Starting A Garden - Easier Than You Thought!

Follow These Tips From Gardener Sally Heffernan

Thinking about making a new garden but it sounds like a lot of work?  Well there are new schools of thought in the gardening world that could make your life easier.

Let’s say you’ve chosen an area where the grass just doesn’t grow well and you want a colorful garden of mostly perennials.  The first step is to take a soil sample.  These kits can be purchased at garden centers or downloaded from Home and Garden Education Center at www.ladybug.uconn.edu.  Following the directions, take 2 or 3 samples from your new area and tell them what you want to plant.  You can ask for organic or chemical applications, which ever you prefer.  Then start saving your newspapers.

Now drag out the hose, not for watering, but to make the shape and size of your new garden.  Start small until you get the hang of it.  Make the outline with the hose (or rope) keeping in mind large gentle curves work better than small tight ones (the lawn mowing person will love you).  Pay attention to how much sun the area gets, don’t guess, actually watch the sun for a few days.  I can’t tell you how many times people have told me an area gets “full sun” only to find out it’s actually about 4 hours.

Your soil sample will take about 10 days but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started.  Design your garden on paper thinking what you want there in the winter first.  This is referred to as the “bones” of the garden, the structure you will see year round.  Incorporating some small shrubs or ornamental grasses can do the trick.  Then figure perennials for early, mid, and late season using catalogs or pouring over the perennial tables at the garden center.  Use different color pencils for early, mid, and late so you can see if you have them evenly distributed throughout the plan.  What we are striving for is color most of the time.  Don’t forget to use only plants that fit your light requirements.

I think the 80/20 rule works pretty well.  Use 80% plants that are tried and true and 20% new and funky.  Hopefully they all work and look beautiful, but if not you’ve got some work horses to fall back on.

The mail has arrived and your soil sample is here!  Pick up what you need to amend the soil and spread it according to the directions.  More is NOT better, it can actually be toxic.  Also figure how much mulch you’ll need to cover the garden and have it on hand.  Please do the environment a favor and don’t use anything with dyed colors.

Cut the grass (weeds or whatever) as low as possible and rake it as flat as you can.  Following your “hose” edge, start edging a nice sharp cut about 4 inches deep and wide.  Flip the shovel fulls upside down in the garden and stomp them flat.  Hopefully you’ve been saving your newspapers because this is where you need them.  No more back breaking double digging and stripping sod!  Now that we understand how complex the soil web is, we try to least disturb it.  With the hose ready for water, start laying the newspapers 3-4 pages thick over the entire area, overlapping the edges and water it down so it doesn’t blow away.  Cover with mulch about 2-3 inches thick.  Bring the newspaper right to the edge of the trench and really pack the mulch into the edge.

Congratulations, your bed is prepared and ready to be planted!  Place your new plants in the garden and arrange them for spacing and height, using your plan as a guide.  Remember this is New England so when you start digging your “plan” might change, but that’s what will make your garden unique.  A rock outcropping can be naturalized and incorporated beautifully into the garden.  Now stand back and enjoy your one-of-a-kind garden!


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