Ad­vice to first-time gar­den­ers: Think small

Start by find­ing a good lo­ca­tion and pre­par­ing the soil

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - GARDEN - By Dean Fos­dick

An­other grow­ing sea­son is build­ing mo­men­tum with the ar­rival of the 2020 seed cat­a­logs, and gar­den­ers are draft­ing plans for new har­vests. There’s such a thing as be­ing too en­thu­si­as­tic, though, es­pe­cially among novices.

Be­gin­ners can achieve their best plant­ing re­sults by think­ing small.

“Start­ing too large is the most com­mon mis­take made by first-time gar­den­ers,” said Bar­bara Mur­phy, a Mas­ter Gar­dener co­or­di­na­tor and hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with Univer­sity of Maine Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion for 23 years.

“Limit your­self to 10 feet by 10 feet,” she said. “If you grow frus­trated be­cause of too many things hap­pen­ing the first year, there’s a good chance you won’t feel like gar­den­ing for a sec­ond. You can al­ways ex­pand as your skills de­velop.”

Other tips that be­gin­ners can start think­ing about now:

“If you grow frus­trated be­cause of too many things hap­pen­ing the first year, there’s a good chance you won’t feel like gar­den­ing for a sec­ond. You can al­ways ex­pand as your skills de­velop.” — Bar­bara Mur­phy, hor­ti­cul­tur­ist

Lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion: Find the right lo­ca­tion. You need 12 to 16 hours of sun per day for a veg­etable gar­den, Mur­phy said. Or­na­men­tal gar­dens aren’t as fussy.

Soil struc­ture: Gar­dens also need a con­ve­nient wa­ter source and rich, well-drained soils.

“Good soil prepa­ra­tion is im­por­tant to suc­cess, but be pa­tient,” said Rosie Lerner, an Ex­ten­sion hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with Pur­due Univer­sity. “Don’t force the soil when it’s wet. Soil struc­tures will com­pact and get tight. That makes it tough for wa­ter and air to move through and greatly in­hibits growth.”

Squeeze the soil gen­tly in your hand. If it crum­bles a bit when squeezed, it’s ready for use. “It can take a long time to get good soil tex­ture, and just min­utes to de­stroy it if you work it while it’s too wet,” Lerner said.

Keep records: “You can learn a lot by record­ing things,” Lerner said. “What worked and what didn’t. Put those lessons to use the fol­low­ing year.”

For veg­etable gar­dens, choose easy-to-grow plants such as leaf let­tuce, car­rots, zuc­chini, pota­toes, green beans and radishes. Leave more chal­leng­ing plants like cau­li­flower, mel­ons, cel­ery and broc­coli for an­other sea­son.

Deal quickly with in­sects: “Make reg­u­lar vis­its to your gar­den to check for plant pests,”

Mur­phy said. “Don’t worry about the adults. You want to go af­ter the eggs be­fore they de­velop into ju­ve­nile leaf cut­ters. Most eggs are on the un­der­side of leaves. Use soapy wa­ter and pick­ing or sim­ply re­move the in­fested leaves.”

Weed! Weeds com­pete with your plants for nu­tri­ents and wa­ter. Get rid of them be­fore they go to seed. Mulching re­tains soil mois­ture, cools the ground and smoth­ers weeds. Use nat­u­ral and free ma­te­ri­als like shred­ded leaves, news­pa­per, grass clip­pings and saw­dust that also en­rich the soil over time.

Avoid over­crowd­ing: That stresses plants, in­vites dis­ease and re­duces yields.

Re­cruit pol­li­na­tors: Adding clumps of pol­len­rich blooms (think dai­sy­like cone­flow­ers, sun­flow­ers, asters) to a veg­etable mix en­hances pol­li­na­tion and boosts har­vests.

Go green: Elim­i­nate or ease up on the pes­ti­cides. Chem­i­cals don’t dis­crim­i­nate. They kill the ben­e­fi­cial in­sects along with the bad.

DEAN FOS­DICK/AP

Easy-to-grow ed­i­bles thrive in con­tain­ers that can be moved to fol­low the sun. The boxes are de­signed with built-in wa­ter reser­voirs.

First-time gar­den­ers should add clumps of pollen-rich blooms to at­tract pol­li­na­tors for en­hanc­ing pol­li­na­tion.

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