Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gardening Made Easy

There is a simple way to make your plants and flowers flourish

So many people are intimidated by gardening. Rather than believing it can be fun and easy, they assume it's instinctive -- you've either got a green thumb or you don't. Well just like many other things in life, you can garden the hard way, or the easy way. But why make it more difficult than it really has to be?

Believe it or not, there is a way to make your yard the talk of the neighborhood -- and it's much easier than you think. With some simple planning, and a bit of dedication, you can turn your brown thumb green.

Gardening the Easy Way:
Before you buy the first seed packet or seedling, make a plan. Do you want a vegetable garden, flowers, drought-tolerant natives or a lush lawn? Will you plant a huge vegetable garden or settle on a few tomato plants and petunias in pots?

Once you've decided on the size and type of garden you want, put it all down on paper, including a rough sketch of your design. Make adjustments as necessary. Take your plan with you to the garden shop to head off wild, impulsive buying.

If you have weeds in the yard, then you have fairly healthy soil, after all the weeds are thriving. Still, you'll need to make sure to pull or hoe all the weeds, and tidy up the growing area.

Spread a four-inch layer of organic matter over the planting area you've cleared. There are several types of organic matter -- some are homemade, others are sold commercially by the bag or cubic foot. Well-rotted, homemade compost is ideal, but you can buy mushroom compost, manure, redwood soil conditioner, sand or leaf mold from most landscape supply outlets.

For large spaces, use a rototiller to turn the soil and organic matter to a depth of eight to 12 inches. The tilling is rigorous work -- no kidding -- and hiring someone to do the job might be a smart idea. If you're planting in a small area, you can simply turn the soil with a spade to the depth of the shovel head.

Use planting mix for large containers or raised beds. Potting soil is the best bet for small containers.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where summer rains do the watering, all well and good. But remember the lesson of last year's drought: You can't count on rain alone. In areas where watering is needed, put in drip irrigation for flowers and vegetables, and use soaker hoses on established trees and shrubs. If you plant in a new lawn, make sure it gets plenty of water from the sprinkler.

For smarter watering, group plants with similar watering needs. Annuals need more water than perennials, and perennials need more water than bulbs. Herbs are nearly drought-tolerant; roses are not. Once established, trees, shrubs and native plants need watering only a few times in summer.

Spreading a two-inch layer of fine mulch over all exposed ground also helps conserve water. And keep an eye out for new weeds. They rob plants of water and nutrients.

Like a growing kid who is always hungry, plants need a steady food source. The choices range from home-brewed manure tea to general all-purpose fertilizers. Many flowers, herbs and vegetables do well with slow-release fertilizer (brand names such as Once, Osmocote), which last for three months. However, a general all-purpose fertilizer with even numbers (such as 10-10-10) works well when applied every four to six weeks. Roses, azaleas, citrus and fruit trees all have their own special needs.

Avoid confusion by reading the fertilizer's label to be sure it's ideal for the plants you are growing. And, don't overdo it. There is no advantage to giving a plant double the recommended feeding; you'll simply be throwing away your money.

After all your work effort comes the fun part: planting. The soil is warming up, and the key planting time is May and June in most regions. Put in transplants of annual and perennial flowers, but use seed for sunflowers, cosmos, nasturtiums, wildflowers and hollyhocks.

Sow beets, onions, lettuce, chard and other leafy vegetables. Wait two more weeks to set out transplants that need very warm weather to mature, including tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and melons. Put in the herb garden.

Trees and shrubs in containers can be planted next, and you can also plant a new lawn. Plant citrus, avocado and other tender trees in regions suited to their survival, and also plant vines, ground covers and summer bulbs.

Once everything is planted, you can't stop there. You have to make sure everything continues to get enough water, sunlight and nutrients. You've devoted your time and hard work to get your garden growing -- don't neglect it once it is finally established.

The rest is the easiest part of all -- enjoying the fruits of your labor. And when your family and friends ask how you managed such a fine garden, just tell them, "It was easy."

1 comment:

jeff-nhn said...

It couldn’t be written better! Gardening is not difficult and is actually fun and rewarding. Watching whatever you planted grow towards maturity is fascinating and starts a person wondering about other ways to enjoy gardening.