Now the fun begins!
All of your garden preparation and labor will now begin to transform it into a place of beauty and joy. My gardening experience is primarily with vegetable growing, though I do try my hand at flower gardening – both annuals and perennials. In the upstate New York region, planting seedlings is viable anytime after the danger of overnight frost is behind us. With this past winter lasting well into April, many gardeners were delayed in getting their garden started. I typically like to get things going as early as possible, so as to elongate the season – for me that means anytime from Mother’s Day to Memorial Day. However, this year, I have still been adding things even this week! So that may mean a later or lesser harvest when the time comes.
Over the years I have learned much from trial and error, reading the labels on seed packets, educating myself online, and surveying fellow gardeners. So, what “expert” tips can I offer?
1. Read and heed planting instructions! Just because that miniscule basil plant does not look like it will need a lot of space to grow, these instructions are there for a reason – because the producers and greenhouse experts know their stuff and want you to have success. I have had tomato plants that start out 12″ tall and grow to almost 6 feet tall, almost toppling over their tomato cages.
2. When planting seeds, notate the time it takes for germination. There is nothing more frustrating than staring at a section of dirt that shows no sprouts, only to realize that the package says “germinates in 20 days.” That is a long time to wait, yes, but wait you must. (Most seeds sprout in 7-10 days.)
3. Marking the rows or areas you have planted with labels specific to what you planted can be a helpful reminder. If you don’t want to label them outdoors, then create a chart or a list so you remember what is where.
4. WATER water water!!! Even with intense bouts of stormy rain, I have still watered my garden at least once a day if it looks dry. (That being said, you don’t want puddles in your garden either – too much water can kill plants too.) When the weather gets hot, twice a day is best – early in the morning or after sundown. If you water during the middle of the day you can attract too much sun to the plants and they get too hot and wilt. Also, it is ineffective to water mid-day, as it will evaporate and not really help the plant. Prior to planting, you NEED to have a plan of action in place for watering. If you have a small 5×5 raised bed, for example, perhaps watering by hand with a hose or a watering bucket will be enough. However, for anything larger scale, or if you are prone to being busy or forgetful, or if you have to go away on trips, you should consider an automated system. This does not require a large financial or time investment – Home Depot or Lowe’s has very easy-to-install systems that come with a timer that you can pre-set. Drip lines are good, so are “misting” systems.
5. Weed control: ungh, this is my constant struggle. With a smaller garden, you can plan to weed just once a week (see earlier blog – benefits of raised bed gardening). Use caution near the seeds until they have sprouted and are gaining ground. Also use caution near baby plants, you don’t want to disrupt their root system. Larger gardens benefit from a variety of options for weed control (other than your hard labor): lay down landscape fabric, or industrial black plastic (we get some from the same farmer that provides our fertile dirt), or newspaper is a wonderful organic weed control. Put large strips of whatever you use in the aisles between your planted rows. Mulch is an option, however I use that only by perennial beds, not by edible food.
6. Critter and Pest control: Rabbits, chipmunks/squirrels, deer, groundhogs, cats, dogs, birds, and an endless list of insects. Fencing is a good idea. Check out “Rabbit-proof fencing” (it’s not just a 2002 movie). Be sure to stop up any holes between the bottom of your fencing and the ground – and some critters can dig underground. I have also seen lightweight garden fabric that is used as a row cover to guard against insects. There is an organic (though I must warn you, disgusting-smelling) spray from Home Depot that deters critters – you can spray it around the area you have planted. For insects, there are natural insecticides plants that you can put into the garden – marigolds are one example.
All of these items are starting to make gardening sound like a huge hassle!? I only list the preparatory and cautionary concepts because I want you to have success. And once these measures are in place, they do not take much more work to maintain. Once all the bending and digging and work is over, you will stand up and gaze over your accomplishment. Truly wait with much anticipation and excitement for the day when your flowers and plants have taken off and are at the height of their growth and fruition, big bold colors and delicious home-grown organic food you can be proud to enjoy and eat.
I wish you happy planting – have fun!!