Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reap the rewards of a well-planned garden

Jack Frost has left the building, we hope. That means gardeners will be out in full force.
Many of the more experienced master gardeners have already kicked into gear and will continue their spring chores such as removing protective mulches from roses, clematis, azaleas and other tender shrubs and fertilizing spring-flowering bulbs or other ornamental fruit and berry plants. Also on the list of things to do is cultivating garden beds and preparing the soil for planting. For those people looking to start a garden as a new hobby to beautify their yard or to enjoy the fresher tastes of homegrown veggies, this would be the time to map out a plan.

1. Know the lay of the land. Before you dig your first hole or plant your first seed, take stock of what you’ve got. Look at areas of the yard that you want to garden and consider conditions such as sun, shade, soil type and moisture levels. You might want to do this once in the morning and once in the afternoon to determine exactly how much sun or shade it might be getting. Get a pen and a notepad and jot things down. Separate the areas into categories such as containers, flowerbeds, lawn, trees, bushes or general landscaping like mulch or decorative stone. A list will help you when you’re shopping for the supplies you need to start growing.

2. Tackle one project at a time. Maybe today it’s just the containers on the front porch or the flowerbed at the back of the yard. Gardens are fun but time consuming. Best location and variety of plants are the kind of things to consider when planning your first garden.

3. Prepare the soil. The best plants in the world will not flourish unless the soil is healthy. Best bet here is to ask a representative at your local home and garden center what fertilizer is best for your soil and the plants you’re growing.

4. As a child who pulled weeds and picked tomatoes for weekend spending money, I remember my dad insisting that organic fertilizers were the only way to go in a vegetable garden. One of the advantages of an organic fertilizer derived from plants, animals, or naturally occurring minerals, according to celebrity gardener Charlie Nardozzi, a frequent guest on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel, is that it doles out the nutrients more slowly than chemical fertilizers, so plant roots are less likely to be burned by getting too high a dose. Types of organic
fertilizers include alfalfa meal, corn gluten, cottonseed meal, seaweed, soybean meal, animal-based fertilizers such as cow or alpaca manure, bone meal, fish products and compost. Setting up your own compost is a whole other project.
The advantage to synthetic fertilizers is that they are less costly and easier to transport.

5. Once you’ve got a plan and have prepared your gardening space, you can begin to explore available plant options. If I decide to dig up the sod at the back of our property, as I’ve threatened to do every year, I plan to start with a salad garden, complete with carrots, tomatoes, English cucumbers, lettuce and green onions. A smaller patch on the side will include herbs such as cilantro, parsley, rosemary, dill, bay leaves and mint. As for the flowerbeds and containers, consider new varieties of plants or talk to neighbors who have gardening experience and find out what is growing good for them. Chances are they have the same soil type. Who knows, he or she might even offer you a plant you have always wanted.

6. Dig in. When you’re ready to start planting, remember the rule: the hole should be slightly bigger and deeper than your plant’s roots. Pat the earth around the plant firmly, but don’t pack it and be sure to leave plenty of room between plants. If you’re using seeds, refer to the package’s directions.

Do not be intimidated by what you don’t know. Instead, be excited about your decision to start something new and start digging.

CONTEST: Celebrate your garden
The Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune are planning to launch a gardening contest. Details are still being worked out but there will be several gardening categories and plenty of time to get growing before a winner is chosen. Watch for details here and throughout upcoming editions.
Send your comments or home and garden tips to Gina Joseph, The Macomb Daily, 100 Macomb Daily Drive, Mount Clemens, MI 48043, or email them to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com.

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