Choosing a Garden that is Perfect for You
If you're thinking about starting a garden, the first thing you need to consider is what type of garden you will have. There are many different choices and often it can be hard to pick just one, but hopefully you can narrow it down. But by narrowing it down, you'll make the gardening experience easier on yourself and the plants. If all your plants are similar, then it shouldn't be very hard to care for them all. So here are some of the main garden ideas for you to choose from.
If you're just looking for something to look nice in your yard, you'll want a flower garden. These are usually filled with perennial flower. Perennial flowers are flowers which stay healthy year-round. They're basically weeds because of their hardiness, only nice looking. Different areas and climates have different flowers which are considered perennials. If you do a quick internet search for your area, you can probably find a list of flowers that will bring your flower garden to life. These usually only require work in the planting stage - after that, the flower take care of themselves. The only downside to this is that you don't have any product to show for it.
Another choice for your garden is to have a vegetable garden. These usually require a little more work and research than a flower garden, but can be much more rewarding. No matter what time of the year it is, you can usually find one vegetable that is still prospering. That way you can have your garden be giving you produce almost every day of the year! When starting a vegetable garden, you should build it with the thought in mind that you will be adding more types of veggies in later. This will help your expandability. Once all your current crops are out of season, you won't be stuck with almost nowhere to put the new crops. A vegetable garden is ideal for someone who wants some produce, but doesn't want to devote every waking hour to perfecting their garden (see below.)
One of the more difficult types of gardens to manage is a fruit garden. It's definitely the most high-maintenance. When growing fruits, many more pests will be attracted due to the sweetness. You not only have to deal with having just the right dirt and fertilizer, you have to deal with choosing a pesticide that won't kill whoever eats the fruits. Your fruit garden will probably not produce year-round. The soil needs to be just right for the plants to grow, and putting in another crop during its off-season could be disastrous to its growth process. If you're willing to put lots of work into maintaining a garden, then a fruit garden could be a good choice for you.
So now that I've outlined some of the main garden types that people choose, I hope you can make a good decision. Basically, the garden type comes down to what kind of product you want, and how much work you want to put into it. If you're looking for no product with no work, go with a flower garden. If you want lots of delicious product, but you are willing to spend hours in your garden each day, then go for a fruit garden. Just make sure you don't get into something you can't handle!
Improving Your Garden by Adding a Fountain
A great way to spice up your garden is to add a water feature. These can be both soothing and aesthetically appealing. I've found that there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting on a bench next to my garden and listening to my fountain while I read a good book or do some studying. Putting in a water feature is fairly easy and relatively inexpensive, and will add immensely to the pleasantness of your garden. Also, the maintenance level is minimal.
Usually, people install fountains for the benefit of the natural ambience it provides. For some reason, being around a gorgeous scene of water gives you a positive energy. This is also good if you practice Tai Chi or some form of yoga or meditation. The constant drone of the water is exactly what most people need to concentrate on what they are doing. Even if you're not into that kind of stuff, just being in a garden with a fountain has a sort of meditative quality to it, even if you're not trying to do so. I recommend it to anyone.
When you first decide to put in a fountain, you need to put great care into picking out one that will go well with the rest of your garden. If you have any other decorations, you want to consider if it goes well with your motif. Does the fountain you're considering stand out in your garden like a sore thumb, or does it look like it was meant to be there? If you're like me, you can't naturally tell whether the fountain will be a good addition to your garden just by looking at it. So my solution was to bring my sister (a natural at fashion design and that kind of stuff) along with a picture of my garden to the store. I was able to get her expert opinion, as well as see for myself what it would look like. By doing this I was able to pick a beautiful rock fountain that goes marvelously with the rest of my garden.
However, I still had a slight problem with supplying my fountain with power. You see, my garden isn't very close to my house. I thought it would look pretty tacky to run an extension cord across my yard, so I had to come up with another solution. I discussed my situation with a Home Depot employee, and he quickly found me the exact solution I needed: an extension cord meant for being buried! All it took was a few hours of digging a small trench across my yard, and I had power to my fountain without an unsightly cord running across my yard. After I got over this little hitch, my fountain plan went beautifully.
So if you're looking for a way to make your garden a more classy and beautiful place to be, I hope you consider installing a fountain. The whole process is surprisingly inexpensive, and I think that you will be very happy with the results. Having a fountain in your garden is not only soothing, but it also adds a lot of character to an otherwise bland garden. Remember, gardens are not just for giving us vegetables! A garden is a place to go when you want to retreat from the outside world and dwell in your own thoughts with no disturbance.
Choosing and Planting Perennials
If you’ve been growing a vegetable garden for a while, you might be feeling slightly disgruntled at how plain it is to look at. I too began my gardening career with a vegetable garden, but I decided that it wasn’t quite as pleasing to look at as I would have liked. I heard from a friend that the use of perennial flowers could be a great way to liven up my garden without adding any extra work for me.
Perennial flowers are strong, local flowers that come back every year without having to replant or do any extra work. During their off seasons, the flowers and stems die back and you can hardly even tell the plant is there (rather than just dying and looking like hideous brown clumps in your garden). When it’s time to bloom, entirely new flowers shoot up where the old ones were.
Before deciding whether to put in perennials or not, you need to make sure that your soil has proper drainage. If the water stays saturated for long periods of time, you should build a raised bed. To test, dig a hole and fill it with water. Wait a day, and then fill it with water again. All traces of water should be gone within 10 hours. If the hole isn’t completely dry, you will need to build a raised bed.
Picking your perennials can be a complicated process. The goal should be to have them flowering as much as possible during the year, so you should create an outline of the year. Research the different types of flower you want, and create a timeline of flowering. If you plan it right, you can have a different type of flower blooming at any point in the year. Getting just the right mixture of seeds can give your yard a constantly changing array of colors.
When you go to buy the seeds from your local florist or nursery, you might be able to find a custom seed mixture for your area. This takes the really tough research part out of the job. Usually these blends are optimized for the local climate, and do great jobs of having flowers always grow in your yard. If one of these isn’t available, you can ask the employees what they think would be a good mixture. They should be happy to help you put something together which will be optimal for whatever you desire.
You should definitely use mulch when planting perennials. This will reduce the overall amount of work you have to do, by reducing the amount of weeds and increasing the water retention. Bark or pine needles work great, I have found, and depending on the rest of your yard you might have them on hand at no charge. As for fertilizer, you should use it sparingly once your plants start to come to life.
When you actually go to plant the seeds, you should put them in small, separate clumps according to the directions. This is because they tend to spread out, and if you have too many too close together then they will end up doing nothing but choking each other out. As you plant them, throw in a little bit of extremely weak fertilizer. In no time at all you should start to see flowers blooming up.
Growing Your Own Herbs
If you’re not the type of person that wants to spend their time managing an elaborate fruit or vegetable garden, you might consider planting and maintaining an herb garden. While the product might not seem as significant, you’ll still enjoy the constant availability of fresh, delicious herbs to flavor your meals with.
First you’ll want to choose the herbs that you’ll plant. You might have a hard time doing this because of the huge scope of herbs available. But the best way to choose is to do what I did; just look at what you have in your kitchen. By planting your own collection of these herbs, you can save money on buying them from the grocery store while having the added benefit of freshness. Some of the herbs you might start with include rosemary, sage, basil, dill, mint, chives, and parsley among others.
When choosing an area to put your herb garden, you should remember that the soil should have extremely good drainage. If the dirt gets watered and stays completely saturated, you have no chance of ever growing a healthy plant. One of the best ways to fix the drainage problem is to dig a foot deep in the soil, and put a layer of crushed rocks down before replacing all the soil. This will allow all that water to escape, thus saving your plants.
When you are ready to begin planting herbs, you might be tempted to buy the more expensive plants from the store. However, with herbs it is much easier to grow them from seed than it is with other plants. Therefore you can save a bundle of money by sticking with seed packets. Some herbs grow at a dangerously fast rate. For example, if you plant a mint plant in an open space then it will take over your entire garden in a matter of days. The best way to prevent this problem is to plant the more aggressive plants in pots (with holes in the bottom to allow drainage, of course).
When it comes time to harvest the herbs you have labored so hard over, it can be fatal to your plant to take off too much. If your plant isn’t well established, it isn’t healthy to take any leaves at all, even if it looks like its not using them. You should wait until your plant has been well established for at least several months before taking off any leaves. This wait will definitely be worth it, because by growing unabated your plant will produce healthily for years to come.
Once you’ve harvested your delicious home grown herbs, you’ll want to use them in cooking. Why else would you have grown them? Well first the process begins with drying them out. This is easily achieved by placing them on a cookie sheet and baking them 170 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 4 hours. After they’re sufficiently dried to be used in cooking, you can consult the nearest cookbook for instructions on using them to effectively flavor a dish.
If you want to store your herbs for later usage, you should keep them in a plastic or glass container. Paper or cardboard will not work, because it will absorb the taste of the herbs. During the first few days of storage, you should regularly check the container and see if any moisture has accumulated. If it has, you must remove all the herbs and re-dry them. If moisture is left from the first drying process, it will encourage mildew while you store your herbs. Nobody likes mildew.
So if you enjoy herbs or gardening, or both, then you should probably consider setting up an herb garden. It might require a little bit of work at first to set it up for optimal drainage, and pick what herbs you want to grow. But after the initial hassle, it’s just a matter of harvesting and drying all your favorite herbs.
Picking a Healthy Plant
When it comes to getting started with your garden, you have two choices; planting seeds, or buying entire plants. Both have their own benefits. If you plant seeds and care for them every day, you will find it is a much more rewarding experience when you have a full, healthy plant. However, this method is a lot more risky. I can’t tell you how many seeds I’ve planted and never seen any trace of whatsoever.
If you choose to buy the plant from a nursery and install it in your garden, it reduces a lot of the work involved in making it healthy. However, I have found in the past that many incompetent nursery workers will absolutely ruin the future of the plant by putting certain chemicals or fertilizers in. I have adapted to this incompetence by learning to choose the healthiest plant of the bunch. Here I will discuss some of the techniques I use in my screening process for plants.
It may sound superficial, but the one thing you need to check for on your prospective plants is how nice they look. As far as plants go, you can truly judge a book by its cover. If a plant has been treated healthily and has no diseases or pests, you can almost always tell by how nice it looks. If a plant has grown up in improper soil, or has harmful bugs living in it, you can tell from the holey leaves and wilted stems.
If you’re browsing the nursery shelves looking for your dream plant, you want to exclude anything that currently has flowers. Plants are less traumatized by the transplant if they do not currently have any flowers. It’s best to find ones that just consist of buds. However if all you have to choose from are flowering plants, then you should do the unthinkable and sever all of them. It will be worth it for the future health of the plant. I’ve found that transplanting a plant while it is blooming results in having a dead plant ninety percent of the time.
Always check the roots before you plop down the money to purchase the plant. Of course if the roots are in absolutely terrible condition you will be able to tell by looking at the rest of the plant. But if the roots are just slightly out of shape, then you probably won’t be able to tell just by looking at it. Inspect the roots very closely for any signs of brownness, rottenness, or softness. The roots should always be a firm, perfectly well formed infrastructure that holds all the soil together. One can easily tell if the roots are before or past their prime, depending on the root to soil ratio. If there are a ridiculous amount of roots with little soil, or a bunch of soil with few roots, you should not buy that plant.
If you find any abnormalities with the plant, whether it be the shape of the roots or any irregular features with the leaves, you should ask the nursery employees. While usually these things can be the sign of an unhealthy plant, occasionally there will be a logical explanation for it. Always give the nursery a chance before writing them off as horrendous. After all, they are (usually) professionals who have been dealing with plants for years.
So if you decide to take the easy route and get a plant from a nursery, you just have to remember that the health of the plants has been left up to someone you don’t know. Usually they do a good job, but you should always check for yourself. Also take every precaution you can to avoid transplant shock in the plant (when it has trouble adjusting to its new location, and therefore has health problems in the future). Usually the process goes smoothly, but you can never be too sure.
Creating Microclimates to Facilitate Growth
Many gardeners live in areas where almost anything can grow effortlessly. Just plant the seeds and water it for a few weeks, and you’ve got a beautifully lush plant. But if you live in somewhere like Colorado, you’ll understand what its like to have a slim selection of plants that naturally grow. It can be quite a challenge to facilitate the growth of a large variety of plants, especially when the very world you live in seems to be rooting against you.
Some people solve this problem by loading up their plants with every type of chemical and fertilizer known to man. This usually works, but to me it seems kind of unnatural to rely on man made materials to keep your plants alive. Also, if I’m growing fruits or vegetables, I don’t feel very comfortable eating something that is entirely composed of chemicals.
A gardening theory that I have relied on in the past to grow many types of plants is that of creating a “microclimate” for each type of plant. This is when you regulate the sunlight, shade, moisture, and wind factors for each separate plant. It sounds like a challenge, and it is. But you can regulate these factors in such a way that the plant feels just like it is in the ideal growing conditions. This can be achieved by the use of wind barriers, shading umbrellas, extra water, or different types or amounts of compost.
If you’re ready to make an attempt at creating microclimates, you’ll need to make a detailed plan in advanced. You should start by finding a large shade providing bush or tree that will grow fast and naturally in your area. Just look at some undeveloped plots of land and see what is there. Most likely it grew on its own without any planting or care. This is what you want to happen. Usually the growing of one plant can bring about the growing of another more desirable plant.
If you have a fence in your backyard (you would be surprised at how many people don’t) then you already have a good amount of shade to work with. You can start the microclimate process using just the shade of the fence, combined with (perhaps) a screen or large bush to shade your new plant for the other half of the day that the fence doesn’t take care of. The fence is also useful for shading against wind for very fragile plants.
Once you have established the shade, be it natural or unnatural, you have created a slightly less harsh miniature environment. You must remember this is a gradual process, and find a new plant to put in the shade of the other one. Now your choices are a little more open. You don’t have to go with a rugged plant like the one you did before; you can now choose a plant that survives in cooler weather.
If the plant you are trying to grow next requires more moisture in the air than your area provides, installing a fountain or small pond can fix this problem due to the evaporation. You may think you don’t want to waste water on a pond or fountain, but it’s all going toward the betterment of your garden. It’s just like the watering process, only indirect. As an added benefit, usually fountains are quite aesthetically attractive and a great addition to your garden.
I can’t explain every stage of the process, because everyone’s goals and setups are slightly different. But to reach your goal, you should do research on every plant that you would like to have in your garden. Find out everything you can about the zone that it flourishes in, and ask yourself how you can emulate that zone within your own backyard. Almost always you can take control of the environment and recreate whatever you wish. Usually all it takes is some planning and strategy.
Optimizing Your Garden for Drought or Water Conservation
Living in Colorado and being a gardener has been rather stressful in the past few years, as this state has been undergoing a rather severe drought. The city is imposing watering restrictions which are not giving enough water to lawns and plants. I’ve had to renovate my garden to make it more water efficient. Now, because of the techniques I’ve employed, I’m the only one in my neighborhood with a garden that isn’t completely brown. So if you live in an area that is going through a drought or if you just want to save water, I suggest you use some of these techniques as well.
First, I took out all my plants. The soil I was using didn’t retain water very well, so I had to water about twice as much as necessary in order to get it to actually absorb into the roots. If you have this same problem, you can fix it by loading the soil up with lots of compost. This not only prevents water from escaping, but encourages the plant’s roots to be healthy and able to survive more.
Once I was done optimizing the soil for my new low water consumption plan, I was ready to replace all my plants. I decided that the placement of all my plants would reflect the amount of water necessary to keep them alive. All the plants that don’t require much water I placed in on one side of my garden, and then just progressed in the amount of required water to the other side of the garden. As a result of my new arrangement, I don’t have to waste water on plants that don’t need it as much.
The installation of a drip irrigation system was another move on my part that reduced the amount of water I needed to fully water my garden. The great thing about these systems is that they constantly drip into your plants, so that every single drop is absorbed. With traditional watering systems, usually the roots get too overwhelmed with the sheer amount of water in the soil. Thus, lots just seeps right past. This is all taken care of with the drip system.
If you still seem to need more water than you can supply to your garden, you might consider which plants you could replace with less water dependent plants. If you want a good shrub that doesn’t use up more than its share of water, look for Heavenly Bamboo. It is not only tolerant of droughts, but looks rather decorative in any garden. Herbs such as rosemary are useful in preparing meals, and are rarely thirsty.
If you’re trying to find flowers that will still be lush and beautiful despite the lower amounts of water, look for penstemon varieties like Garnet, Apple Blossom, Moonbeam, and Midnight. You can attract hummingbirds and butterflies with varieties like Cosmos and Yarrow. The best part about all these plants is that they don’t look rugged and withstanding, but they sure are. Your neighbors wont be saying “Look at them, they downgraded their plants just to withstand the drought. What chumps!” Instead they will be marveling over how you keep your flowers so beautiful in the midst of the watering regulations.
One of my favorite drought resistant plants is the Lavender plant. I could go on for pages about it. A large group of Lavender plants looks unbelievably gorgeous in your garden, and hardly requires any water to flourish. Pineapple sage is another personal favorite. It is a 2+ foot shrub that smells strangely of pineapple. It’s another major attracter of hummingbirds, and the leaves are also useful to add taste to drinks.
So if you are in the position I was, and you’re dealing with a drought and perhaps watering regulations, I suggest you try some of the things I’ve mentioned. Even if you’re just trying to conserve water or be generally more efficient with it, I think you’ll still be able to benefit.