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How to start a healthy garden

Focused on Health - April 2014

By Brittany Cordeiro 

No food is fresher than what’s growing in your garden – as long as you take good care of it. garden

Use our expert tips to start your healthy, home garden.

Start with the soil

“The health of your plants starts with the soil,” says Pedro Martinez, supervisor of the physical plant and caretaker of the Healthy Living Garden at MD Anderson. “We use organic soil, or soil free of pesticides and chemicals. This encourages the growth of nutrient-rich plants.”

To start a spring garden, plant your seeds in the winter months, December to February. Make sure to store your seeds in a greenhouse or a place where they can receive warmth and sunlight during the winter. Plant them in your garden about four to five weeks.

If you didn’t seed in the winter, it’s not too late. You can seed now, but your vegetables may not grow as hearty. Your best option is to buy already seeded plants from your local garden center.

Care for your garden daily

Martinez shares some of the cancer-fighting plants growing in the Healthy Living Garden. And, tips to keep them healthy.


Herbs are relatively easy to grow and great starter plants. Arugula, cilantro and basil are growing at MD Anderson. Herbs need sunlight and water once a day. And, once you harvest them, they come back quickly.

sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes grow best, and quickly, in warm climates. The upkeep is simple – water two to three times a week and sunlight – but they can take up lots of space.


Squash require lots of sun and need plenty of room to grow. Similar to sweet potatoes they grow quickly and need water up to three times a week, or when the leaves start to wilt.


Tomatoes are one of the most time-consuming, but tastiest, plants to grow. Tomato plants grow heavy, so need tie-ups and a cage. They’re also prone to insects and worms. Tomato plants require at least eight hours of sunlight and water at least twice a week.

Martinez offers these extra tips:

  • Don’t use pesticides or chemicals in your garden. You’ll have to pick bugs out by hand.
  • Water your plants when the leaves start wilting. Wilting on a warm day is normal; it means the plant’s thirsty. Wilting or signs of stress in the morning means your plant needs further care.
  • If your plant gets a fungus or disease, remove the leaves, or infected area, and add baking soda to the plant’s water. 
  • Check your garden at least once a day.

“It’s exciting to see your plants flourish,” Martinez says. “And, it means fewer trips to the grocery store.”

READ ALSO: Garden your way to health 

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center