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Old 05-29-2016, 07:30 PM   #1
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Post So You Want A Garden?

Why not? If you own your own home or apartment with a balcony, rent & expect to be there some time, there's no reason you can't have your own garden. In spite of what a lot of snooty magazines will try to imply, there's no real mystique to it. If anyone looks at your efforts & sniffs in that certain superior way, you can either tell them to stuff it or think it very strongly. It is YOUR garden, which means you can plant what you like, break any 'rules' you like, (& the plants let you get away with) & it's no one's business but your own.

If you're starting out with no real knowledge, no worries. The internet is marvellous, it is. I have a list of really good sites that give good information - nothing too complicated - unless you're looking for that & frankly, you'll learn the most from blissfully mucking around in your own patch of dirt.

And don't sweat size, don't be intimidated by stunning, award winning gardens that stretch for acres & always look immaculately manicured in glossy magazines. You can bet unless someone is utterly garden obsessed, the garden only looks that perfect when there's been a mad rush on to make it look perfect for the camera. If you're starting out, sometimes small is better; if you have the space & interest, you can gradually expand. Personally, that was the route I took it was far more budget friendly.

And seeing as it's late May, anyone starting from scratch has the whole summer to do the prep work, (yeah - can't really avoid that!), do a lot of thinking dreaming & planning... that's a lot of fun & learn a bit of the basics.

So first, figure out where you're going to put it. Usually, that comes down to where you have room or there's an already existing garden you may have inherited & want to 'so something' with. Unless you really like a challenge, try to avoid any spots that get shade 100% of the time. You can still do gardens in full shade but your choices are more limited when it comes to plants. Same with 100% baking sunshine - although you will have more choices of plants & colours. As well try to avoid any spot likely to get too much accidental traffic, is too windy or gets no breeze at all. If you're just starting out, avoid areas under trees, unless you really like working around tree roots! Bear in mind there may be times when you have to water your baby; don't be too far from a source of water.

That being said, the one piece of land I had available to me when I asked the managers 9 years ago if I could do a garden, broke most of those rules. It was heavily shaded by large trees next door & a fence behind it, blocked most other light. Each part of the garden, (it's long & fairly narrow), gets roughly 4-5 hours of sun a day - a few hours in the morning, then a few in the afternoon. The area is nothing less than a wind tunnel - a PITA until I figured out how to work around that. The 'soil' consisted of builder's fill, old pieces of revolting mustard & orange, 70s shag carpet, 40 years of used hypodermics & syringes, a museum's worth of used condoms & other fun things. Tree roots galore, & patches of sand, interspaced with patches of clay. Had I known... oh hell, I would have done it anyway. All this to say, most gardening rules can easily be broken, if you're willing to put in the work & time.

Tools... I dug out, (over 2 summers), an area measuring about 60' by an average of 5' wide. All I had was an edger, a hand trowel & eventually a fork - that's it. I've added tools since but you don't need a bunch of expensive, specialty garden gadgets. I also use old kitchen knives, old eating forks & anything else that can be useful. I'll describe tools & their common uses later but it's up to YOU. If you end up doing your best weeding with a salad fork... why not? The one 'tool' I wouldn't be without are gloves. They don't have to be expensive. I get surprisingly good wear from two for $1.25 gardening gloves at the local dollar store.

What to plant, what 'kind' of garden to you want? Shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs, wild flowers? You can do a garden using only one, some or all of these - it's entirely up to you. Never forget - it's YOUR garden. You can go all of one type or mix it up.

So what's what? A SHRUB is a small tree like bush. Shrubs almost always have more than one woody stem rather than a single trunk. Technically, shrubs can grow up to 20' high when mature so if you're planting those, keep their eventual height in mind. Some can be kept trimmed lower, other's can't very easily.

PERENNIALS are plants that may or may not die back to the ground in the fall, (depends on the plant & your climate) & grow back in the spring. Depending how far north you live, some tropical perennials sold as annuals in the north, (think lantanas for example), can be brought in the house for the winter, then popped back into the ground next spring. People often think 'perennial' means: "This plant will be covered in flower all summer!" Nope - MOST perennials have shorter blooming season.. anything from less than a week to sometimes, 6 weeks. With planning, not to mention moving plants until you get the positioning right, you can still have a fair bit of colour in the garden from early spring to late fall.

ANNUALS - comprise a great many of the flowering plants we know & love. They generally start flowering late spring & early summer & keep going right to or even through the first frosts. Think petunias, marigolds... what makes them annuals is that they go through their entire life cycle in one year - from seed to sprout, to leaves, flowers & back to seed. No matter how much you beg & plead, what you promise them - at the end of that summer, they're gone.

WILD FLOWERS - self explanatory but if you want to be specific, they're generally plants that grow wild in your area. Almost every garden plant started its horticultural history as a wild plant somewhere - African violets, meconopsis, (stunning blue poppies), coral bells. Some are nice enough to stand on their own but most, through selective breeding have improved in many ways. Many of us never get to see our local wild flowers for any number of good reasons & they can be a revelation.

BULBS - tulips, daffodils, gladiolus, freesia... you plants a bulb in the fall or spring, water & like magic, the leaves, (usually tall & strappy), then flowers appear Depending on your winters, some can stay where you placed them all winter & others can be dug up, dried off, stored, then replanted in the spring.

There are a few other categories of plants that can included... BIANNUALS - do their entire growth cycle over 2 years. The first year they root & set up a clump or rosette of leaves. The second year, they flower, set seed & die. Sweet Williams fit that category as do cup & saucer plants.

PRETTY LEAFY THINGS - think ferns, hosta, any plant grown more for gorgeous leaves than flowers. They can bridge the gap nicely when you're going through a period where you're low on flowers.

HOUSEPLANTS - many of those can be tucked into the garden for the summer with some caveats. We'll talk about those down the road, some.

The next thing you need to do, before you buy any plants - is get your garden bed ready. That's next.

Questions, comments & the addition of anything I end up missing will be thoroughly welcomed. There are a great many types of gardens & gardening I don't do - no land, money or time.
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Last edited by CanadaSue; 05-29-2016 at 07:35 PM.
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Old 05-31-2016, 09:48 PM   #2
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Default The Big Dig

It's time to get started... like it or not. And frankly, you probably won't like this first stage; unless you're inclined to be masochistic. If not, a large dose of sheer stubbornness might come in handy... as will lots of water or adult beverages.

If you're going to garden, you need A garden... a bit of land that you either dig up from scratch or clean up from someone's past efforts. The start, the digging, can be done any time of year but I don't recommend the heat of summer unless you plan on working early, before the day heats up. If you slowly work at it over the next few weeks, you can pop in some annuals, (they'll be on sale by then!), for the rest of the summer or even get a start on shrubs & perennials. Yes yes, I KNOW what the gardening manuals say about planting at the wrong time. In truth, if you do it right, there is no wrong time - we'll get to that later. First...we have to dig out this puppy.

You've figured out where you're gardening - perhaps a border around a back deck, something along your front walkway or driveway, the front of the house; wherever. Now, mark it off - believe it or not, a garden hose is ideal for that. You can play with the shape until you're more or less happy with it. Personally, I don't recommend straight lines borders, unless you're after a public park effect. That's fine if you're inclined that way but it CAN end up looking awfully stiff.

What do you need? First, loose, comfy clothes - preferably something you could happily throw into a garbage bin if you have to. You WILL get dirty, muddy, sweaty, etcetera - dress for it. If your hair is long, tie it back. Slap a hat on. WEAR GLOVES. You need something sharp to slice the edge of your lawn, weeds, whatever your edge is. You can buy half moon edging tools or use a straight edged ice chipper. In a pinch, a heavy, sharp knife works but that's killer on the hands & back. A pitchfork will save tons of work & if you have that, you don't need a spade - a hand trowel will do. But a spade is nice too. Buy cheap knee pads, (dollar store), or get something else to kneel on to save your knees. Finish off with a bucket for weeds & stones or a wheelbarrow & you're set to start.

You've marked your edge, looked & looked, maybe adjusted what you're going to do... start slicing the edge & go down a good 3-4" if you can. Further is better. Get the whole edge done. Now, step back, take a drink & admire what you've done so far. You've started!

Next - get the lawn, turf, weed bed or whatever excuse for green stuff is covering your nascent garden. Many British gardening books blithely natter on about SKIMMING the turf off. I'd like to skim something off those authors! It's more a case of prying it off through gritted teeth anywhere I've ever gardened.

Easiest way to do that is, cut small blocks using the edging tool you used to cut your edge. Keep them small. Big ones will be hard to handle & tend to fall apart anyway. Start with a 6"x6" square & see how you manage that. You may be able to cut larger chunks to work with. Don't cut more than a few at once - this part can be tiring. As you cut your chunks with your edging tool, cut straight down, then lever up a bit... that helps the next part.

The next part consists of coaxing the ground to give up it's current greenery. Grab an edge of a cut chunk & pull it up. It may resist. Don't bother with sweet talking it - doesn't work. Neither does swearing although you might feel better. As you lift off the chunks of sod, shake out any dirt you easily can from between the roots. That dirt belongs in your garden. If the soil is really packed in the roots, you can stab at it with a knife but don't try too hard. Later, working the ground will raise the level of soil anyway.

Keep doing this until you've removed all the greenery from your new garden. Don't feel obligated to do it all at once. It can be very tiring, hard on the back & besides, it's a good chore to attack in short spurts to work off a righteous rage. Or any other kind of rage.

By the way, if there are any shrubs or other plants there you want to keep but aren't sure exactly where, leave them be for now - work around them.

Now you get to turn over the soil. You may find you're working with clay, (sticky when wet, iron when dry), sand, something in between or even patches of almost any type of soil you can imagine. Don't sweat it. The only perfect looking soils or garden beds/borders I've seen have existed in the pages of glossy gardening books or temporary show gardens. WE live in reality & reality involves dealing with everything but ideal soil. We'll fix that later.

Here's where your fork comes in handy. Place the tines in the ground, firmly step, (using your HEEL), on the horizontal bar & push down. If that doesn't work - stomp. Never use anything but your heel unless you really like sore feet. If your fork seems to hit a rock, move it a little. One small pebble on ONE tine of the fork, can stop all downward progress. You probably have NOT hit a 2 ton boulder.

Once you've got the fork in, as deeply as you can, lever it by pushing the handle down until you've loosened a chunk of soil. If it's sand, it will mostly run through the tines. Clay won't & soil should break up into various sized clods. Fork up the whole bed once, then call it a day. Trust me - you'll be a tad stiff tomorrow. If you're in shape & on a roll, fork it over again.

As you fork, stop & remove any roots you find. This can seem like it takes forever but every root removed means at least one less weed - sometimes more. Remove rocks, sticks, dead dogs - anything that doesn't belong. Yes, you will be stepping on soil you've turned over but no matter at this stage, you'll be working it again later & it won't be nearly as tough.

Okay, you've marked it, taken the turf off & turned the soil. And the time you spent removing unwanted things like stones, sticks, weeds & weed roots while extremely tedious, you'll find later was well worth it. The weed root you found were, more often than not, roots of perennial weeds & nothing grates more than trying to get them out from under a treasured plant or worse, losing that plant later. Prep well & you'll get your reward.

Now, go get a shower & a treat - you've earned it. Let your new, raw, patch of land breathe overnight. Your eyes need a break & you'll see things afresh in the morning or when next you get back to it.
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Old 06-08-2016, 09:48 PM   #3
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It's the next day... or longer, depending on how tired you were & what else you may have had on your plate. And that is not only okay, it's almost mandatory. Before you do any planting, in the interest of saving yourself from correcting too many mistakes later, (relax - there WILL be mistakes anyway), it's best to look again & again at what you've dug out. Maybe, now that you see it, the proportions of you garden don't seem quite right. Maybe it seems too big. If so, use your hose to visually 'shrink' your space, then simply plunk some of the sod you ripped out back in place. Keep it well watered for a week or so & soon you'll never know it had been removed. If you don't think what you dug out is large enough, mark the new area you want to dig out with a hose & have at it.

Once you've finished any adjustments you've made or even before or during, keep an eye on the area already dug. Any weeds you see coming up - get them out. The more you get out now, the easier your life will be later. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to unravel weeds & weed roots from the root mass of a cherished plant.

Unless you get some rain, give the area a good watering - not that you are trying to grow more soil, but you want to see how it drains. Sandy soil tends to drain quickly, clay soil shows you very slow draining water puddles & the mythical loam gardening books love to natter on about drain fairly promptly while retaining moisture. I've never had soil that good either. But if soil will grow lawn and/or weeds, it will grow plants.

Now that you've done your digging, the fun part starts. You probably went into this with an idea of what you wanted to do & that's perfect. Bear in mind, it's a good idea to remain flexible to some degree but with a little flexibility, you can have the garden you wanted.

Your garden hinges on 4 things - soil, average temperatures year round, amount of sun it gets & one frequently unplanned for - wind. Soil you can fix - or amend, as gardeners prefer to say. Sun, wind & temperatures where you live... not so much. They still allow for a bit of flexibility however.

If you're going to put in anything you want to come up year after year, in the case of perennials, bulbs, shrubs & trees, you need to know your agricultural ZONE. Those are loose areas that, depending on local geography, limit what you can plant. You can find your zone here:

http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

You can plug in your state or zip code for a more precise number. In general, the higher your number, the warmer you are. Generally that means you have more planting options but don't get too smug - it often means more pests & more extremes in weather to deal with.

It's important to know your zone because some of the more unscrupulous nurseries will carry things that simply won't winter over in your zone. IF you see a plant at a nursery that you fall in love with, (don't we all?), but you're not sure it will grow in your zone & that info isn't on the tag, whip out your smart phone, type in the LATIN name of the plant, (common names can vary wildly) & make sure. Nothing more frustrating than wasting money on a lovely plant that will die come winter. There is a way you can bump your plant selection by up to a full zone but I'll explain that later.

Soil... any soil can be improved by the addition of rotted manure or compost spread over it & roughly turned in. If your budget doesn't run to buying soil amendments, don't sweat it. I can only swing that every 3 years or so & in between I do all sorts of things. An easy one is roughly chopping up fruit & veggie peelings & trimmings. I fling them into the garden. I don't even turn them in as worms often drag them down into the ground. Old houseplant soil also gets dumped into my garden. If you keep chickens or rabbits, turn old shavings & beddings into soil booster - just fling it in, even when you've got it planted. Friends with farms willing to give you cow/sheep/horse manure should be permanently on your holiday card list. About a half mile from me is a city operated golf course & it's also where they dump wood chips after clearing trees & tree limbs in the city. Right now, there's a nice pile of 3 year old wood chips that have about turned to soil. I will be schlepping some home this weekend. I never go to the woods without a few carrier bags - rotting wood is a bit on the acidic side but I grab that & put it around my acid loving plants. Coffee grounds can be used the same way, as can tea leaves. But if you've got the money, but some manure and/or compost. Soil is almost a living, breathing organism - it's certainly full of tiny critters that benefit the garden so I like to keep them fed. Plants deplete any soil over time so renewing it is & should be a constant process.

Sun - plant labels will tell you a plant either likes full sun, part sun or shade. Take that with a grain of salt. I can plant annuals, (think marigolds), in my garden & it's lucky to get, (in sections), 3-4 hours of sun a day. They do fine. That is a factor with which you'll have to experiment - all gardens are unique. Part shade plants can, if well watered, handle even full sun. Plants which require shade though... for the most part it's best to stick to that although that can be cheated to some degree - later, when we talk about plants & planting.

Wind - ideally, periodic breezes are good. They keep the plants ventilated & hinder the growth of mosses you don't want, many fungi & other nasties. No wind isn't good & wind tunnels are... challenging. If you have next to no breezes, you'll want to plant things a little further apart & keep an eye on your plants for disease. But today's cultivated plants for gardens are generally bred for disease resistance. If you have more wind than you'd like, don't go with really tall plants, unless you're willing to stake them. Thus sayeth one with a honking big delphinium! I can't live without that plant & if I have to put rebar in to keep the flower stalk intact... I will! So far, 6' bamboo poles have been fine.

Next, we'll get to the fun stuff - promise.
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Old 06-08-2016, 10:55 PM   #4
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But But But I thought fruits and veggies came from the Supermarket the way hamburger does?

On the plus side I almost have the old dump truck fixed up so I can haul in a few more loads of manure and sawdust.
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Old 06-08-2016, 11:11 PM   #5
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Fruit, I know far too little about to presume to write anything. my experience with veggies isn't enormous either but I have happily grown edibles with not a whole lot of effort & will certainly include veggie gardening... in zones 4/5/6 because other zones are way out of my wheelhouse.

But now for bed - picked up a minor head cold somewhere & while I'm not too sniffly, nor congested... it's really tiring me out & I have to work in the morning.
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Old 06-13-2016, 09:53 AM   #6
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My very first garden on the back deck 9 years ago. I harvested a good bit of food from those window boxes and pots. Also had large pots of herbs going. I wanted to see how I did before I moved to the yard and making the raised beds.

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Old 06-13-2016, 09:57 AM   #7
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I have pretty much the same, WVD. I moved to the yard and so did some very large digging critter. I had 4x4' holes that were 3' deep in the middle of whatever I planted (needless to say, not much survived). Something really appreciated the nice, soft, well composted soil I had prepared, but it sure wasn't my plants. No idea what it could have been... big enough and limber enough to get up into a 2' high raised bed garden and big enough to wallow like a full grown pig.... in a fully gated suburban Florida HOA community.

So, back to container gardening.
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Old 06-13-2016, 10:05 AM   #8
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Getting back to this - just trying to deal with some rather frustrating personal issues that are consuming some time/energy right now.
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Old 06-13-2016, 02:22 PM   #9
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I also started out with plants in containers on the deck. We ate well out of those pots and once we built our own place it was time to move the garden into the yard. The garden keeps increasing in size every year and we're to the point that what we grow (and put up) lasts us most of the year. I'm still amazed that it all started with just a few pots of fresh herbs and veggies.
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Old 06-16-2016, 01:57 PM   #10
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Default What about them spices

A lot of dry spices you buy at the store are or contain the seeds of the spice.
I don't know but I've wonder what are the chances of being able to germinate and grow them. Anyone know, are they irradiated now?


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