Gardening for beginners
by Cathy Peck Master Gardener
No summer’s pleasure surpasses the satisfaction of growing vegetables or flowers.
Constant changes and challenges in the process mean a no-boredom workout enhanced with fresh air, sunshine and a total escape from the stresses of employment or the demands of family. Gardening comes with tasty produce to eat, flowers to enhance your home and a feeling of accomplishment, an “I did it” sense.
Starting small will give you experience and reduce the chance that it will all go fakakta! A small bed, a container garden (no workout here!), or a small raised bed (if soil might contain harmful substances such as petroleum distillates or lead from house paint) will not overwhelm you while you are learning.
Get advice; talk to an experienced gardener, read online basic information from a university extension source local to your state, or go to local gardening workshops. Getting fabulous ideas from magazines suggesting plants and gardening advice for California does not work in our climate. Choose easy annuals like zinnias, marigolds or wax begonias. Green beans or lettuce give a quick reward.
Plants need three things: 1. Sunlight; 2. Soil to provide them with nutrients and a support medium for their roots; and 3. Moisture in a timely and appropriate way. Hint: A water supply near your garden saves time, your back, and helps remind you to water! Investigate your spot.
For vegetables you will need a sunny spot with six to eight (preferably more) hours of sunshine. With flowers there is a bit more leeway because some do well in shade.
Light needs of plants must match the growing condition. A flower requiring shade will burn up in hot sun but for vegetables to produce, sunlight, not just filtered light, is needed.
Soil should have lots of organic matter. In a bed, dig in compost or composted manure. (Non-composted manure will lead to a lot of weeds!) Loose, friable soil
allows the roots to grow easily and to take up nutrients more readily. A container garden using a container mix will require periodic additions of fertilizer dissolved in water.
Most plants require an even supply of moisture. Minerals and nutrients are dissolved in water so rootlets can absorb them allowing the plant to photosynthesize them and grow.
Choose seeds and purchase plants that fit your space and the light requirements. After frost danger, plant according to instructions in 8-10 inch prepared, weed-free seedbed, allowing room for the plants to spread and grow. Water plants with half strength fertilizer solution and seeds with plain water. After seeds have germinated and plants are in the four-leaf stage, weed, and then mulch a couple of inches from plant stems with dry grass clippings (no weed killers!) or last year’s ground-up leaves to reduce weeds and keep roots cool and moist. Mulch transplants also. Water deeply, lightly fertilize periodically, and then wait until surface dries before watering again.
Weed, water, and have pride in your accomplishment.