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Posted on Sat, May 18, 2013 : 10:19 a.m.

5 Tips on how to shop for a garden in 20 minutes

By Jim and Janice Leach


Janice Leach | Contributor

If you want to put a small vegetable garden in your yard today, it can be done. Let’s say your ground is prepared and you are ready to go — all you need is some plants. You could spend a leisurely Saturday wandering around various garden centers or the farmers’ market, but maybe you’ve got a sizable list of things to do, and getting the garden in the ground is just one of them.

Here is our strategy for an almost instant garden.

1. Pick one shopping site. It may be tempting to comparison shop all over town, but going to one site will speed up your plant acquisition. For us, that place is the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market, open Saturday from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

2. Make a list. Note what you want to make sure to get, maybe favorites from previous years. Buy what you want to grow — what you like or what is economical for you. Make some decisions ahead of time so you don’t end up with too many surprises, but consider trying a new plant that you’d like to grow and prepare at home.

3. Travel in pairs. If you are going to the farmers’ market and want easy parking, you should have already been there. The best back-up strategy is to have a driver and a shopper. The driver can search for parking while the shopper shops, and they can meet up inside. If there’s no parking to be found, you just saved a dollar by having the driver circle while the shopper shops.

4. Do a quick run-though. Circle the stalls and scope out the selection. We have a couple favorite growers but we like to see what’s available. Prices are going to be comparable overall, but watch for any special offers or deals on a whole flat of 12 plants.

5. Select healthy plants. When making your choices, examine the plants. Take the time to look up close. Choose green, leafy, compact plants. Avoid spindly, pale plants. Avoid plants with blossoms. Avoid plants with insects or mold. Avoid plants with overgrown roots. Healthy seedling are the best way to start.

If your soil is prepared, make an effort to get your plants in the ground today or tomorrow. If not, today is your day to prepare your garden beds by weeding and loosening the soil, if necessary.

If you are pressed for space or time, you could also consider the alternative of container gardens. You may not get as high yield from a patio tomato, but it can be a satisfying way to garden if there aren’t other alternatives.

If you aren’t in a hurry to get your garden going, by all means you can take your time. But if you want to launch your garden today as well as get everything else done, use these tips to get your almost instant garden off to a good start.

Jim and Janice Leach tend a backyard plot in downtown Ann Arbor, where they try to grow as many vegetables and other plants as possible. For the last five years, they've published gardening tips, photos and stories at their 20 Minute Garden website.