Gardening is one of the fastest growing hobbies among younger Americans, having risen 63% among millennials since 2009, according to a recent study. These upcoming generations are learning what many older people have known for years: spending time tending to your yard and garden provides many benefits, from the essential (yard beautification, growing your own food) to the intangible (stress relief, a sense of accomplishment).
Creating your own paradise can be challenging, however. When our carefully tended plants don’t behave as we hoped, it can be easy for a peaceful hobby to become a frustrating puzzle. Figuring it out often pushes advanced gardeners to look anywhere and everywhere, no matter how obscure the possible solution.
Fortunately, many of the problems we encounter in our gardens can be solved by taking things back to ground zero. Whether you are just getting started or troubleshooting after decades of experience, it’s always helpful to remember the basics.
Reminder #1: Success starts with choosing the right things to plant
Building a thriving, successful yard and garden starts long before you ever stick your hands in the dirt. The first step is deciding which plants you want to grow; and to do that, you have to know your planting zone.
Plants are particular about their environments, especially regarding temperature, humidity and elevation. Most people understand that you can’t plant palm trees in the Arctic and tropical flowers in the desert, but which yard plants, flowers and vegetables will thrive in your area?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides an online tool that will help gardeners identify (or remember) their planting zone – also known as a hardiness zone. Simply visit the website and type in your zip code. Armed with your planting zone/hardiness zone, a quick Google search will give you a great starting point for which plants work best in your area.
Reminder #2: Everything hinges on your growing season
Frosts — sudden freezes from a drop in temperature — are the bane of gardens everywhere. Even the most experienced gardener loses plants to frost sometimes, especially when you are trying to get an early start on planting.
To avoid wasting plants and efforts, you should stick to the growing season, which is the time between the last frost of spring and the first frost of fall. The Farmer’s Almanac has a growing season tool that provides a good estimate of first and last frost dates for your location, giving you a solid window for planting.
With that information, you can figure out how much time you need for plants to grow. Arugula, for example, grows from a seed in 3-4 weeks, while celery takes a full 16 weeks. Careful planning will help ensure you harvest vegetables or gather blooms before the first frost of fall.
Reminder #3: Make sure your planting spot has the right balance of sun and nutrients
Most plants fall into one of three categories, depending on how much sunlight they need to convert into energy through photosynthesis:
Direct sunlight plants need at least six hours of full, uninterrupted sunlight per day. Most fruits and vegetables love the sun.
Partial shade plants need sunlight in the morning and shade in the hottest parts of the day. Spring flowers like shady afternoons.
Full shade plants need minimal sun and shade for most of the day. Ferns, mosses, ivies, and delicate shrubs often thrive in the shade.
With your list of plants in hand – checked against your hardiness zone and growing season – you can decide where each should grow. Knowing how the sun passes across your yard during spring and summer months will be vital to plotting your planting.
Just as important as sunlight are the nutrients in your soil. Plants need 13 essential minerals for optimum growth, and most soils fall short. Adding fertilizers like manure, compost, or packaged plant nutrients will make sure you are giving your plants just what they need. Home and gardening stores sell an inexpensive test kit that will measure the nutrients and pH of your ground so you know just what to add.
Reminder #4: There are right and wrong ways to plant
Armed with all of the necessary knowledge, nutrients, plants and tools, it’s finally time to start digging. Most people start fruits and vegetables from seeds, which is an easy and affordable option. Small starter plants with a few weeks’ growth are good for flowers, shrubs and some garden plants, especially if you have a short growing season.
Many experienced gardeners will start seeds early in peat pots and keep them in a temperature-controlled environment like a utility room until the risk of frost has passed. Each seed or starter has its own specific depth for optimum growth, so follow the directions on the seed packet or information tag.
Plants also need room to grow and gather nutrients, so seeds and starts should be spaced a few inches apart from each other. Tidy rows will help with weeding, fertilizing and cultivating, and ensure plants don’t crowd each other as they sprout and grow.
Reminder #5: Water is your garden’s best friend
Your plants are now in the ground, soaking up sunlight and nutrients. The last essential step is regular watering. Each plant has different water requirements and those also change depending on the environment and the weather. In a desert, you may need to water every day. If you live somewhere rainy or humid, you may hardly need to water at all. A good general rule is to keep the top 3-4 inches of your soil damp.
The best time to water is in the early morning or evening, otherwise the midday sun will evaporate a lot of the water before it reaches the plants. Not only is this a waste of water, but it can make it difficult to gauge how much water your plants are receiving. Fewer, deeper waterings are generally more beneficial than shallow daily waterings.
Although some people love their classic watering cans, hoses and above-ground sprinklers, I certainly recommend in-ground sprinklers with adjustable timers, like Orbit’s B-hyve system. As the easiest and most environmentally friendly way to water, the B-hyve connects to Wi-Fi and uses weather conditions to predict exactly how much water your garden needs. You can control it from your smartphone or laptop, there’s minimal water waste, and your plants will enjoy perfect watering, every time.
Going back to basics will help ensure that you set up your yard and gardens for optimal growing conditions. Gardening is an absorbing and enjoyable process that can bring a lot of joy into your life, especially when you get to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of your labor.
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By The Davey Tree Expert Company
Photographs courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company
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