Vegetable Garden Maintenance – How To Make It Easy

Vegetable garden maintenance is easy when you’ve gone through the process of designing and installing a healthy organic vegetable garden.

Even if you follow the very basic steps I’ve gone through in this series of lessons, you’ve definitely decreased your garden maintenance.

The thick mulch keeps your weeds to a minimum, and the few that come up are really easy to pull. It also keeps the soil moist, vastly decreasing your watering requirements.

It gives homes to all kinds of beneficial organisms that do all kinds of important tasks, like controlling plant predators. And if you get into the detailed ecosystem design in the Smiling Gardener Academy, pests are largely taken care of by a diverse group of critters, especially after a few years of tweaking that ecosystem.

So the main vegetable garden maintenance is really watering. Be sure to water the whole vegetable garden, not just the plants. All organisms in an organic garden need water and you really need to have those organisms be healthy.

You don’t have to do much of any pruning when you’ve taken the time to use the right plants, being sure to plant things that aren’t going to get too big for a space. And you’ll learn that you don’t have to prune plants for their health or anything silly like that – they know how big they should get and how many branches they should grow.

You can bring in microbial inoculants and organic fertilizers, too. I do it to promote the healthiest possible vegetable garden I can, and to grow the healthiest possible food. I’ve talked about them a bit on this blog and in more detail in the Academy.

Do you have questions about vegetable garden maintenance? Feel free to ask below.

Vegetable Garden Maintenance Video Transcript

When you follow the steps in the Academy or even just the steps we’ve been going through in these videos, vegetable garden maintenance becomes really, really easy.

You’ve done such a good job planning and installing things that garden maintenance becomes not much of an issue.

So let me show you here, I’ll point the camera down. First of all, I should just show you something I haven’t mentioned yet and that’s the fact that a vegetable garden.

Although it’s fall right now so mine isn’t in the best shape, you know things are kind of dying back, but you can see how it can be beautifully incorporated into a nice, curvy bed.

It doesn’t have to be out in the back corner of the yard, its right by the house, it’s a really nice, curvy beautiful bed right up by the house there. So, that’s kind of a side point that I should have mentioned somewhere because that’s what I really love is doing that.

So, I want to look at the mulch here first. You know, when we have this mulch here, such a simple inexpensive thing to do and it could be leaves. It could be something else.

But we’ve taken care of most of the weeds and any ones that do come up are so easy to pull.

We have made it so we have to water much less. It’s going to hold water in there in the mulch itself, but more also from stopping evaporation.

It improves the organic matter content of the soil because it breaks down slowly.

It gives homes to all kinds of little critters that organisms, animals and microbes that help control pests so it does everything right. There are just so many benefits to a mulch.

So what it comes down to, the main thing is watering, which I’ll do today here. You want to water properly, deeply, not too often you don’t want to do it every day for a few minutes.

You want to water really deeply, make the roots go down for the water. You want to water the whole soil not just the plants. We need to give water to all the worms and the microorganisms, the fungi, all of that, everything that lives in here needs water in order to make the soil healthy.

That’s why we want to water the whole soil really, really super important, and the mulch. We want to keep the mulch wet, too.

In terms of pruning, I do very little pruning. I’ve learned that a plant knows if it needs to be pruned and if if it thinks that it needs to discard a branch it will do it on its own. There’s no need for us to prune any of this stuff when we plant it.

If you want to pull out unsightly things you can for aesthetics, but it’s for aesthetics. It’s not for the health of the plant, the plant will figure out what to do in terms of pruning.

The other thing I do which I’ve talked about quite a lot on the blog and I get into way more detail in the Academy is I use a lot of biostimulants throughout the year, with my inoculants.

So I’ll mix my EM with something like sea minerals and liquid kelp, the fish, the humic acids, all of that stuff I’ll mix it in water and when I get to watering my plants which I need to do today.

I’m watering them with these really beneficial biostimulants that provide a broad spectrum of nutrients instead of just NPK, and enzymes, proteins, oils, all kinds of active substances, even microorganisms.

I mix them in with my inoculants and I really make a really nice brew which I’m going to teach you how to do in the Academy.  

So that’s all there kind of is for vegetable garden maintenance. And we get into a little bit of pest control stuff, but eventually once the organic garden is healthy the pests are going to be largely taken care of.

I’m so excited, I wish I could tell you about the bonuses I have for when you sign up for the Academy. I have some really cool bonuses, free bonuses lined up, but I don’t have them confirmed.

I’m talking with some people I don’t have them firmly in place but as soon as I do you’ll read about them in the information page about the Academy. So I’d better not say them yet but I think that’s really cool.

For those of you who are interested in the Academy I always have some kind of a guarantee, I haven’t quite figured out what it will be for this. But I’ve spend hundreds and hundreds of hours this year and I know it’s good and I know most people are going to love it.

So what I do is I’ll probably do something like a 30 day, risk-free 100% money back guarantee so that you can try it out for 30 days, see if you like it. I know most people will, but some people it may not be what you expected and in that case you can just let me know and I’ll refund all your money no problem.

It doesn’t matter at all to me, I really just want you to try it out and so I’ll definitely have something like that just to make sure everyone gets a chance to try it out and they can feel that they can do it without any risk.

So that’s the last video in this series. So vegetable garden maintenance, it’s about mulching, always keeping the beds mulched, watered, I don’t worry about pruning.

I just worry about mulch, organic matter, water and my biostimulants and my inoculants and then I do some stuff maybe once a year like a little bit of compost and all that kind of stuff.

Certainly though we can get into a lot of detail about how to really do a good job on choosing different mulches, making a sheet mulch, making our compost, mixing all these things together properly and then getting into the design of the vegetable gardens and planting things, all the different ways to plant, planting into sheet mulch and seeding and starting seeds.

I’m excited about next year’s, there’s a whole bunch of stuff I haven’t filmed yet about a little bit of pruning that rarely is necessary and about harvesting and storing and preserving your food, oh just a whole bunch of fun stuff.

I’ve even started some cover crops right over here that I’m going to be teaching about because cover crops are one of the best organic fertilizers in my opinion.

So that’s all for now. I guess I could keep going forever. I get pretty excited about this stuff but I think that’s all for today.


  1. Brian on October 21, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Do you keep your mulch on year round? Or do you ever remove it?

    • Phil on October 21, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      My mulch is there year round. Occasionally there may be spots where I rake it aside for a week or so in the spring to warm the soil up, but mostly, it stays put.

  2. JonathanBrown20 on October 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I suggest you re-do your video 8, where you are planting an herb and cutting the roots, and mention and show applying mycorrhyzae to the roots. Important for folks to see it and learn about this fungus as much as possible. Also, in beginning of that video, you did a restart because of noise on the street – distracting.Jonathan

    • Phil on October 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm

      Hi Jonathan, I cover mycorrhizal fungi in the video after that. And I’ve edited out the restart – thanks for the reminder.

  3. Carolyn on October 21, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Hey Phil- I love all your videos etc. very helpful to me and to my staff- I don’t think you mention what your mulch is? Which do you prefer hay alfalfa??thanks for all Carolyn

    • Phil on October 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Hi Carolyn, nice to hear from you again. I have some wheat straw and buckwheat straw, but I’ll take whatever I can get – I do prefer organic. And I prefer straw over hay for a mulch because it doesn’t have much in the way of seeds. Hay is fine for the bottom of a sheet mulch where the weed seeds will be smothered, and alfalfa is great for that because it should have more nitrogen, but again, I’m happy with what I can get.

  4. andrea on October 22, 2011 at 12:36 am

    so if you have some winter veges,would you continue to use the kelp,em etc over the winter or not(greenhouse stuff)

    • Phil on October 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      Absolutely. If it’s warm enough for a plant to grow, it’s warm enough for microbes to flourish and for the plant to take in nutrients from biostimulants such as kelp.

  5. John Walsh on October 26, 2011 at 12:38 am

    These are really great videos. Eager to learn more about the Academy…You have very large beds. Assuming there are vegetables in them that need to be harvested, is it a problem (compacting soil) walking across them to reach the plant? I use 4’x4′ raised beds according to square foot gardening method that allows me to reach the middle from outside the bed. Any thoughts on SFG? It seems like it could be compatible with your philosophy (except for the undulating bed lines).You’ve given me lots to think about and the timing is perfect since I’ll be planning for spring now and through the winter.

    • Phil on October 26, 2011 at 11:52 am

      Square foot gardening is a fine way to go, in terms of the bed layout at least. It doesn’t teach much of anything about creating a healthy garden ecosystem, and consequently, it will be hit or miss whether high-brix, nutrient-dense foods are grown, but in terms of the layout of the beds, it’s a neat idea.Having lots of paths to access food is a great idea, but on the other hand, I also don’t worry about walking in my beds, mostly because I have a very thick mulch. Also, gardeners get freaked out about walking on soil, which is good because it shows they’re respecting their soil, but the truth is that the soil and plant roots can take it, especially in a healthy soil.

    • Terry Obright on June 25, 2013 at 8:19 am

      I too am curious about the academy that I’ve signed up for. I am loving these videos also. I am wondering if we leave a comment or question on one of these videos like this how do we get the response. Do we get a prvt msg like we do in our inbox on you tube, or do we have to go back and search for a response? And these comments on this video were made 2 yrs ago, are you aware there are more comments out here?

      • Phil on June 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm

        Since this is a public blog, if you want to be notified of responses, you can do that on an article-by-article basis by going to the bottom of this comment section and clicking ‘Subscribe via email’.

        • Terry Obright on June 26, 2013 at 5:11 am


  6. Tsilizani on December 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    What are humates? I do asume you mean human wastes such as faeces and urine. Am I right? Please clarify.

    • Phil on December 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      They’re not human wastes – they’re actually part of humus, which is organic matter that has been broken down by microbes. You can also buy them in a concentrated form as a product that is usually derived from leonardite, a soft brown coal, or other kinds of shale or humate deposits.

  7. Michelle Spencer on January 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Does the academy give a person any sort of certificate or degree?  Also:  Would you also not prune fruit trees or grape vines?

    • Phil on January 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Michelle, the academy doesn’t give a certificate, at least not at this point. For most fruit trees, I don’t prune much other than perhaps dead/damaged branches. I don’t have much experience with grape vines. In a residential setting I would tend to let them grow as they please, within reason.

      • Bear on March 31, 2014 at 5:37 pm

        Do you “prune” tomato plants (remove suckers at joints)?

        • Phil on March 31, 2014 at 7:00 pm

          Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t bother. It’s certainly an acceptable practice though for encouraging fruiting. Best to get them before they get too big in order to keep the wound as small as possible.

  8. Michelle Spencer on January 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    PS can you please respond to my email addess instead of here?  I’m about to archive this.

  9. Farmer Jen Merry Heart Farm on February 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    You mentioned oils in part of what you mix for the plant watering. Don’t oils kill the microbes, or are there some that can be used?

    • Phil on February 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Hi Jen, I don’t use oil. I was probably talking about the natural oils in fish fertilizer.

  10. Allen on February 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    What do you think about 2″ to 4″ deep pine straw fro mulch in the organic garden?

    • Phil on February 27, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      Hi Allen, I’m not too knowledgeable about the chemical makeup of pine needles. I wouldn’t put 2-4 inches in a food garden, but I would definitely do it in a garden with plants that would be used to that kind of mulch. My preference would be to mix it with leaves for mixed ornamental gardens.

      • Starthunder on May 3, 2013 at 11:08 pm

        Pine needles contain turpins, what turpintine is made from, also they are on the acid side and take forever to decompose (took over a year in compost). If one needs to increase the acid levels in the soil, pine needles have been suggested, however I do not recomend them due to the turpinee content. The content is much lower in brown ones than it is in green ones. They do make a very good tea as they do contain high levels of Vit. C. and has been used as a survival drink. By the way, I have enjoyed your site and I have been an organic, biodynamic, permaculture, biological farming praticioner and teacher of these for about 30 years and I am glad to see that you are as well, we need more people putting these practices to use.

        • Phil on May 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

          Thanks for the useful details! Glad you’re enjoying the site.

  11. Michelle Cox on May 31, 2012 at 12:37 am

    What do you do for watering?  Soaker hoses, sprinklers, water by hand with a hose?  I have been getting soaker hoses set up in my garden and I’m mulching over them and around the plants with leaves.  I live in Southeast Texas where it’s very hot and we usually have 2-4 weeks between significant rainfalls.  Very frustrating and expensive.  I’m interested in what you said about watering between the plants, not just the plants themselves.  It makes sense.  Will the mulched-over soaker hoses be able to do that?  Thanks for your videos!

    • Phil on June 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Hi Michelle, soaker hoses have their uses, but it takes a lot of them to properly water a garden because of exactly what you mentioned – we want to water the whole garden, not just the plants. Another problem with soaker hoses is that the water sometimes doesn’t make it up into the mulch layer, where many beneficial organisms live, and they need water, too.They do have their uses, but I instead go for overhead watering with a sprinkler that gets the whole garden. I water in the morning when it’s cooler and calm. Contrary to popular belief, evaporation is negligible.

  12. Susan on August 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I have a mice and chipmunk problem.. They eat everything. I have fenced a 12’X30′  area and have even fenced the top. They still seem to get in and eat my young plants. What can I spread around the outside to deter them??

    • Phil on August 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Susan, there’s nothing I know of, other than getting a cat, and perhaps protecting your seedlings if that’s at all feasible.

    • Groundthinking on July 24, 2013 at 6:42 am

      Mice and rats dislike mint a lot. Either put pots of it around your beds (don’t plant it in the ground as it takes over), or scatter prunings of mint around the bed. Oh and check out my blog

  13. Jing on September 26, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Hi Phil, I have enjoyed all your videos very much. Thanks for the lessons! As I don’t have much space, I’m doing container gardening. I did mulch and it was good but the moist environment attracted tons of snails and they ate my leafy green plants. I don’t know what to do.

    • Phil on October 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      Hi Jing, keep it in a warm sunny place and don’t overwater. Then they won’t be attracted near as much. Also, beer (or a mixture of of 2 Tbsp flour, 1 tsp brewer’s/instant yeast, 1 tsp sugar, 2 cups warm water) attracts them, so put that into a plastic container. They will crawl in and die. It’s kind of mean and gross, but it often works.

  14. Batfink on October 12, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I think your doing a grand job here Phil, soil food web gardening is the way we should all be doing it now. I will be joining the academy in the hope that you go in-depth with the subject and the science behind it.Anyone wanting to learn more pickup “Teaming with Microbes”, its the best book on the subject I have found.

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks! I go into a little science in the Academy with respect to microbes, but it’s mostly practical like how to brew good compost tea and how to activate effective microorganisms and so on. I agree, Teaming with Microbes is a good one.

  15. Angie on October 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Phil, I just received your book from Amazon and can’t wait to read it.  I enjoy your sincere enthusiasm for gardening and the environment.  Thank you!

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks Angie!

  16. Terry Obright on June 25, 2013 at 8:12 am

    my email videos I have been getting since signing up with the academy went from number 5 to video number 10. I do not know what happened to the rest of them nor how to find and retrieve the missing ones from the academy. When I go to the website all I see is the blog I do not know how to enter into the so called academy, so I only assume I just wait for your automated system to send me the videos. Am I correct or am I totally missing something here?

  17. Testing on June 25, 2013 at 6:22 pm


  18. joanww on August 31, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Do you still have to change where you plants tomatoes each year?

    • Phil on September 3, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Many people think it’s a good idea (I do it), but if your soil is in great condition, it’s probably not necessary.

  19. Patricia on September 5, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I am interested in signing on for the academy. Can a person start anytime? I’m thinking about studying over the winter so that I’ll have some good info to start next year!

    • Phil on September 5, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      Hi Patricia. Yes, you can start any time. Starting over the winter is an awesome way to do it, as you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when spring arrives…

  20. Jules on January 30, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Hello Phil.Your presentations has been great. I learned a lot. Hope this will not be the end. Thanks a lot.

  21. Louis Overs on February 9, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Hi Phil, I powderise burnt orange peel. should i mix it thoroughly with my compost or spread it thinly on the soil?

    • Phil on February 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      Powderised burnt orange peel is new to me Louis, but if you’re composting anyway, it’s always a good idea to do that first. Would also be fun to experiment with a topdress around certain plants, with others left as a control group.

  22. Anne Studley on October 3, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Thanks, as always, Phil, for great information. Two questions about pruning. First, I have a very dense garden, and when certain leaves die off, they fall on the leaves of other plants, and it seems to me that a rotting leaf (we get lots of rain around here in Halifax) can’t be good on top of a healthy leaf of another vegetable plant, so I prune or at least remove those that are dying off/dropped off and are on others. Is that unnecessary? The second question is about pruning squash leaves at this time of year. First, due to copious amounts of rain, my squash was hit with powdery mildew. I go out of town for work for days at a time, and when I got back one time, the problem was just too advanced for me to cure it with your baking soda mixture. At some point I felt that pruning those leaves that were so white or brown as to no longer be photosynthesizing was the best idea, so I cleaned them out. And I learned that new leaves would come in to take their place – that I wouldn’t be practically killing the plant, thank goodness. But I also feel that pruning any leaves that aren’t really green and those which are beyond the last forming squash at this time of year might give the little squashes a fighting chance to get a little bigger (they’re hardly growing now). Is that a good idea? Also, how can I get those remaining squash to get bigger before we get frost?

    • Phil on October 5, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      Good questions Anne. Sure, if pruning will save your understory plants, it may be worth it. It would be interested to leave one patch alone and see if it makes a difference.Yes, if pruning the squash promoted new growth, I suppose it was worth it right? We still want to improve soil health so the mildew doesn’t become as big of an issue in the first place, but indeed, mildew on squash is probably the most common disease I see – many gardens seem to get it.It’s hard for me to say how to best promote squash growth in your garden because ultimately it depends on what is deficient in your garden. People have grown world record squash with protocols as diverse as compost tea, mycorrhizal fungi and liquid fish/seaweed. Personally, I would do all of those (not the fungi at this time of year because that’s best at planting, but certainly the rest of them).

      • Anne Studley on October 5, 2015 at 11:52 pm

        Thanks a lot, Phil. I have plenty of composted seaweed in my garden soil, and I plan to put more in at the end of the growing season (I have a great place to go to get rotting kelp by the tubful!), but in the meantime I could make some tea and use the liquid fish emulsion I have.

  23. John t v on November 29, 2018 at 6:52 am

    It is not a comment, but a question. My veg garden has a serious snail problem. They come in the night, small types of snails which eats away full leaves of veg. Kindly suggest suitable methods to get rid of these snails.
    Thank you

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