Even with only a small plot of land, you can have a garden. A garden beautifies your property and brings tranquility to your life. Plus, it provides an outlet for creativity and energy.
If you plant vegetables, you have the added bonus of eating your harvest!
Gardens can be all consuming, or they can demand only a few hours a week of your time. It does not take much to plant a small one, which over time will develop and mature. As it does, you as a gardener will grow, too.
The best way to learn is to get dirty! Here are six aspects of successful gardening:
Soil is a living organism that nurtures plants and as such is critical to a thriving garden. Decide on a good spot for the garden and then dig in! Chop up and remove all grass and weeds. With a hoe, shovel, or metal rake, loosen the soil, turning it and pulling out rocks, sticks, and other matter.
Loamy soil is what you want. It is a combination of sandy soil, which is loose and dry, and clay soil, which is nutrient rich but heavy and dense. If you think you have sandy or clay soil, take a sample to the garden center and ask what you should add to it for loam.
For most beds, dig down six to eight inches into the soil so that the earth is nice and loose. Work additives into the soil, such as manure, peat moss, and, if you have it, compost. These enrich the soil and prepare it for planting, and all are sold at garden centers.
Depending on the size of your yard and how it is situated, you may not have much choice when it comes to light. Don’t worry; there are plants suitable for every degree of light.
If your garden gets at least six hours of full sun every day, you can plant vegetables and flowers requiring full sun. If you get sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, buy plants that do well in half, or partial, shade.
Buy plants that grow in light shade if your garden gets fewer than three hours of sunlight a day, and those for deep shade if there never is direct sun on the garden.
In general, gardens that face south have sun all day, while those that face north have no direct sun. Consider trees, buildings, and fences, all of which can block sunlight.
Flowers fall into two general categories: annuals and perennials. Annuals last only for the season, while perennials come back season after season, going dormant during the freezing winter and then poking up in the spring. Biennials last for two seasons.
As a rule, annuals bloom all summer and perennials have shorter blooming seasons. Annuals, which include flowers such as petunias, impatiens, begonias, and marigolds, require more water than perennials but reward you with bright color.
Perennials take some planning. Plant some that bloom in the spring, others that flower in July and August, so that the garden has color all summer. Use annuals to fill out perennial beds with lasting color.
Buy small, dense, leafy plants and avoid any that are leggy or have yellowing leaves. Lift them from the plastic cups and gently untangle the roots without disturbing the dirt ball too much. The roots need to be loosened so that they can find new footholds in the garden.
Plant flowers with enough room between them to spread. They will, as the summer progresses.
Vegetables tell a different story. Most need good sun and plenty of room to grow. If you plant flowers and herbs around the edges of the vegetable patch, the garden will be prettier and some flowers even deter some pests.
All gardens need water. Unless you live in the dessert or rain forest, your garden will need about an inch of water a week during the growing season. Water the garden at least three times a week, giving it a good soak.
A hose with a watering wand is effective for small gardens. For larger spaces, a sprinkler that oscillates is a good idea. Soaker hoses, which lie flat in the beds, take longer and only cover a narrow swatch, but they can be very effective. These are great for vegetable gardens.
Water in the cool parts of the day, such as the morning and evening. When the sun is hottest, the water evaporates quickly and does your garden very little good.
Flowers and many vegetables benefit from monthly fertilizing. Fertilizers add nutrients including the two most crucial for a garden: nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth, and phosphorous, which helps with root health.
Chemical fertilizers are efficient and powerful, but organic fertilizers do a good job, too, and have the added benefit of doing more to improve the soil over the long term.
Sprinkle the fertilizer over the dirt and scratch it into the soil with a rake or fork.
Every good gardener extols the virtues of mulch. You can buy mulch, usually as wood chips, or make your own from grass clippings and leaf litter. Most gardeners use the former when the garden is active and the latter during the cold, dormant months of winter.
Mulch holds in moisture and inhibits weed growth. Once the garden is planted, spread mulch so that it’s an inch or two deep. Take care not to mulch up against plant stems but leave some air around them so that they don’t rot.
Be realistic when you plan your first garden. Start small; you can always expand later in the summer or next spring. Pull weeds when you spot them, water regularly, fertilize during the growing season, and then sit back and enjoy the fruit of your labor.
How does your garden grow? Very nicely!