How To Garden

How To Garden

Shade Garden

How to garden ….  The answer is not the same for all people due to differing climates, soil conditions and environmental factors.   However, there are some primary things to consider before beginning a home garden.   You will need to determine what kind of soil you have and what soil conditions you have, what you need to do to make the soil good for what you want to grow (fertilizer and other soil amendments), what kind of lighting conditions your yard has and what climate zone you live in.

Right Plant Right Place

The trick is to get the right plant for the right place for a successful garden that you don’t have to work too hard to keep up or have headaches with.

Evaluate The Soil

One of the first things to consider is the soil.  According to research, some 80% of plant problems can be traced to poor soil.

What kind of soil do you have?  Do you even know?   It isn’t too hard to get a rough idea.  If your soil is wet and you scoop up a handful of it and squeeze it into a ball and it sticks together, chances are you have a good amount of clay in your soil.  If the ball stays together but easily breaks apart, you likely have some loamy soil, with a fair amount of silt (or medium size soil particles) and organic material in it.  If it just falls apart right away and is gritty, you likely have sandy soil.  This ball test is also used to determine whether you can till your soil.  If it stays clumped, soil is too wet to till.

Clay soil is not porous and is composed of very fine soil particles, may retain too much water and have poor drainage.  Plants that don’t like wet roots may not do well in this kind of soil.  This is the kind of soil I have living here in the Pacific Northwest.  A clay layer is just about 10″-12″ below the surface – yuk!

Sandy soil is very porous, has large size soil particles, and doesn’t retain water well and plants can dry out easily.   Sandy soil has too much drainage.  Both water and nutrients drain off.

Loamy soil is the Goldilocks soil, it is “just right”, and is neither too porous nor too water retentive, and has a mix of soil particle sizes.  This is the soil that is full of organic material, whether it is there naturally or through careful soil amending.

Interesting, adding organic material, like compost, can improve both sandy and clay soils.  The clay soils are made more porous by the addition of organic material, while the sandy soils are made more water retentive.  Necessary nutrients are also added when organic material is incorporated into the soil.

Even if you have the best soil, the slope of your land may determine whether it will be too dry or too wet.  For example a low spot in your yard may let water accumulate and be too damp for some plants.

What Nutrients Does Your Soil Need

Before you plant, you should determine what kinds of nutrients are either lacking or are in excess in your soil as well as the pH (the acidity or alkalinity of your soil).  A simple soil test should tell you this.  You can consult with your local County Extension Service or Master Gardeners as to where you can get this done in your state.  Knowing what your soil needs, helps you know what kind of fertilizers you need and how much, as well as whether you need to adjust the pH of the soil.

Observe Lighting Conditions

You will also need to know your lighting conditions.  Does your garden or yard get full sun, full shade or somewhere in between?  You would not want to try planting vegetables or roses in the shade, because they wouldn’t do well.  Neither would fuschias or hostas do well in hot, blazing sun.

So examine how much sun or shade you get, what time of day it gets these conditions.  Knowing this will help you determine what kind of plants you can plant where.  Also, you may as well give up on getting grass to grow beneath a large, heavily shaded tree, since it won’t grow well at all.  So, find a ground cover that does well in the shade.

What Plants Do Well In Your Area

You also need to know what kinds of plants do well in your area….what climate zone do you live in.  (There are several different systems, so know which system is being referred to.  I live in USDA Zone 7-8 or Sunset Zone 6).  You can ask your local Master Gardeners or a local nursery what zone you live in.  And then begin to explore the plants  do well in your area.

Additionally, you will want to consider whether you have a long damp growing season, a short hot season, a dry season or a wet one.  These will also help determine what kinds of plants will do well in your area.

What Would You Like To Grow

Well, now that you know what kind of soil you have, what you need to do to improve the soil and what kind of growing conditions you have, the fun really begins.  What do you want to plant?  Do you want vegetables, fruit, flowers, shrubs or vines?

If you want to grow vegetables, you will want to know where to plant them.  They will need a sunny spot in the garden, so will most fruit.  Find out the nutritional needs of the vegetables you want and give it to them.  Keep in mind that northern climates will have a shorter growing season than southern ones, so you will want varieties that produce veggies in a shorter period of time.

If you are interested in ornamental plants, you can let your artistic side loose and design a garden that is beautiful, yet does well in your area.  What types of plants do you like, what looks good with what, do they do well where you want to plant them?

Learn About Plant Pests And Diseases

You need to consider what diseases or pests these plants are susceptible to and decide whether they are worth the trouble.  (I have all but given up on hybrid tea roses in the Pacific Northwest due to black spot, but there are some beautiful alternative roses that are very disease resistant and do well.) Look for alternatives that are disease and pest resistant.  A little reasearch and a lot of questions can do wonders here.  Look at gardens you like and try to copy what they have done.

Consider Native Plants

The real sweet spot is finding native plants for your area that are also attractive.  Native plants are already used to the soil, climate, water, plant diseases and pests and grew up despite them.  Use natives where possible.  You will have fewer pest, disease and water needs.

Beware Of Invasive Ornamentals

By contrast, many beautiful imports have become thugs in the garden and escaped into the environment where they have few natural balances.  (For example very beautiful purple loosestrife is a noxious weed in many states.  A favorite gardening favorite….the butterfly bush… is classified as a Class B noxious weed in Washington and Oregon and can no longer be sold there.)

How Large Will The Plant Get

Another thing to consider when selecting plants for your garden is how large are they going to get.  Figure this into your garden plan.  Yes, garden plan.  You are best off figuring out what you want your garden to look like, select the right plants, keeping in mind how large they are going to be and do a site plan, with elevation, if possible.

To keep its size under control.  I have made the mistake of believing the size stated on a plant label for a cryptomeria (very pretty conifer)….the size stated was “to 15 ft”….well, when I sold my house it was about 30 ft tall, since this tree had grown at a rate of about 2 ft per year.

Install The Hardscape In Your Garden

Next install the hardscape….the rocks, pathways, lighting, pergolas, etc.  Then begin amending your soil, and lastly planting your dream garden.  Consider whether you want to hire a professional or semi-professional for any of these tasks.

Group Plants By Water Needs

Group plants in your garden by plant water needs.  If you have a dry area in your garden, plant things that like it dry there.  This can be your xeric area. Likewise, if you have a shady, damp area, put your plants that like those conditions.  If possible, keep your plants with heavy water needs closer to sources of water, you will have to work less to keep them watered.

For the first year, or so, you will really need to water more frequently, until plants are established.  Then you will need to maintain the plantings, depending on what is in your garden.

Now the enjoyment begins when you start to reap the benefits of your beautiful home garden.


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