Garden Magic For Starters

Zinnias 2014 IMG_3647

After being a guest on Garden Chatter last week, I got to thinking about the things I considered, or didn’t, when I was starting to garden.  Just like starting anything new, there were many things I didn’t know about or thought wouldn’t be a factor for producing healthy abundant vegetables/flowers all growing season.  Here are my top 5 things to consider if you are new to gardening, or haven’t been getting the results you wanted in an existing garden.

1 – Soil Checkup

The consistency of your soil is just as important as nutrients within.  Ideal soil should be crumbly, which allows for great workablity and drainage.  Being able to dig in plants or sow seeds with easy is just one benefit of this kind of soil.  Lets think, if it’s easy for you to dig in it, its easier for plants to set roots or tubers to grow without constriction.

Soil nutrients play a big role in your gardening success.  The easiest way to find out what your soil needs and how to help it are by testing it.  Check with your local independent garden center (IGC) or university.  Most of those places actually test soil samples, or could point you in the right direction as to who in your area does, and bonus they are usually cost effective.

This is a good example of what can happen without optimal soil health.

Cucumber growing in nutrient deficient soil.

2 – Where’s the Sun?

I say this from extreme personal experience, before setting up an in-the-ground garden, spend some time watching how the sun hits that space from sun up to sun down.  Most vegetable and flower plants are sun lovers.  There are some that require partial sun, but the vast majority don’t thrive in full shade.  If the spot you are looking at, especially for vegetables, gets less than 4-6 hours of full sun each day, I would probably consider a different area.

Accidental Shady Garden

When I planned my lovely raised bed garden, I did not even think to consider when the sun would visit this spot.   I get 4-6 hours of filtered sun, meaning that it has a brief time where it gets direct sun, and then it is filtered by some trees.  This is not an ideal spot.

3 – Gardener Of Everything…

But master of none.  If gardening in new to you, I know that it can be absolutely exciting, and the want to grow everything is strong.  Fight this! Fight it hard.  Instead, pick 3 varieties that you would like to grow (this is especially true with vegetable gardening).  If you focus all of you energy on learning all of the needs and wants of these 3 varieties, you will ultimately have much better results than growing 20 different varieties.  Why you might ask?  When you start out, it can be overwhelming to learn the needs of 20 different types of plants.  Potatoes for example, they like full sun, and need to be watered very regularly and evenly.  They do not like to be planted near tomatoes, and often have a very destructive pest problem.  This is not said to deter you from growing them.  Actually, I find them fairly easy to grow, but imagine 20 kinds of plants all with different needs that you don’t know the ins and outs of yet. It can be really overwhelming, and discouraging if they don’t thrive as expected.

Gardening is supposed to be fun, and what’s more fun then having great results.  The ease of picking 3 things, is that you will become a master of those 3, and each growing season increase your selection by 3.  Before you know it you will be the rockstar of your garden!

(For clarification, my version of the pick 3 works like this.  The fist year pick something like tomatoes, peas, and carrots.  Grow as many different types of those plants as you would like 3 or 3,000 – doesn’t matter, and learn as much as you can.  Once you feel like you have got those down, add 3 more things.)

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4 – Size Does Matter!

Have you thought about what you are going to plant in?  If you are planting in containers, make sure that you choose a large enough pot in width and depth.  You want your plant’s roots to have enough room to grow, and this will also help maintain the plant’s health.

You also want to make sure that the container has adequate drainage.  Most plants do not like wet feet.  One or two holes in the bottom of a pot is usually not enough. Try to stay away from pots that have those built in saucers, as they are usually bad news for drainage.

Spacing also matters in containers and ground gardening.  Do not over plant.  Plants need room to breathe.  Without enough airflow between plants, plants can develop fungal diseases which will quickly spread to near by plants.  Just like people like their space, so do plants!  This is a struggle for me especially when planting flowering hanging baskets or decorative flower pots.  I am a sucker for instant gratification…I want that basket or flower pot to be full of color and looks stunning as soon as it’s planted.  Just so you know, that rarely happens.  Give you plants space and room to grow, and believe me they will fill out the container just fine.  Check out my before and after.

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5 – Seeds vs Starter Plants

My suggestion for new gardeners is to do both.  Try starting from seed but also plant some starter plants.  Try it for the same varieties and see which method work best for you.  But before you run out and purchase seeds, check with gardening friends and see if they can spare a few.  Many gardeners have surplus seeds, at least I know I do.

If a packet of tomato seeds has 50 seeds in it, and I have 6 containers for tomatoes, how many seeds am I really starting? Probably 12.  Why 12?  Well, this gives me room  for seed failures.  Not all seeds will germinate, some you will water too much or not enough, others maybe don’t get all of the light they really wanted, and therefore turn out not as strong, or not at all.  Either way, by planting double the amount of seeds that you need, you will wind up with about the correct amount of plants you want.  Trust me!  And if you have extra starter plants left over, gardener friends will almost never turn them down 🙂

But I digress, so the purpose of the above was to illustrate the amount of seeds left over.  38!  Thirty-eight seeds that will sit in their little packet until next season.  Most gardeners would be happy to share some.  Especially to someone just starting out, so just ask!

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Hopefully, this will help you find what works for you in your garden.  Just remember, gardening is supposed to be fun, relaxing, and fulfilling.  When all three come together in your garden, it will be magical!!

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