One of the many joys of gardening is that there is always something to learn, no matter how long you have been growing plants. Year after year, you take these learnings and apply them to your garden, patiently waiting to see the outcome, enjoying every step of the process. When you first start out, however, it can be overwhelming trying to understand the basics to make sure you have a healthy and happy garden, or you are so excited about what to plant you simply overlook the fundamentals. One of the most common mistakes is not researching your plant selection, but rather picking plants based on personal preference only.
What Grows In Your Area?
It’s easy to start looking online at big gardening stores and get so excited about new and exciting varieties of various plants that you forget to consider what would grow well in your region. Not all plants are suited to be planted in your area, so understanding what is native to your area or what is compatible with your regions growing conditions will not only save you the heartache of losing plants, but will make it easier to care for your garden overall. This includes watering, fertilizing, and soil preparation!
But how do you know what would grow well in your area? There are a couple ways to do this. I would recommend doing a quick search to see what hardiness zone you live in, and then researching what grows in your hardiness zone. (Don’t know what a hardiness zone is? Check out our article here!) You can also go to your local home improvement store or plant nursery. They will carry plants that are meant for your specific region and are readily available to take home and plant. The only down side to this option is you will most likely only see the more popular plants at the store and may be missing out on fun varieties that aren’t as common.
Does It Play Nice With Other?
Even if a plant is well suited for your region, that doesn’t mean you want to plant it. Make sure to check before you plant to see if a plant is invasive or poisonous. I made the mistake of planting mint in one of my garden beds for it’s pest deterring properties 3 years ago, not knowing how invasive the plant is. I still have mint growing in that bed despite pulling as much of the plant as I could, rotating the soil to destroy the roots, and weeding it out whenever I see new mint growing.
It’s also important to think about what will be around your plants. Do you have pets or children? What are the risks of them getting into your garden? I have dogs who I love to have outside with me while I’m gardening, so I never risk having a plant that may harm them within their reach. Did you know rhubarb, tulips, and chrysanthemums are poisonous to your pup? It only takes a second to do a quick search to see if your plant is harmful and you may be surprised by the results.
The other key factor to consider is companion planting. Companion planting is strategically placing plants together to benefit their growth and/or reduce pests. This will help you not only have a healthier garden, but it will make the whole process easier to manage. This can include cover crops to help reduce weeds, plants that will give shade to sun sensitive crops, support networks to climbing varieties, or beneficial pest repellents to keep your crops from being invaded. This being said it’s important to know that some plants have the opposite relationship with each other. For example onions will stunt the growth of your green beans if planted next to each other. It makes sense to do a little research prior to planting instead of having plants fighting each other all season long.
To make the whole process easier and less overwhelming, I like to write a list of everything I am growing for a season and then draw out my garden beds. I will then research what is compatible with what (and what does not grow well together) and start planning planting locations to get the most out of the natural benefits of each plants relationships. Want to know more? Check out our article on Companion Planting.
When Should You Plant?
While you may have picked out all plants that are adapted to your region, that doesn’t mean the plants are going to grow well all year long. For example, if you start plants in the middle of summer, the heat will most likely kill anything you are starting because their root system is not yet established and they are vulnerable to extreme temperatures. You will need to take into account the specific characteristics of each plant to determine when you should start planting. Questions like is the plant heat tolerant, does it need chill hours, how many days from seed to harvest, what is the last frost date in your area, and is your plant a cool season or warm season plant? These are just a few things that should be taken into account when determining when you start planting.
Overwhelmed by the amount of factors? Don’t be! It may seem like a lot, but there is a wealth of knowledge that can easily researched. You will learn over the years that deciding when you plant your plants is going to be key in having a long harvest. Most beginning gardeners plant all their plants at once, giving you a large harvest all at the same time. With experience you will learn that succession planting is not only key to having a long harvest period (and it helps reduce waste from not being able to eat all your veggies!) but also helps with weed reduction. This kind of planting will help keep all areas of your garden active, instead of having a large harvest then empty space, the perfect spot for weeds to start to take over.
The key to mastering when to plant is a plan. Map out what you are growing and what time frames that plant does best in. Crops like lettuce, carrots, and radishes can be planted in small amounts, a week or two apart from each other. This will allow a steady supply of vegetables. A plan will help you know when to plant, where to plant, and anticipated harvest times!
In the beginning gardening may seem like a lot or even stressful, but with a little patience and research, you can get decades of enjoyment from this amazing hobby! Each year will bring something new and exciting to grow, lessons to learn, and harvests to share! Good Luck!
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