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Growing An Amazing Zone 3a Garden!

Ok, you’ve been hounding me as to why my garden is so seriously out of control, even though I live in Edmonton, which is a Zone 3a garden. I however, am in the suburbs – almost in the country- and I have to battle slightly harder than someone who has an inner city garden lot,  for sure. My yard isn’t as warm and doesn’t hold the heat through the night as well as a cozy inner city garden does, just a plain fact.

Let me start with the caveat of “I am not an expert in gardening.” I’m just sharing what worked for me!

Zone 3a gardens can be tough! We have a short growing season, it seems that it doesn’t warm up as early as it used to and we can get low temperature dips well heck, all the way into June it seems!

So everyone has been wanting to know how the devil I am getting cucumbers and zucchini already, not to mention that everything is incredibly ahead of most people’s gardens here in Edmonton.

It’s July 10th and we are eating baby carrots, full size cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, radishes are long eaten and peas are almost there.

And my seeds were in late, late late this year. No early sowing, no cold frames, nada.

No chemicals, no fertilizers, no growth products.

Close up of Growing Cucumbers

First things first.

1). The Soil. I have a garden mix of soil that is Topsoil, Manure/Compost, Peat and was brought in from a local company. It also has weeds. I’m totally ok with that.

2)  Start with as many seedlings as possible. However, I started incredibly late this year. I forgot. So my seedlings were only a few weeks old.

The secret to planting squash seedlings is to start them around 2 weeks ahead of time, no sooner than that, in a peat “cup” full of planting mix. Then, when you transplant them,  remove as much of the peat pot as you can without disturbing the roots and then you plant them deep enough that you cover the little vines up and you only have leaves sticking out. Trust me. Squash gets really cranky when you transplant them and this is the secret to strong, healthy plants. It took me a few years to figure this out. When you don’t, the stems can start to brown and wither and the plants aren’t as healthy. When you bury the stem, the plants flourish.

This is because squash should be hilled, so start right away!

Yes, we are already eating cucumbers. It’s crazy.

green full size cucumber

 3) This one is almost as important as the soil. Location, location, location folks. This right here is my major secret. My last two city gardens have been planted along – and I might right alongside- a south-facing fence. In this yard I also extended it along the west facing fence as well.

My secret? Radiating heat.

This is why my garden is so much further along than most people. I discovered in my old yard when I was standing by the fence that the heat was literally bouncing off my fence and scalding me compared to the heat in the middle of the yard.

This soil is hotter earlier and it stays warm all night long far before most other areas in the yard do. I had ALL my plants out May 19th, even my finicky tomatoes because the soil stays warm.

It also allows you to have a beautiful lawn. I’m not a “food not lawns” girl at all.

I’m all about Food AND Lawns. I want it all. I want the kids to have a trampoline, a space to run and play games and Mama wants her massive garden.

The space along your fence is absolutely, 100% wasted space and if it faces the right direction you are missing out on AMAZING garden potential, then you leave the rest of your lawn free to enjoy.

So to sum up, a South facing fence radiates the most heat, however a West facing fence is a very close second. The sun radiates all evening long onto those plants. I also have a large 2 story house and it doesn’t matter; the sun hits these areas.

This pic was taken three weeks ago.

space along fence for potential garden

Here’s that south-facing fence today, three weeks later. It’s a jungle.

south-facing fence with plants started growing

The West facing fence. Here I planted the lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, peas, swiss chard and beans. And more that I am most likely forgetting but my point is, the heat loving plants are on the south-facing side.

West facing fence planted with lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, peas, swiss chard and beans.

Three weeks later.full grown plants in the space along the fence

4) Know Your Plants.

The trifecta: squash, corn and beans.  All grown together and flourishing.

squash, corn and beans growing together

Peas are mere days away from being ready.

close up of Peas near to be ready for harvesting

My only failure this year, (so far, touch wood)  4 of my cabbage perished and this is my only one. Sniffle.

This Ukrainian girl loves cabbage, dang it.

growing green leafy cabbage

5) Water, water, and more water.  Rain isn’t going to cut it. My Grandma was the most water conserving person I know – they had to pay for cistern water on a pension- and she collected rainwater to supplement the cistern so that she could water her garden every…single…day and she grew enough to “put up” for the family for the year.

I prefer a good soak every two days thanks to my slave labour. I wait until the ground is dry again – and with that radiating heat it doesn’t take long- and then soak it again.

young boy watering the plants near the fence

Child labour at it’s finest.

close up of a young boy wearing blue shirt watering the plants
So there you have it. While I am certainly not a gardening expert, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that sure help me grow a jungle in my backyard!

Any questions or comments just ask below!



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Karlynn Johnston

I’m a busy mom of two, wife & cookbook author who loves creating fast, fresh meals for my little family on the Canadian prairies. Karlynn Facts: I'm allergic to broccoli. I've never met a cocktail that I didn't like. I would rather burn down my house than clean it. Most of all, I love helping YOU get dinner ready because there's nothing more important than connecting with our loved ones around the dinner table!

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  1. k says

    Hello thanks for putting your article up on ‘zone 3 garden’ .

    I have to comment here that the North and South may have been reversed in this article somehow.
    Here in Northern hemisphere planting against the ‘south facing fence’ means there is no daylight for the plants to grow, and that the soil also does not warm as fast because it is in the shade and snow.

    For me planting against the North Facing fence helps them warm, and things grow.

  2. Markiana says

    Hi! Did you happen to go to st.martin school? I think I was a grade below you! Wonderful to garden tips and recipes! Thank you! What do you use on the fence for your climbing beans, peas? Thanks

  3. Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening says

    Thank you for your gardening tips! It is so nice to find other zone 3 gardeners. Our climate can be so challenging.

  4. Brenda McClelland says


    What garden mix do you use in your raised beds? We’re building some for this spring and you’d mentioned you picked it up nearby. I’m in Edmonton and happy to make a trip to get something that works!


  5. Bonnie Pelensky Strang says

    Thank you so much for all the helpful tips. With your information I feel I’ll be able to have a more successful garden. Look forward to more posts of yours.

  6. Shelley Lorimer says

    Just wondering what the edges of your garden are made of. I notice you used raised beds. do you find that to be better?

  7. holly says

    I have a south facing yard, but my plants seem to fry up instead of flourish like yours, what is it that i’m doing wrong? I water every day, I bought premixed soil but the plants are frail and always look like it is always thirsty?

  8. Alyssa says

    How wide is your garden bed? How do you access the little parts to harvest and weed? Do you use stepping stones or something? Your west fence garden looks like it might be accessible from both sides? I am looking to expand along my fence but I also don’t want to have to reach too far into the beds. Thanks for the great article. We live in Cold Lake so we face similar challenges as Edmonton and area.

  9. Kim says

    Hi,I am new to planting a garden and I rent a house with my do I get started in container gardening during this summer in 2018?I live in Edmonton and my brother is building a patio without attaching it to the house and it will be strong and sturdy to hold our table,lawn chairs and barbecue and my container gardening plants.
    We have a fenced backyard with no pets.I have arthritis and is there a way that I can start my garden that will not cause my symptoms to get worse?
    The last time I tried growing my veggie garden in bc when my family and I used to live in the lower Fraser valley area the slugs ate most of my lettus but left me with three lettus plants out of six,but didn’t touch my tomato plants or my pepper plants.
    I never tried planting a garden again after what happened in bc.
    I love humming birds even though I am partially sighted with limited vision.i can hear the humming birds that we used to feed ( water and sugar in a feeder to attract them to our backyard when we used to live a short distance to an elemtary school by our other house that we used to rent.
    Can I still attract these beautiful birds in our backyard where we have been renting our house for the last three years?

  10. Annette Reeve says

    Great article, thank you. With your advice in mind, we have a north facing metal garage, area gets very hot, in afternoon. I thought too hot because of the reflection off metal. But this might be o.k.? And a eight foot garden along the west side of a wood shed. Should be good right?, but I often see shade along the garden running horizontal with shed, probably because the southern exposure is cut off with trees, love my fresh veggies and would love to start harvesting earlier, so I have a few questions
    Will I burn my plants with the reflection off the metal garage?
    Limited garden space so crowd a bit, does this slow it down?
    Have found that buying big tomato plants don’t produce harvest faster than small, but I was given plants this year and they’re just 2 inches tall now, may 11, seed planted after beginning of April, I believe. Should I pitch and invest in larger?
    Seeding cucs seem to produce as well as transplanting, but would like to start harvesting earlier, tips on transplanting seedlings?
    That’s a lot, I know but would so like the help. I’m a novice, my mother had a green thumb but I struggle.
    Thank you for your consideration.

  11. Charlene Stachow-Weber says

    Thanks so much for posting! Great tips!

  12. Marianne Scott says

    My fiance and I have 5 boys in total, and my step son is visiting too…mwahahahaha We almost have a whole football team! lol

  13. Marianne Scott says

    Child labor…HAHAHA Isn’t that what having kids are all about?? 😉 jk But that part made me laugh cuz that’s like at our house too! lol

  14. Shelley Jones says

    We do, but it’s in an easement so it’s shaded.

  15. The Kitchen Magpie says

    The Windermere one was the only one I could find in my end of town that had the untreated ones! They are a little harder to find but they are smaller and round, unlike the HUGE landscape center ones. They were $3.99 each? We did the garden for less than $200 and mine is HUGE lol! I think they are 6 or 8 feet long? You can build on the cheap!

  16. Shelley Jones says

    Easy peasy! Thanks for the heads up. Wonder if they will be blowing out the ties at CT any time soon ( hello discount). I should keep my eyes open.

  17. The Kitchen Magpie says

    Oh I should have written how we built it. Cheap unfinished landscape ties from Canadian tire, three or four high, stakes pounded into the ground to hold them in. Cheap and works like a charm. Easy raised garden!

    • Erin says

      Hello, I am wondering if you can or have already made a post about how you built your garden beds. I am in Sherwood park and I currently have a potted garden on my deck as it gives the most sun. I do have a south and west facing wall I can build off of after I remove the rock trim and do some work. My husband was going to build me raised garden beds out of cedar but that will be costly so I am looking for an alternative! Thank you so much for the info you have provided!

  18. Shelley Jones says

    Thanks! I’m going to work on hubby to do this next year!

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