Now that you’ve managed to keep your spider plant alive all winter, you’re looking to start your own garden. Study after study documents the health-boosting effects of gardening. Not only does gardening flood us with positive emotions, but it has measurable benefits to our health. Spending time with plants can lower both your blood pressure and your heart rate.
As beneficial as gardening is to your well-being, it can quickly become a burden if you choose high-maintenance plants or sow a plot too large. Weeding alone can fill your compostable trash bags before you know it. The following seven tips for starting your own garden will help you successfully grow a garden without getting tangled in an overgrown to-do list.
Honestly Assess Your Bandwidth
A garden is a great way to relax and reconnect with nature, but it can quickly grow into a source of stress if you fall behind on maintaining it.
Many novice gardeners make their first plots too large. Or they plant vegetables or flowers that are difficult to grow. For example, celery requires more frequent watering than many other vegetables and the leaves of a cauliflower must be tied back.
Ask yourself how much work you can put into your garden. If you don’t have time to tend to it daily, then make your garden smaller and choose plants that are easy to grow.
Know Your Garden Zone
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map identifies 12 primary growing zones across the U.S. Your zone is based on your area’s minimum winter temperature. Gardeners can use the map when choosing which plants to grow.
Your garden will be more successful if you choose plants that will thrive in your zone. You can be reasonably assured that your plants will mature within your area’s growing season. And you’ll know that the plants can tolerate your area’s average temperatures.
Decide if You’ll Start Seeds or Buy Young Plants
Generally, you need to start your seeds indoors at least a month before the last frost. You’ll need to buy seeds, seed starter soil and a container for growing your seeds. You’ll also need to dedicate a sunny place in your home for your seedlings. The seed packets will have instructions for sowing your seeds.
You can find young plants at any garden center when planting season arrives. But if you want special plants, such as heirloom or organic vegetables, you may have to spend extra time searching for a supplier.
Test Your Soil
Healthy soil is key to a healthy garden. You can use soil testing to determine your soil’s makeup, its acidity and the presence of micronutrients, such as magnesium, calcium and potassium. Based on this knowledge, you can add soil amendments to your garden in the form of compost, fertilizer and plant food.
The USDA extension office in your area provides low-cost soil testing.
Choose the Plants You Want to Grow
Choosing which plants to grow in your garden will, of course, depend on practical considerations, such as your area’s plant hardiness zone and the amount of time you plan to spend tending your garden. But choosing to grow vegetables you like to eat or flowers you love to look at will make gardening more enjoyable.
Pick a Spot for Your Garden
Once you’ve chosen your plants, you’ll know how much sunlight your garden will need. Most vegetables require at least six hours of sun. The amount of sun required for flowers and landscaping plants varies.
You’ll want to choose a flat area that drains well and is close to a water source. Your garden will be easier to maintain if it can be reached by a garden hose.
Prepare the Soil for Planting
Most new gardeners use a rototiller to prepare their gardens. A rototiller turns the soil and aerates it. It makes an otherwise labor-intensive job easier. But it has disadvantages.
Plant roots are healthiest when soil particles are different sizes and shapes. Air pockets form in the spaces between soil particles. Plant roots are able to grow more deeply into the soil when they can make their way through these air pockets. These tiny cavities in the soil also hold water, giving the plant roots ample time to absorb nutrients. Rototilling can break down soil particles into uniform shapes, eliminating the air pockets that keep plants healthy.
Another method to clear grass from your garden plot is to “smother” it. Also known as the “Back to Eden” method it protects the soil health while also preventing the regrowth of grass and weeds. It involves covering your garden patch with a thick layer of newspapers. After wetting the newspapers, cover them with about four inches of compost, followed by two inches of wood chips.
You can then plant your garden in the compost. As the newspaper breaks down, plant roots can reach into the soil underneath.
If you can keep your houseplants healthy enough to avoid throwing them in eco-friendly garbage bags, your green thumb is ready to take on gardening. Tending plants and spending time in nature are great for your well-being. But rein in your excitement long enough to make the best decisions when starting your garden. Make an honest assessment of the time you have to invest in gardening. Then choose plants accordingly. Test your soil and prepare your garden plot. With these preparations in place, your spider plant will have plenty of green company.
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