Attractive gardens don't just happen

Linda Knox
Adams County Master Gardener

For a while you have wanted a little space to grow some flowers outside your own front door; or maybe you yearn to gather a few tomatoes or other vegetables in the back yard. How nice to choose the kinds and colors of blossoms you admire at nearby homes to incorporate in your own yard.

Before your mouth begins to water for those vine-ripened tomatoes like grandma used to raise, there are some basic rules to follow before you head to the nearest garden center. If you have workable piece of ground, what is the best approach to take in reaching your goal?

Without some preparation you may plow right in (please excuse the pun) and load everything into your shopping cart that looks great on the display. Remember the store managers are in business to sell their products.

Attractive gardens don't just happen; in most cases a certain amount of work goes with the territory, as the saying goes. If you are moving into a recently built house, outward appearances can be deceiving. The actual depth of soil depends upon whether you are in the center of a former field or on the site of a rock and debris collection with a thin covering of tillable soil. So, is there no hope if you find the latter situation? No, remember you can always turn to containers to solve the dilemma.

The great advantage, of course, is that containers may be moved around. They may be used individually or grouped together; just remember that placement must be in proper light (sun, shade, indirect, etc.) for particular plants. Starting with small to medium-sized specimens can give you a better perspective of the theme you may eventually create.

Containers may be elevated on blocks, bricks, or wooden planks to keep them from being banged by mower or trimming tools. The elevation will deter a pest invasion from the ground as well. Recently I spoke with a gardener who shared the idea of planting tomatoes in a bale of straw. Dig out a couple of holes, fill with soil, and insert seedlings; of course, you will need to keep filling with soil and watering.

Before any kind of planting takes place, a soil test can tell you which amendments your soil needs. Check with the extension office to purchase a soil test kit.

If you are fortunate to acquire a property with an existing garden, it would be wise to mark the plants that you want to keep. Take at least a year to observe what perennials appear and may be flourishing without any problems. Two of the first steps include deciding what pleases you and gaining information about the suitability and success of particular plants.

Suggestion: draw a plot of sections of your garden and identify the plants in them. Leave shapes blank until you learn names and make notes about height, width, color, fruit, seed, etc. Sometimes neighbors may help or a basic book on gardening can be used. Depending on your prior experience, a book on weeds could prevent removal of desirable plants. Again, the extension office has many brochures on these topics.

The local library has many books with a numerous supply of ideas and handy tips. If you know you will be feeling a time crunch, look at Gardening Weekends: Strategies for the Busy Gardener, a Better Homes and Gardens publication by Olwen Woodier. It will guide you to plants that require little maintenance and tips to simplify techniques. To minimize frustration, explore chapters on "Easy Care Beds", Easy Care Plants", and "Gardening Basics". One section covers the weekend vegetable garden also.

The Low-Maintenance Garden (A Complete Guide to Designs, Plants and Techniques for Easy Care Gardens) by Susan Berry and Steve Bradley is another source of beautifully presented ideas. Throughout the completely illustrated text, practically every type of garden site is presented.

Start small, plan as you go, and incorporate the good features of the natural location. Remember that your local library and extension office will come to your aid if asked. Best wishes to all new gardeners!

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