Gardening may seem like a chore to some people, but for those of us who love to get our hands in the dirt, it is a rewarding, zen-like experience.
Gardening is an art and loving it is only half the creation. Any gardener who's planted more than one season can tell you...the actual growing part is easy. It's the steps you take when planning a garden that are key to a successful season. Because the secret to a bountiful garden starts long before blooms or fruit produce.
Early Gardening Goals
Remember around the New Year when you were busy making resolutions for your health, your work and maybe even your garden? If so, now is a great time to pull out that list and put it into action. Studies show that setting (and committing to) a physical goal makes the chances of you reaching it substantially greater.
What do you want from your garden this year? Vegetables that produce four months out of the year? A show stopping colorful floral display that will make you the talk of the neighborhood? A lush, green blanket of plants and ground cover? Knowing what you want as your end result helps you determine how to start a garden accordingly.
Planning For Your Garden
Late-winter and early-spring can be an excellent time to let your inspiration take over as you begin planning your garden. Use a notepad to sketch out what you want your space to look like. Not an artist? Look through gardening magazines to get inspired, and then cut them up and make a collage once you have a vision in mind.
Decide if you're going to grow from seeds or purchase and transplant starts. If you're starting from seeds, keep in mind that while you'll save money, you'll also need to start much earlier. Planning before you plant can be the difference between a mature plot that flows and works together, and one that looks mismatched and is lacking a basic sense of foliage symmetry. You also risk not putting plants in the appropriate spot for adequate hours of sun each day.
Make the Right Plant Selections
Research which plants grow well in the region of the country you live in – this will tell you what types of flowers, plants, trees and fruits and vegetables will grow well.
The country is divided into what's known as hardiness zones. Also referred to as planting zones, these are the guides that dictate temperature swings (highs and lows) so you can determine if a particular plant will successfully grow in your area. A good example of this is citrus, which does well in the southern states like Florida where it's warm year-round, but would not survive the cold, harsh winters of the Midwest.
Other things to keep in mind are how long is your growing season? How long do you want to wait before your plants begin to produce? What is the sun pattern in your yard throughout the day? Planting tomatoes? Full sun. Lettuces, beets or cilantro? These do well in partial sun, so some shade throughout the day is fine. And, of course, what do you like?
Get Your Soil Ready
Part of preparing your garden is getting your soil ready. Before you can begin planting anything in the actual ground, taking the time to prep soil and make sure it's in good shape can be a game-changer. Sometimes you can just look at your soil to assess it.
Is it rocky? Does it have a high silt, sand or clay content? But there are also factors that you wouldn't necessarily be able to determine just by looking. You want to know the pH of your soil – most crops prefer a neutral pH (around 7). In addition to the pH, you also want to determine nutrient levels.
You can purchase an inexpensive soil testing kit from any hardware store or online. Once you know the nutrient and pH make up of your soil, you can manipulate it by adding in organic components to get it balanced.
Now comes the fun part! After you're finished getting your garden ready to plant, you get to actually start digging! If you're starting with seeds, the back of the seed packets will have specific directions regarding spacing. If you're transplanting, the original containers will also guide you to ensure you're planting appropriately for optimal growth.
There are a few basic guidelines you can typically depend on, though. You want to plant seeds about three times as deep as their diameter, and if you're transplanting, dig as deep as the original container's depth for most plants (there are a few exceptions here – like in the case of tomatoes, which need to go into a deeper hole). And always, always wait until that last frost has come and gone.
When you're planting large plants, make sure you add dirt back in after you've added your plant. You don't want any roots showing as your plants start to grow early in the season. Rake over once soil has been added to help smooth the dirt and ensure you have added enough.
It's a good idea to space out the plants into little groups that won't crowd each other so they will look pleasing once they begin to get fuller and spread into their own spaces. Remember to water. Especially when they're young and have been recently planted, plants need lots of attention in the form of sunlight and water to help them bulk up and ground into their permanent home.
Use the Right Tools for the Job
In all honesty, you really don't need to break the bank stocking up on a ton of tools to plant a great garden. But having the basics on hand will make the job of starting your garden much easier. You want a good pair of gardening gloves, a basic shovel, a good rake, a garden hoe, a nice cultivator, and shears for pruning the plants.
Make A Garden List
A Journal is a great way to track which plants you have, where they are planted, and what their watering and nutrition needs are. This is especially important when you have perennials, because it's easy to forget which ones are which and where they are planted. For vegetable gardens, keeping a list is a great way to change up the positioning, to keep the nutrients in the soil for longer, because some plants, like potatoes use up a lot of soil's nutrients.