also loop it around the stake to hold it up. See close up shot below. Find them here.

pepper plant staked with bamboo

Below is a garden bed of with my recommended pepper plant spacing. Each plant staked with a single straight 2′ piece of bamboo. I tie the plant to the stake with the twine. Find them here.

pepper plants growing and staked in garden

Peppers grow best at temperatures of 70-80 degrees F during the day and 65-70 F at night. The plants set fruit at temperatures between 75-86 F. If temperatures are below 72 F they won’t set fruit well.

If the temperatures are above 90 F during the day or less than 55 F at night while the plants are flowering they often drop their flowers. This unfortunate timing might result in less overall fruit to harvest.

freezing peppers

Additional Resources for Growing Great Peppers

I love growing peppers and have a lot of articles about this delectable, but sometimes challenging, vegetable.

If you start your own pepper seeds, it can be a tricky process. There are some specific steps you need to take to ensure success. My tips for starting peppers indoors.

Read my Essential Guide for Growing Sweet Peppers.

If you do decide to prune your pepper plants (I’ve experimented with this!) make sure you leave some shade for the fruits to be protected from the mid-day sun.

Once your peppers start ripening, feel confident that you know when to pick peppers.

When the bumper harvest arrives and you have more peppers than you can possibly eat fresh, it’s time to preserve some for winter. My favorite way is to freeze them raw. It’s super easy! Come over to this article and I’ll walk you through my process for how to freeze peppers.

In each season of my Masterclass – Success In Every Season: Get Better Results From Your Garden All Year Long – we focus on exactly what you need to know to be successful. The seasons build upon one another (just like in your garden!) to create a complete toolkit of skills that will set you up for a more joyful gardening experience

When you make smarter decisions in your garden, you end up having more success, which means gardening is a lot more fun. Read more about it here.

gardening planning book



Set yourself up for a successful season with the Smart Start Garden Planner. It keeps garden planning practical, down-to-earth, and fun!

Get a sample of the book so you can peek inside here. 





If you want to learn more about how to make the harvest last longer by quickly and easily preserving vegetables, fruits and herbs, check out my book, Super Easy Food Preservinghere.

Get started stocking your pantry for winter!



There are many riches to be had in this world and I’d argue that a garden bursting with ripe, colorful peppers is one of them. Somehow they feel rare, decadent and valuable. 

Growing lots of red peppers is very much an attainable goal for your garden. And when you reach that goal, I hope you feel as rich as I do!





Save Time Preserving: Freeze Your Veggies!

time-saving food preserving tips for garden harvests

Our garden harvests start to roll in right around the time when everything else needs to be done – escaping our stressful lives for our long-awaited summer vacation, shopping for back to school clothes for the kids, and hosting our sister’s fun and rowdy family for their annual visit.

No wonder it’s hard to make food preserving a priority.

Combine this with the common misconception that the only way to preserve food is by canning (who has time for that?!) and you end up with a depressing pile of rotting vegetables staring you in the face every time you open the fridge door.

What if I told you there were plenty of time-saving food preserving tips for putting up your summer harvest that had nothing to do with long canning sessions in a hot kitchen sweating your little gardener buns off?

One of the easiest time-saving techniques is freezing vegetables instead of canning them. With canning, it makes sense to wait until you have a large amount of one vegetable, but with freezing, you can work with whatever quantity of vegetables or fruits you have on hand that day. And often, you can prep veggies for freezing in as little as 10 minutes.

Why mess with canning when you can easily freeze so much of summer’s bounty?

Learn how to get better results.

Let's starting with talking about the top 5 mistakes most gardeners are making.
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