Our Favorite Smart Gardening Tips from Michael Symon

The Food Network star shared his secrets to successfully growing, harvesting and preserving all kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Michael Symon demonstrates Pickling 101, as seen on Food Network Kitchen Live.

Michael Symon demonstrates Pickling 101, as seen on Food Network Kitchen Live.

Photo by: Jason DeCrow

Jason DeCrow

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Michael Symon is an early riser. Most mornings, he will wake up around 5:30 a.m., pour himself a cup of coffee and head out to his garden. There, he will spend about 30 minutes doing what he calls "putzing around": weeding, pruning, checking on the soil and seeing what needs water. “It helps relax me,” says Michael. His garden is filled with an impressive variety of plants: oregano, basil, arugula, kale, tomatoes, strawberries, you name it.

Recently, Michael (along with his pup Norman!) hosted a live Q&A class on the Food Network Kitchen app, during which he shared his tips and tricks for achieving success in the garden, plus answered everyone’s questions. Here, a few of the biggest takeaways:

Plan Ahead

“I always start planning next year’s garden now,” says Michael. At the end of the season, he draws a picture of his garden, takes photos and reflects on the past season. “I write down everything that has done well and hasn’t done well, so I know where it was,” he continues. He uses this record to strategize how to arrange his garden, where to move his plants for next year, and which seeds to order. “You should never plant the same thing in the same place two years in a row,” advises Michael. Check out his class for the reason why!

Spoil Your Soil

While Michael fills the garden with compost at the end of the year and again in the spring before planting, he also adds nutrients to his garden throughout the season. This extra step makes all the difference for some types of produce, such as tomatoes. Michael says, “We save our egg shells, dry them in the oven, grind them up and work them into the soil constantly.” It is also important to take a close look at the dirt itself. If the soil contains powdery mold or mildew, that’s a surefire sign that the plants are either not getting enough sun or getting way too much water.

Choose Wisely

Do some research before adding any seeds to your shopping cart. Just as gardens come in a variety of sizes — from tiny urban outdoor spaces to acres of sprawling land — so do plants. Make sure you’re aware of what you’re growing and how much space it will ultimately need. You don’t want to plant something that will immediately outgrow the space or overtake the rest of your garden. Also, pay attention to climate and ideal growing environments.

Make It Last

As this year’s gardening season slows down, devote some time to preserving your harvest, so you can continue to enjoy your hard work in the months to come. Here are just a few of Michael's go-to methods: Dry woody herbs such as oregano and thyme by tying bunches together and hanging them upside down in the kitchen. Blend soft herbs like basil and cilantro with olive oil and freeze the resulting puree in ice cube trays. Turn peppers into savory-sweet jams and jellies. Can tomatoes or cook them down into sauce.

For more gardening tips, be sure to check out Michael Symon’s Vegetable Gardening and Harvesting 101 class on the Food Network Kitchen app. Ready to start pickling? Michael has you covered on that front, too.

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