As spring rapidly approaches, trees begin to bud and long-dormant grass starts to shake itself awake from its winter slumber. From gardening experts to novices, it's a period of time to prepare and grow flowers, vegetables, or other plants. We asked a group of professional gardeners what tips they would share with greener growers that they wished someone had told them when they first began. Keep reading on to learn tips for having a bountiful garden this season.
The first thing you should do with any project, gardening or otherwise, is making a plan. More pointedly, make an informed plan based less on the change of season and your favorite plants and more on what grows best where you live. Not every flower or herb is meant to go into the ground during spring, or even in your area.
“While many beginners would assume (like I did) that all plants do best planted at the beginning of spring, many bulbs and ground cover will benefit from a late spring or even autumn planting,” says Ryan Farley, CEO of LawnStarter. “Fortunately this is easy to determine since seed packets will generally have this information.”
The packets also show which hardiness zone is best suited for maximum success for each plant. A hardiness zone is a geographical area with a set average annual temperature and checking a map of these zones will easily show you what will probably or what will not grow well in your garden.
Prepare the Soil
Once you have the types of vegetables or herbs you will plant sorted, it’s time to prep the soil. Depending again on where you live, the soil might be less than ideal. Perhaps it contains a lot of clay or is short on the nutrients needed to boost growth. But according to Dave Lavrinets, manager of Austin, Texas-based Barton Springs Nursery, you can easily whip your soil into shape.
“Success in gardening starts with good soil, particularly remineralization,” says Lavrinets.
Remineralization means adding rock powder or rock dust to your soil when it is deficient in crucial elements for optimal growth. Paying close attention to soil health will go a long way toward gaining the best possible gardening results.
“Fertilizers make all the difference and are very important for the health and nutrition of all plants,” says Lavrinets. “Fertilizers can take your garden to the next level. Using organic fertilizers that don't harm the soil biome creates long-term benefits as well as long-term results.”
Proper drainage is also key. If you are watering your garden, the plants can only take in so much of it. The rest of the water needs somewhere to go. Not only will pooling water increase the chances of root rot, but it also starves plants of the oxygen needed for them to flourish.
Creating a garden goes beyond digging a hole and dropping in some seeds. In fact, you might have an even more successful experience if you skip this step, depending on the plant and the yield you would like.
Starting plants indoors and then transplanting them into your outdoor garden can be very beneficial. Angelo Kelvakis, a master horticulturalist at Rise Gardens, points out that putting in vegetables or herbs that have started life indoors gives your plants a better chance against the outdoor elements and speeds up their growth. You might still want to plant directly from seeds in some instances, but knowing which method is best is crucial for new gardeners.
“A general rule of thumb is that you want to directly seed any plant that you want many of and transplant plants that you only need a few of,” says Kelvakis. “So if you are sowing a row of lettuce, you can directly seed that, while larger plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash should be transplanted.”
No matter what route you take to get your new plants growing, another professional tip is to be mindful of placement. It can be tempting to get as many seeds or transplants into your growing space as possible but resist this urge.
“When you plant too many plants close together, it causes their roots to essentially fight each other for nutrients in the soil,” says Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love. “Overcrowding can also cause taller plants to block the much-needed sunlight for other plants. It’s important to do research about how much space needs to be between the plants you want to grow, as well as which plants should or shouldn’t be near each other.”
Learn the Proper Care
Once you have your seeds or transplants in the ground, the most crucial stage of gardening begins. How often and when you water your garden can make a big difference in your results. If you live in a very sunny and warm climate, it makes a certain amount of sense to give your garden a drink in the evening when the sun isn’t bearing down on it. In fact, the experts caution against this, and for good reason.
The best time of day for watering is in the morning, according to Lindsey Hall, a horticulturist and blogger of Positive Bloom. After a disappointing initial yield in her first vegetable garden, she did research on plant care and learned night time watering leads to plants retaining moisture in a way that could cause root rot.
“You should water all your plants, not just the veggies, in the morning so that the excess moisture can evaporate,” Hall says. She also notes that watering plants at their base is best because it reduces the chances of mildew and leaf spot.
Many things go into a successful garden, whether in spring or in any other growing season. Learning lessons that the experts have already lived gives you the best chance at earning a green thumb of your own.