A guest blog by Heather Bristol
Having your own garden can be something exciting, especially when everything you plant starts to grow, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a flower or vegetable garden. Having a garden is simply breathtaking: that’s one of the many powers of nature.
As much as the idea of having a garden can be exciting, figuring out how to go about it or where to start can be a daunting task. Luckily for you, in this article we will discuss the tips and steps of starting a beautiful garden.
- Decide What You Want to Grow in Your Home Garden
It all starts here. You have to decide what you want your garden to have. Do you want to grow vegetables? Or are you into flowers?
If you want flowers for their color and perfume, decide whether you want annuals that bloom for the bulk of the summer, but must be replanted each spring, or perennials that bloom for a shorter length of time, but return year after year. One, or even a combination of them, produces a lovely garden, but they each have their own set of upkeep requirements.
It’s critical not to have great expectations and go overboard. Since you are new to gardening, try to start small, then expand your garden from there.
- Pick the Right Spot for Your Garden
When it comes to growing veggies and flowers, consider that both usually require 6–8 hours of direct sunlight every day. With that in mind, you will need to be observant and find the areas that get enough sunlight and the ones that don’t. There are plants that adapt to less sunlight as well, but most will be ones with ornamental foliage rather than vegetables or heavy bloomers.
Since you are new at this, it’s very important to ask for advice from your local garden center, as they can also be a great source of information.
Choose a fairly flat position for your garden if at all possible, as dealing with a sloping garden is more difficult, time-consuming and even costly. Additionally, ensure that your new garden will have easy access to water.
- Clear the Ground
It is very important to remove weeds and sod from the areas you are planning to plant or establish your garden. To make it easier to remove the sod, cut it into pieces with a spade and put it in your compost pile to decay.
Here’s an easy method of creating garden space without digging. Cover your future garden with five sheets of newspaper; if your lawn is made up of Bermuda or St. Augustine grass, double the quantity. Now add a 3-inch (8 cm) layer of compost (or a mix of potting soil and topsoil) on top of the newspaper. It will take four months for the compost and paper to decompose. If you start in the fall, you’ll have a ready-to-plant bed in the spring with no grass or weeds and plenty of rich soil.
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- Test and Improve Your Soil
To discover more about your soil, request a soil test from your local cooperative extension office (editor’s note: in Canada, contact a local garden center). They’ll coach you through the entire procedure, including how much soil to collect from which planting areas and when to collect samples. From there, you will need a bit of patience, as the results will take 2 weeks to arrive. These results will tell more about your soil, including what it lacks and how to make it better for your plants. You can also use a DIY soil test kit, which will give you an idea of the nutrient levels in your soil, but will not be as detailed.
Residential soil, especially around new buildings where the topsoil has been removed, is always in need of a boost. Your soil could be lacking in essential plant nutrients, have poor drainage or be compacted. The solution to all these problems is rather simple: add organic matter. Cover your new bed with a 2- to 3-inch (5 to 8 cm) layer of compost, decomposed leaves, dry grass clippings or aged manure and dig or till it in. Either that, or leave it on the surface and allow the organic matter to degrade and become humus if you don’t want to dig or are working with an existing bed. Earthworms will conduct the majority of the work in mixing humus into the subsoil.
- Plan Your Garden Beds
Before sowing or planting, loosen the soil in new beds to allow roots to grow more easily and gain access to the water and nutrients they require. Tilling with a mechanical instrument like a rototiller or digging by hand are the two options. When you need to mix in significant volumes of amendments, the first approach is ideal. However, it’s possible to go overboard, causing damage to the soil structure. For preparing tiny beds, digging is more practicable.
In any case, only work the soil while it’s damp enough to form a loose ball in your fist but not so wet that it falls apart when dropped. Digging when the soil is too dry is more difficult, while digging when the soil is too moist can harm the soil’s structure. Gently turn over the top 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) of soil with a spade or spading fork, mixing in the organic matter from Step 4 at the same time.
- Pick Your Plants
At this stage, knowing what you want is critical; some people spend months reading over catalogs, while others simply go to the garden center and buy whatever pleases them. Both approaches work as long as you choose plants that are appropriate for your climate, soil, and sunlight. You can even use the Internet to look for plants to buy. Since you are new, we have prepared for you a choice of plants that are easy to grow.
Easy Annuals: calendulas, cosmos, pelargoniums, impatiens, marigolds, sunflowers, and zinnias.
Easy Perennials: black-eyed Susans, daylilies, lamb’s ears, pansies, phlox, purple coneflowers and Russian sage.
Easy Vegetables: cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes.
- Start Planting
You need to know a bit about the plants you have picked and want to plant.
Plants flourish differently depending on the weather. Plants such as pansies and kale can withstand the cold and can be planted early in the spring, even in the fall or late winter in mild climates. Tomatoes and most annual flowers, on the other hand, need warm weather, so you wouldn’t want to rush with their planting. Wait until the cold has passed: you wouldn’t want to put your plants in danger of frost damage! Planting perennials in either mid-spring and mid-autumn is an excellent idea.
Many annuals may be grown from seed and immediately replanted in the garden, and there are always instructions on the seed packet that will offer you suggestions on when to plant them, as well as the depth and spacing of the seeds. If you’re a daring rookie, get a head start on the growing season by sowing seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost date. Garden centers sell special containers and flats for sowing, as well as seed-starting soil mixes. If you don’t have access to a window, place the containers under grow lights. Otherwise, follow the instructions on the seed packet. To avoid rot, keep the seeds and plants damp but not soggy.
Purchasing young plants, also known as transplants, is a more convenient approach to beginning your first garden. Dig holes in your prepared bed according to the spacing instructions on the tag. To remove the plants from the container, invert the plants and hold their stem as you push down on the pot from the bottom. If the roots have grown into a huge mass (in other words, if they are root-bound), use an old fork or your fingers to untangle some of the exterior roots before placing them in the hole. Next, fill in with soil and tamp down lightly around the roots., Finish by soaking the soil in water.
- Water at the Right Time
You should never forget your seedlings and let them reach a point where they begin to wilt from lack of water, so make sure you water them often, even daily in hot weather. Transplants need to be watered frequently until their roots take hold and that takes about two to three weeks. After that, you can start spacing out the waterings, giving them a thorough soaking, but only when the soil is dry to the touch. The frequency at which you should water will be determined by your soil, humidity and rainfall.
As you get to know your soil, you’ll become aware that clay soil dries out more slowly than sandy soil, which means you won’t have to worry as much about watering. Sandy soils need to be watered more frequently, often several times a week.
Of course, weather will always be a major factor: when it is sunny and windy, the soil will dry out faster and therefore you will need to water more frequently. And in cool, rainy weather, you may not have to water at all.
- Use Mulch to Protect Your Garden
To keep weeds at bay and hold moisture in, cover the soil with a few inches (5 to 8 cm) of mulch. Since sunlight cannot reach the soil under a mulch, there will be less evaporation, so you will not need to water as regularly. Also, without light, weed seeds will not germinate. Mulches such as shredded bark, straw, and river stones are just a few of the options, each with its own set of benefits. Organic mulches, such as bark, compost or cocoa bean shells (which, by the way, smell amazing), will feed the soil as they decompose. For a vegetable garden or a bed of annuals, use a mulch that decomposes in a few months. Perennials should be mulched with a longer-lasting material, such as bark chips.
- Maintain Your Garden Regularly
While your garden may be flourishing and looking beautiful, you still need to put in some effort if you want your plants to grow and reach their full potential.
Don’t let your plants wilt, for example, but water them so that they can maintain constant growth. Get rid of any weeds before they start causing problems in your garden and also remove any ornamental plants that decline or die so they don’t transmit diseases to the healthy ones.
Look out for harmful insects as well. You can control them with insecticides. For example, you can spray them with insecticidal soap purchased at a garden center. If you have any questions about insects, your local garden center can help you with effective ways of getting rid of them. Use a trellis, stake or tepee to support tall plants (such as tomatoes). Also, as soon as the vegetables are ready, harvest them.