It’s spring! It’s time to energize yourself and the yard. Let’s start by planning a garden. I don’t mean going out and buying flowers or seeds to plant right away though that is the ultimate goal. To have a successful garden there are several issues which need addressing before a seed, plant or flower goes into the ground.

First decision to be made is the garden placement. Take the time to think what you want to achieve with the garden. Is it to attract wild life and birds or to hide an unsightly structure or area? Different reasons for the garden will mean different types of plants needed for the beds. Is this going to be a one season garden or a permanent garden? If you’re not sure about what you want I suggest an experimental garden bed to give you an idea of how it may look or if you need to revise the shape or size. For this type of project I would choose annual plants or flowers because they are fairly cheap if bought in flats, which gives you many plants to work with. Annuals only last for the season though many times they will re-sow themselves but that should not be expected. This garden is easy to do too. Buy bags of growing medium be it topsoil or garden soil. Place the bags where you want the garden to be and slit the bags. Then spread the soil leaving the plastic bags under the soil to form a barrier so the weeds won’t pop though. Take your flowers and place them in the soil, mulch them and give them water. Now you have the experimental annual garden project in place.

If the garden is going to be long lasting, perennial plants in the long run are better for this. These plants come up each year spreading and growing bigger to cover the area. Leave room for them to grow. One of the biggest mistakes is to over plant the area because it “doesn’t look right” or it’s not “full enough”. If you fill it all in when the plants grow they’ll crowd each other and will not look good and ultimately cause you more work and wasting of money. To solve the bare plant look a few annuals in several spots, a bird bath or other garden art will help dress up the spaces.

The second issue is how much sun or light will the area get. Take at least a week observing the amount of sunshine the area is exposed to or how much shade is there. Full sun usually refers to 8 hours or more of sunshine, partial sun is 6-8 hours, part shade is 4-6 hours and full shade is very little light or sun. Depending on the light category the plot falls into will dictate the plants and flowers that will flourish there. Full sun plants will tolerate the heat better than partial shade plants. All plants have different needs and light requirements for photosynthesis and propagation.

The third issue you need to know is what zone you are living in. This can easily be found out through the computer or by looking at the back of a seed packet. There is usually a map with colored areas on it which correspond with a zone number. The zone number is the temperature hardiness value which simply means the minimum annual temperature the area experiences. These are generalized ranges but sometimes these zones have micro climates within them so you can plant a plant outside its hardiness zone and it will survive. This is not recommended, it’s best to stick to the plants hardiness zone for successful growing. A tropical plant in zone 11 will not usually survive in zone 6 due to the temperature differences.

Next evaluate the soil. Here’s where the experts tell you to get a soil test for the pH to see if the soil is acidic or alkaline. It’s a good idea but I have never gotten the soil tested and have beautiful gardens. What is more important is the type of soil and its drainage. If the ground is sandy the water will drain quickly where as if there is clay the water tends to puddle or pocket in the clay. Many plants are lost to soil and drainage problems because the roots dry up like prunes or rot due to constant wet feet. The soil can be remedied by adding manure, compost, topsoil or peat once the problem is detected.

After giving thought to these issues determine the type of garden you want to plant. Knowing if the garden is going to be formal or a bit on the wild side or the focal point of the yard will determine the amount of work involved and the types of plants and flowers needed to achieve that goal. A slightly wild flower garden in the corner of the yard hiding a wood pile takes less energy and work than a formal garden which needs pruning and edging. Make no mistake, all gardens take energy and work in the beginning to get them started and be successful. As they mature they tend to require less work or maybe after a stressful day at work the weeding seems to be mindless and therapeutic in nature.

By taking the time to address these issues before planting will make the project less frustrating, more enjoyable and hopefully more successful. Remember to start small. Bigger is not always better especially if this is the first garden you are attempting. It requires time and work at all levels from preparation, planting to growing. Don’t stray from the goals and enjoy the garden.

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