When it comes to gardening, everyone seems to have a different opinion of which method is best. That is because every gardening method has its own list of pros and cons. There is no “perfect” gardening method that will give you beautiful, prolific, bug-free, disease-free plants while requiring no watering or weeding… even though many garden bloggers would have you think otherwise!
In this post, I have put together a list of many of the popular gardening methods that are out there, as well as a list of pros and cons for each one. I hope this information will help you to figure out which gardening method will work best for you!
The lasagna gardening method is designed for building up your soil from the ground up. With this method, you add layers of different nutrient rich materials that will break down to become soil.
- This method does not involve any tilling or digging.
- Adding layers of nutrient rich material will enrich the soil. This will give you bigger, healthier plants with more nutrient density.
- This method is a good choice for areas where the soil is of poor quality or where topsoil is lacking altogether.
- Depending on how big your garden is and what materials you choose to use for your nutrient layers, you may end up spending a lot of money to have your materials (such as organic compost or mulch) hauled in by the truckload. In some areas, it may even be hard to source.
- With this method, it can sometimes take the layers a while to break down into soil (especially if you are using things like cardboard and newspapers.) If you need to plant right away, you will most likely need to buy some soil from the store to throw on top of your other layers so that your plants have something to root in.
The Three Sisters method of gardening involves three crops: corn, beans and squash. When you grow all three of these crops together, they offer benefits to each other. (NOTE: The picture below is to show how squash will act as a ground cover once it is mature, but I did not have corn and beans planted next to it in this space.)
- Planting your beans right next to your corn will fertilize your corn, because beans release nitrogen into the soil as they grow.
- When you plant your corn right next to your beans, the corn stalks act as a trellis for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for you to build supports for the beans.
- When you plant squash all around your beans and corn, it will act as a ground cover, helping to maintain moisture in the soil and cutting down on weeds. In addition, some squash vines have sharp spikes on them, which will also cut back on issues with animal damage to your plants.
- It can be very difficult to walk through a garden when the plants are too close together and the entire ground is covered. This makes it hard to get in there to water, weed and harvest your crops.
- When plants are touching each other, the lack of air flow between them makes them more susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew. In addition, diseases spread between plants very rapidly when they are all touching, as opposed to when they are spread out. If there is adequate space between them, the disease may not spread to all of your plants.
- The last problem with this method is that maybe you want to grow more than just corn, beans and squash! While these three plants are beneficial to each other, there are many other crops that you may want to grow that are not as mutually beneficial. Therefore, this method will not work with many other crops.
If you’ve been on the internet lately, you know that one of the fastest growing trends in gardening today is raised bed gardening. This method does not date back quite as far as some of the more traditional methods, but it does have its advantages (and disadvantages!)
Now, when I say “raised bed” garden, I am talking about the type with tall walls. Some people put down cinder blocks or wooden boards for a border and “raise” their garden by a few inches, but I don’t really consider that to be a true raised bed.
- Raised bed gardens are pretty. They tend to keep your garden looking neat and tidy if everything stays contained within the walls of the bed.
- Raised beds are much easier on your joints because you don’t have to do as much bending, squatting and crawling around on the ground. (For that reason, this is the method that I plan to switch to when I get older and can’t get around as easily.)
- The soil quality will be exactly what you want it to be, because you will be filling the raised beds with whatever type of soil you want. You are not limited by the type of soil that your property provides. You can custom blend your soil specifically for the types of plants that you want to grow.
- You won’t have any problems with weeds or grass encroaching in from the sides of the garden like you would with an in-ground garden. You will still have some weeds and grass pop up from the wind carrying seeds, but it is still way easier to deal with than the alternative.
- Raised beds can be expensive and time-consuming to build, and they are even more expensive to buy pre-made.
- It takes A LOT of soil to fill a raised bed!!! The soil itself, and hauling it or having it delivered to your house is also a significant expense.
- If you space your plants appropriately, you’d be surprised at how few plants you can actually fit in a raised bed. For this reason, they are not a practical solution for someone who wants to garden on a large scale.
- You will have to loosen all of your soil by hand if it gets compacted. You won’t be able to get a tilling machine into your raised bed.
I personally am not a fan of container gardening, unless you don’t have any other option (i.e.- apartment dweller, townhouse, etc.) I do, however, make one exception to that rule… my potatoes! (Pictured below) I have always had such a hard time finding and digging up my potatoes at the end of the season, that I decided to grown them in potato grow bags this year. So far, so good, and I’m looking forward to a VERY easy harvest!
- As I alluded to earlier, container gardening is a great option for someone who doesn’t have a yard. Containers can sit on a patio, a porch, a balcony or even a sunny room inside the house.
- Container gardening extends your growing season because plants can be moved inside overnight to avoid frost damage in the spring and fall. Some plants can even overwinter inside if they have enough light.
- When you garden in containers, your entire garden is portable! You can take it with you if you move, or even temporarily move it to a friends’ house while you go on vacation. You can also move the plants around during the day to make sure they get the right amount of sunlight/shade.
- In the northern climates, you can grow some varieties of southern plants that usually wouldn’t survive in the north, because you can move the plants inside for the winter.
- You can keep your plants nearby for easy access. Maybe you like to cook with fresh herbs or just want to quickly grab a leaf of lettuce for a sandwich. Having your plants right next to (or even inside) your kitchen will make it much easier to do so.
- Large pots can be expensive, and there is also the cost of filling them all with your soil mix.
- Larger containers can get heavy and can be hard to move.
- The soil dries out much quicker in containers than it does in the ground, so the plants will need more frequent watering. (Often more than once a day!)
- You will end up with smaller plants when gardening in containers. Plants are like goldfish, meaning that they will grow to fill whatever space they have. I grew several basil plants one year- some in pots on the porch and some out in the main garden. The basil in the pots got to be about 12″ tall and 8″ wide, but the basil in the garden grew to be around 48″ tall and 36″ wide! They were both planted from the same packet of seeds, but the basil in the garden had much more room to spread out… so it did!
(Planting your crops directly in the ground)
- This is the least expensive method of gardening, as you are just working with what is already there. It costs nothing other than time to dig a hole in the ground by hand, and if you save your seeds like I do, it also costs no money to stick those seeds in the ground by hand. This method is great for someone on a tight budget!
- As I mentioned earlier, putting your plants in the ground will give you much larger plants than growing them in containers.
- The plants’ root systems will be deeper and stronger.
- Because the ground holds moisture better than a container, and because the roots of the plants will be deeper, you won’t have to water your plants as often as you would in containers.
- The underground temperatures stay more consistent than the air temperatures. Therefore, the roots of the plants experience less stress than they would in a container, where they would have to adjust to drastic temperature changes from night to day.
- Gardening in-ground requires lots of bending, squatting, and crawling on the ground. This can leave you with a lot of aches and pains.
- Burrowing animals, such as rabbits, voles, moles and groundhogs could damage the roots of your crops, and will have easier access to eating the fruits of your labor.
- Weeds and grass can easily encroach and choke out plants. Constant weeding is a must in order to prevent competition from the weeds and grass for nutrients.
Using Garden Plastic
As you can probably tell from my pictures, I do choose to use 6 mil black plastic sheeting to help keep the weeds down in my garden. I garden over half an acre of land by hand, and mostly by myself. It would be impossible to keep up with all those weeds without the help of the plastic! Especially since I also practice sparse planting, which I will talk about later in this post. 😊
- Using the plastic cuts way back on weeding. You only have to weed in the places where the plastic is cut or torn.
- It keeps your walking paths clear.
- When the sun hits the black plastic, it heats up the soil underneath. This can help extend your gardening season in the spring and fall by keeping the roots of the plants warmer.
- The plastic holds in moisture and prevents evaporation from the soil that it covers.
- It is expensive to purchase and time consuming to put in place.
- You MUST secure the plastic to the garden or it will shift and/or blow away!!! (Don’t ask me how I know this!) I use a combination of landscape staples and heavy rocks to weigh down the plastic all around the border and along any place where I’ve cut a hole.
- You can’t drive a tractor through to till or spread manure unless you take out all the staples, move all the rocks and roll the plastic up first.
- I reuse the same plastic from year to year, but I rotate my crops. Sometimes the holes are not the proper spacing for the crops that shift into that area, so you have to make due with what you have.
- It doesn’t look very nice, in my opinion.
- It is very slippery when it’s wet, so use caution while watering plants! We actually used an extra sheet of plastic as a slip and slide for the kids!
- The plastic gets very hot when it’s sunny, so no walking through the garden in bare feet or kneeling in shorts.
- Bugs and rodents like to hide under the plastic where their predators can’t get to them. They can also overwinter much more easily under the plastic.
Dense planting is a method of gardening in which you plant your seeds or started plants very close together. Basically with this strategy, every plant is touching the next.
- There will be less room for weeds to grow.
- The dense planting covers most of the ground, so the soil will have better moisture retention and less evaporation.
- You can grow a lot of plants in a small space.
- You can use beneficial companion plants as ground cover to help cut down on weeds and retain moisture.
- You’ll spend a lot more money on seeds to plant.
- You will have more waste, as you will need to keep thinning out the plants as they grow.
- Your plants will ultimately end up being smaller and produce less fruit when they are crowded.
- When plants are touching, bugs and disease spread between them very quickly. This means that if one plant gets infested, they probably all will.
Sparse planting means leaving lots of space in between your plants. These plants are actually closer together than I would have liked, but I was running out of space in the garden and had to squish everything in! ☺️
- If one or some plants get bugs or disease, it does not necessarily spread to your other plants.
- This layout gives you much better air flow around your plants, which helps to prevent diseases such as powdery mildew.
- Your plants will grow larger because there is no competition for nutrients (therefore, each plant will produce more food.)
- You’ll have much easier access when watering, weeding and harvesting.
- Each plant will get more sunlight when they are not being shaded by each other.
- Sparse planting requires a lot of garden space.
- There is an extra expense to garden a large area if using plastic sheeting to keep the weeds down, or fencing in the garden.
- It requires more and longer hoses for watering.
- It takes more time to walk the garden, water, weed and check on everything.
I have tried many of these different gardening strategies, and the methods that I currently use are in-ground gardening, sparsely planted, and using black plastic sheeting to cut back on weeding. As you have seen, there are pros and cons to every method of gardening. It is really just about choosing what is right for you in your situation.
Which pros are the most important? Which cons are dealbreakers? What type of a space are you working with, and what are your gardening goals? These are questions that each person must answer for his or herself, but I hope the information that I’ve provided you here will be helpful in your decision making process. Happy gardening!
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments. 😊