Garden Challenge 2021: Narrowing the Focus

[San Juan Silver Stage | May 2021 | Mary Menz]

Gardeners often become overwhelmed early in the season. They plant the wrong kinds of plants together. They make the garden too big. Or, they try to grow plants that don’t do well in this area. The solution? Narrow the focus to increase yield and reduce gardening-related challenges.

Themed Gardening

 If you like squash, plant only zucchini and plants that require the same amount of water so that you minimize the time required to weed and water plants. Consider growing an Italian Garden with one tomato plant, one zucchini plant, and one basil plant. Use the harvest in your favorite Italian recipe, such as lasagna. This kind of garden can be planted in a large half barrel or a deck-side plot of just 4 x 4 feet.

Small, themed gardens are fun and friendly to new gardeners, too. Like flowers? Tuck nasturtium seeds in between plants for edible leaves and flowers to add to a salad to be served with the lasagna!

Focus on Just One Crop

 Love strawberries? Plant ONLY strawberries. Put all of your effort into preparing the soil for these tasty treats and purchase your plants from a reputable retailer. The experts at suggest that gardeners allow for six plants per person in your household. When you plant only one “crop,” gardening is much more manageable. Watering is simpler and there is no need to worry about overwatering one type of plant and under watering another.

Strawberries require moist loamy soil and lots of direct sunlight. A strawberry patch provides lovely little white flowers before setting fruit and picking the fruit can encourage more production. Enjoy the refreshing, juicy fruits of your labor in a season-ending strawberry pie or short-cake!

Garlic, too, is a great single crop option. Plant garlic bulbs late fall for harvest the following summer. Or plant garlic bulbs now for late fall harvest. They don’t like to be overwatered so you can take a vacation and not worry about finding a friend to care for your plants!

Strawberry Patch

Strawberries make an attractive, low-maintenance garden. Add visual interest to the patch with found objects like this antique mower. Image, ©Mary Menz.

According to well-known gardening author John Jeavons (How to Grow More Vegetables), strawberries make great companions to the easy-to-grow nutrient-dense spinach. Neither require much care in the garden and each has about the same water needs. The fast-growing spinach can help overshadow pesky weeds while the strawberry leaves grow large enough to cast shade on its soon-to-emerge fruit.

Need help?

 Reach out to the Tri-River Area Extension office. Local Master Gardeners take calls and offer a “help desk” to identify garden pests and find solutions for other challenges. They can also help with soil testing. While their offices are operating at limited capacity due to Covid-19, you can send photos and questions to them via email at

Mary Menz is a Colorado Native Plant Master(R), writer, photographer, and the co-author of Common Wildflowers of the San Juan Mountains.