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Planning your First Garden

Humans have been planting and reaping for thousands of years, so it’s only natural that people love to dig up the earth and use it to create beauty and produce food. If you’ve never gardened before, don’t worry: the steps to having a good garden are straightforward. It is, however, a good idea to start small. Far better to have an undersized garden you feel you wish you had more time with than an overwhelming garden that rapidly becomes a burden.

The first step in planning your garden is deciding where it should be. It should be located where it will get at least six to eight hours of sunlight every day. There should be easy access to a hose for watering, and the site should be sheltered from prevailing winds. If you don’t have such an ideal spot, work with what you have. Even on a small balcony or patio, you might find that one corner gets a couple of more hours of sun than another.

The next step is to decide whether you’ll grow plants in containers, in the ground, or in raised beds. Sometimes a small herb garden grown in containers is ideal for the beginning gardener. You can even put your containers in a child’s wagon so you can move it around to maximize sun exposure. If you’re gardening in existing raised beds or in the ground, you need to know if the soil is good for growing. The soil should hold together without being sticky, and it should drain well. If the soil is reasonably warm (55 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer), and you find earthworms, that’s a good sign of healthy soil.

Once you have a site and decent soil, you need to choose what to grow. Only choose to grow vegetables if your site gets eight hours of sun or more per day. Most vegetables require lots of sun, though you can grow salad greens like leaf lettuce in part-shade, plus veggies like cauliflower, peas, radishes, and spinach. If you’re creating a flower garden, choose varieties of flowers that work well in the climate and sun / shade conditions of your garden. You might try growing a mix of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Once you have your site and you know what kind of soil and sun / shade conditions you have, and an idea of what you want to grow, it’s time to create your garden’s layout. It doesn’t have to be complicated – just use a pencil and paper if you want. Plant according to your seed directions, neither over-crowding or spreading your plants too thin. You can make garden markers out of wooden craft sticks (similar to Popsicle sticks). Just write the name of the plant on the stick with a waterproof marker and stick into the soil near the plantings.

Monitor your garden daily, and when the seedlings are the appropriate height, thin them if the seed directions say to. If plants are too crowded, they won’t produce well. Water according to each plant’s needs, and keep in mind that more people kill plants by over-watering them than by under-watering them.