Gardens come in all shapes and sizes and don’t necessarily require a huge backyard to pull off. But even establishing a small garden can be enough to make the novice gardener apprehensive. So, whether you have only a few flower beds to utilize or a half-acre at your disposal, getting your garden up and running doesn’t have to be a part-time job.
Where to Plant
First things first: determine what you’d like to plant based on the size and location of your garden. If you’re wanting an edible garden of fruits or veggies, keep in mind that most will need a full six to eight hours of sun exposure in order to flourish. Flowers on the other hand will vary in terms of needed sun so you’ll want to be sure you select flowers that will thrive in their planted location.
Tip: Petunias, Marigolds, Daisies Hibiscus and Lavender do well in full sun. Impatiens, Sweet Potato Vines, Violas and Browallia all do great in shade.
If you’re a first-time vegetable grower, you might find starting with a four-foot by four-foot section is a good amount to get started with. If you want to utilize a garden bed for vegetables or find they don’t currently receive enough sun, raised garden beds are a great alternative. Or, if you’re itching for a DIY project, building raised garden beds are a fun project that even the kiddos can help out with. Check out this helpful tutorial from This Old House. Not a DIYer? No problem. Check out this easy-to-assemble kit here.
Assess Your Soil
Next, assess your soil. All the TLC in the world cannot make up for bad soil. Many accidental green thumbs will admit that they don’t put a lot of thought into their gardens, but their secret weapon? Good base soil. But this doesn’t have to be a secret science. There are a variety of tools available that will tell you the health status of your soil so you can easily determine what might need to be added in order to be a successful gardener. Depending on your results, you may need to make some modifications. Overall, your soil should have a cake-like crumby consistency – not too wet (squeezing it in a ball shouldn’t release a stream of water) and not too dry (indicating too much sand).
Tip: To raise soil pH, spread garden lime pellets evenly throughout the top two inches of the soil. To lower the pH, try adding cottonseed meal. Add organic materials to even out soil texture, such as straw, compost and leaf mold.
What to Plant
Now, the best part: Determine what to plant based on your plant hardiness zone. This is essentially a map that will show you what “zone” you live in and help you determine what will grow best in that zone. Flowers will of course vary by preference and sun exposure, but edible gardens give you quite a plethora of options. First, consider what you enjoy eating so you can reap the benefits of your hard work. If you aren’t a fan of tomatoes, why bother? (Though we’d argue that garden-fresh veggies outrank grocery veggies and might be worth giving a second shot, since they tend to be extra juicy and flavorful) The seeds you select will help you determine how far apart to space your plants, so be sure to consult the seed package. Buy high-quality seeds so you’re off on the right foot.
Tip: Plant your rows running north to south to take full advantage of the sun.
When to Plant
Next, determine when to plant. This helpful tool from the Farmer’s Almanac will help you determine when to plant your seedlings based on where you live.
Prepare the beds by loosening the soil (either with a tiller or by hand), then add any compost or organic materials and work them into the soil. Rake the surface until smooth (but avoid walking/stepping on the soil to avoid compacting it too tightly and affecting your drainage), water thoroughly, then let the beds acclimate for a few days before planting.
Lastly, maintenance is the name of the game. If you’ve properly prepared your soil and planted your seeds or plants with adequate spacing, there’s not much else for you to do other than monitor your garden for adequate water. A basic rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil is dry, so in some areas that might mean watering multiple times a week, while in other areas Mother Nature may take care of this for you. Keep weeds at bay and keep your plants hydrated (but avoid standing water!) and you’ll find just how simple gardening can be!
What do you plan to grow this season? Any expert gardeners out there with pro tips? Share your insider secrets in the comments below.