At our house the gardening catalogs started arriving last week. Burpee’s, Henry Fields, Stark Brothers, K Van Bourgondien & Sons, Van Enselen inc, John Scheepers Inc, Gurney’s, Henry Field’s, and Jung Seeds & Plants have all arrived in our mailbox (we are on a lot of lists!). The beautiful full page pictures of colorful summer flowers, trees and vegetables set the heart to yearning for warm weather and planting season.
Plan your garden.
Now is the time to plan your garden. Sure – take a look at the catalogs or online sites selling plants and seeds. Use them to help you learn about what species and varieties will do well in your yard or in your garden. But don’t necessarily order from them yet. Before you settle on a particular plant, remember to think about the quality of soil in the areas you are thinking of planting.
You can have your soil tested if you have trouble growing things, or if your soil has been greatly disturbed by recent construction activity. Your state university most likely has an agricultural extension to which you can submit samples to be analyzed (for a fee – ours is$15 per sample).
According to the University of Missouri – “Soil testing provides an estimate of the plant-available nutrients in the soil and is an essential tool for a sound fertilization program. Periodic soil testing will help to correct nutrient deficiencies, avoid excess fertilizer applications and maintain a healthy lawn. A routine soil fertility test will check the pH, neutralizable acidity, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, organic matter, and cation exchange capacity.”
Obviously you also need to think about how much sun or shade and moisture the plants you like need. You set yourself up for failure and waste of money if you put a sun loving plant in deep shade or a succulent in a swamp!
Understand whether and how you need to amend your soil.
Once you envision the kinds of plants you want, understand their needs and have an idea of what your soil currently is like; you can figure out if you need to make some changes to the soil before you plant anything. About 5 years ago, I decided I wanted a ready supply of blueberries – they taste great and have many, many health benefits, but they can be expensive. Blueberries, I found, need a very acidic soil. The ph level of ours showed alkaline so I dug big holes where I wanted to plant the bushes and mixed in peat moss (which increases the acidity) and sulfur to bring the soil to the proper drainage and acid levels. The berries are doing great!
You many need to add things such as gypsum (which helps to break up heavy clay soils), lime to increase the alkalinity of the soil or organic matter (such as decomposed leaves). It is easiest to do this prior to planting and gives the soil time to amend. We often have dug big and deep holes (we plant a lot of trees), then layered in the compost and other amendments as we fill the hole back in, mixing each layer. Your hole will be mounded up when you finish but in a few months it will sink level again. When your plant arrives, it is easy to dig up the soil, slide in the plant and give it a drink.
Find a frugal source for the plants you want.
Free is sometimes cheapest (unless you spend money prepping for a free plant that won’t grow in your area).
My Grandmother in the Midwest used to trade plants with her sister in the far west so each could have different varieties. You have to be careful, however, not to introduce a species in your area that will take over your native plants and replace them.
Perhaps your sister-in-law (like mine) has a small garden area and want to change out the plants every few years – and gives you the ones she takes out.
Perhaps you find a wild flower that you can dig up or get seeds from to put in your garden.
My spouse has even used dried seeds from old flower arrangements we got for anniversary to plant and grow flowers! Sometimes free samples arrive with the flower catalogs as well.
You can also propagate additional plants yourself – through dividing, cloning or planting the seeds now to grow seedlings to use in the spring. You can save seeds from fruits or vegetables you buy and eat. Also consider digging up and moving plants that currently exist on your property. We did this with cedar tree saplings – which pop up around here like weeds – to make an evergreen screen against our neighbor’s house and barn.
In addition, seek out local resources, such as your state’s department of natural resources. Ours provides tree seedlings at great prices – such as a bundle of 100 for $6.
Check out sales at specialized garden suppliers as well – especially if you are looking for a not so common variety of plant. Farmer’s markets also may sell plants.
Deals at brick and mortar stores and nurseries can be had if you wait until most of the planting season is over. Here in the Midwest that is usually June. There is still time to get your plants established and going for the summer – although they will bloom a bit later. Keep them watered and fertilized and they will shoot up.
Perennial plants (those that keep coming up year after year) are a better value long term, even though they typically cost more to start.
Paper catalogs are usually the worst place to go to buy – but even there you can get a deal, especially if you are looking for special plants that either aren’t offered locally or get sold out quickly.
Take care of your ‘investment’.
Once you have planned your garden, chosen your plants, amended your soil and purchased the actual plants, don’t wait to plant them. Get them in the ground as quickly as you can. Treat them like the babies they are. Keep them properly watered and spend a bit of money on that fertilizer to get them started.
Protect them from the rabbits, squirrels, deer and other wildlife in your area (we use hog wire fences in a circle around each tree).
As the spring and summer wear on, prune them as needed, move them to a new spot if they suffer in their original one and enjoy them!
When fall arrives, if you have planted perennials, mark the location with the variety planted so you don’t mistakenly dig them up or mow them down next year!
Gardeners – give up your tips in the comments below!
Great article, Marie! (but then again, you know I’m heavily biased)
University extensions are good places to visit prior to the spring garden season. Frequently they’ll give plants away. They’ll also have connections to the state or regional (or provincial, for Canadians) forestry program, which have also been known to sell seedling trees for *dirt* cheap.
101 – that’s a great tip.
I had know idea about the University extension thing. That is awesome. My fiancee just wrote an article on my site about square foot gardening. You should check it out! Great post, Marie!
Jon, I did read her article – nice.
Thanks for the great info! I attempted a potted garden last year on my back porch, but I definitely neglected it way too much. I’m determined to find some measure of success this year and these tips will come in handy.
It’s easy to get excited about gardening in the spring and then get a bit bored with it as the summer wears on. Good luck!
Great resource. I’m not a gardener, so I don’t have any tips to share. However, I am thinking about starting a garden, but I’m currently on the fence to be honest. I’ll decide soon though.
Thanks! Gardening can be soothing – but it can cost some bucks and take some time.
I start a garden last year and went with mostly perennials(mostly because I am lazy), and I am looking forward to it year.
Perennials are best! Although I do like annuals that bloom all summer too.
Great article – i’m going to have a garden this year (I hope) and should be ready to plan soon. I need to build some raised beds first, and i’m looking for some scrap wood for a while before I go buy some, then I can start planning the rest.
I have some scrap wood! 🙂
We’re absolutely doing this this year! I need to do my research this time and find good shade plants. Last year I kind of failed a little bit. We only have a garden box. but it’s better than nothing.
Are you looking for ornamental or food types? Hostas and ferns are ornamental and like shade. I don’t know of too many fruits or veges that like shade.
Gardens are not only a great way to save a little with food but also a great way to relax!
Juan, I use weeding to de-stress. It is very calming.
I enjoy puttering around the yard. Weeding is de-stressing. I am considering a small vegetable garden this year. I have tried before, but when the heat kicks in I tend to stay inside more.
I hear you! I assume you’ve tried getting out early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat mid-day?
Congrats on getting those blueberries to produce, Marie! I love perennials so that I don’t have to plant everything every year! A good (and free) source of rich soil is compost you can easily make. This time of year is a good time to research composting and decide which method to use. Collecting newspapers and cardboard for the spring planting of vegetable gardens is something that can be done now also. Many gardeners rave about the interbay mulch method from Seattle, and it makes weeding almost unnecessary.
Thanks Maggie. We used composted leaves for the most part. What is the interbay mulch method?
It’s a method used a lot in community gardens. You just lay down the composting ingredients (like your leaves), layering green with brown, and cover with burlap. You need to keep the burlap wet to help the ingredients break down into compost. You put this between your rows of vegetables and around them. You don’t wait for the ingredients to turn into compost in a bin. You just pile it into humps and allow it to naturally compost in the garden. It keeps weeds down well and is super easy to do. Here’s more about it: http://squarepennies.blogspot.com/2011/04/interbay-mulch-method-of-gardening-from.html
I haven’t gardened in awhile, but I am looking forward to getting back into it this year. I like the idea of growing my own organic produce without paying a fortune at the grocery store.
Growing your own saves a ton, trust me. We grow a garden every year and love how much free produce we get.