How Gardens Work… 

Preparing The Place You Plant

Just like people, plants grow best when the space in which they are planted is comfortable for them and has all the things they need to grow well. Whether the space in outside in the ground, in a windowbox, or raised up in a box… or inside in a proper planter, an old coffee can, or hanging on a wall… plants need the space to be prepared to best advantage.

Start with an area that is no bigger than 4-feet by 8-feet. One or two square beds that are 4-feet by 4-feet would be perfect for your first try. One of the biggest mistakes new gardeners make is planning an area that’s way too large to maintain. When you have success in your first attempt with a small garden, it’s easy to expand from year to year.

boy-drawing-sun200Pick a spot with as much sun as possible. Leafy plants (lettuces, kale, cabbage, carrots and other plants that are not grown for flowers) need at least 6 hours each day. Flowering plants, especially plants expected to bear fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, etc.) require at least 8-hours of sun.

soil-150Whether you are choosing to create an above-ground bed or dig into the ground for your garden, choose a level spot remembering that you will have to remove weeds, rocks and other obstacles. If you are planting in the ground, it is best to find a place that has well-drained soil, if possible.  In most urban environments, soil can be polluted as well as rocky, sandy, and depleted of nutrients. In these cases, it is better to plan a garden using potting soil.

water-150Plants must have water. Water makes up 80 to 90 percent of the plant’s total weight. Close proximity to a water spigot is ideal, whether you will be using a hose or watering can.

nutrients-150Just as people get the building blocks of life from the food we eat, plants get their building blocks from the nutrients in the soil. Unless you are using commercial potting soil, adding organic matter in the form of compost and/or aged manure is the best way to prepare soil for planting. Organic matter will help make the soil easily crumbled or “friable” and will supply the nutrients plants need to grow healthy and strong. Adding chemical fertilizers will add only certain nutrients but do nothing to maintain soil fertility.

The easiest way to prevent  damage from pests in your garden is to discourage them from coming in the first place. A healthy garden is the best defense. Make sure you remove all existing plant material that may be infected with disease or pests.  Companion planting can play a significant role in assisting with pest control. Plan to use plants that help each other. Some combinations work because of scents they use to repel insects, others work because they attract good bugs.