“Mary, Mary, quite contrary how does your garden grow?” When faced with the vast amount of information on what types of herbs and flowers to plant and when, the best soil and amendments and pesticides to use, the necessary tools, gadgets and gizmos, the first-time gardener can easily feel overwhelmed, wilted and weathered. Don’t be discouraged. Here are five easy tips to walk down your own primrose path to a colorful and tasty future.
1. A Gardener’s 101– Before planting an elaborate garden, some questions should be considered for optimal success. What types of plants complement the current season and climate? Will the projected area of your garden have enough sunlight to keep your favorite flora thriving? What about the mix of perennials and annuals? With the right plan, your garden can have color all year. Does your schedule limit time for upkeep? Oprah.com recommends starting with a garden that is small, in a visible spot, and can be maintained with reasonable effort. Most vegetables, fruits, berries and herbs need full sun for a minimum of six hours daily. If you’re always on-the-go, start with sturdier choices, such as Mojave sage, yellow sun drops and lavender. Most come in a variety of color options and are as tough as nails! Consider other low maintenance herbs for the kitchen such as basil, rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley.
2. Water, Water Everywhere – Keeping plant life happy and hydrated can also be costly. Most plants need about one inch of water a week during the growing season. Better Homes and Gardens suggests using a sprinkler timer or shut-off device at the end of the hose, or using a nozzle that turns off water when needed. Sprinkler systems tend to lose water from evaporation so to keep air from consuming moisture, try a soaker hose, which will drip water at a slower rate into the soil. For larger plots, consider drip irrigation on a timer. Collecting rain water in buckets is also cost effective, and contains no chemicals compared to city water. House plants and potted shrubs will perk up with fresh rain water.
3. Dishin’ the Dirt – Once you’ve decided where to plant and the specific types of vegetation to grow, the next step is to understand the soil’s delicate ecosystem. Ordering an inexpensive soil-testing kit is an easy way to determine the levels of acid or alkaline, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the dirt. Then, plan for any soil amendments that might be needed. Amazon.com has quite an array. Oprah.com offers basic guidelines below to help diagnose the condition of your soil:
• A pH greater than seven: A sign of alkaline soil. Add sulfur.
• A pH lower than seven: A sign of acidic soil. Add lime.
• Low nitrogen: Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
• High nitrogen: Probably caused by over-fertilization; stop adding fertilizer.
• Low phosphorus: Add superphosphate or bone meal to garden soil.
• High phosphorous: Probably caused by too much high-phosphate fertilizer. Grow plants to use up the excess.
• Low potassium: Add wood ashes. (Be careful. This could limit the growth of any acid-loving plants).
• High potassium: Do not use potassium-rich fertilizers; instead, add nitrogen and phosphorous to help balance the soil.
Think of the soil as a living organism that supplies everything your plants need. Create the right balance of elements and feed and nurture the soil to keep your plants healthy and happy (you can watch plants and flowers decline when things aren’t right). If you live in an area where the soil has heavy concentrations of rock or clay, or both, you may have to dig deep and import soil to get it right, or use raised beds.
4. Keep a Garden Journal: One easy way to learn from mistakes and improve as a gardener is to record and track your plants’ growth and life cycle in a journal. Jot down all products used, harvesting dates, the varieties of plants used, the types of pests encountered and the rate of plant growth (or lack thereof). For a visual timeline, take photos regularly or build your own “Gardener’s Galore” board on Pinterest or Instagram. To share knowledge, bounce ideas and questions off friends and neighbors who have gardens you admire. For other ideas, check out Sunset Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. Each has a great online gardening section that is updated regularly.
5. Remember to Enjoy Yourself! – Life’s a garden. Dig it. Gardening can be a great stress reliever and a way to get in a little exercise. Delving into nature can help anyone slow down and enjoy a tranquil, creative time in a world of color you created yourself. Then celebrate your beautiful blossoms, fruits, vegetables, herbs and berries all season long with friends, neighbors and family.