Hi everyone, today we have a guest post from Matthew Melone, with the Smart Gardener team. He is sharing some great advice on spring gardening, since this is my first year, most of my advice is going to be what not to do, like you shouldn’t start your zucchini in February, and then put seeds in the ground when those die in April…
If you’re a perfectionist and want to get started in gardening, you may be in trouble. Some beginners are satisfied simply preparing their soil, planting some seeds in a row or two and watering them daily to see what happens. They don’t have large harvests, but hey, they’re okay with keeping it simple!
The perfectionist, meanwhile, has read a gardening book or two, and he/she knows all about companion planting, nitrogen fixing plants, soil mulchers, pollinator attractors and USDA hardiness zones. The perfectionist will seek to make a garden absolutely “perfect” for their climate with all the “perfect” plants. The problem, naturally, is that the perfectionist might go mad before planting their first seed!
The first time my wife and I tried to plant a garden, we built a gigantic Excel sheet with the attributes of each plant—which one produces too much shade, which one should be planted next to tomatoes, which attracts which insects, etc. We planned a little too much, and by the time we were ready to start a nursery, our enthusiasm had already waned. The garden suffered accordingly.
Here’s what Smart Gardener recommends to optimize your beginner (or even intermediate) garden without driving yourself crazy:
-First, plan for height and build your garden to maximize catching the sun’s rays depending on your location. Build your garden so the tallest plants are in the back, directed at the sun, with the smaller ones in the front. Consider using a U-shaped design, if possible, to maximize sun catching and to de-conflict shade requirements between plants. If you have a viney plant like runner bean that needs support, you could consider planting it near a taller plant like corn for a serendipitous relationship that helps you avoid creating artificial support.
-Second, be reasonable about what you plant according to your local climate. I adore bananas, so I insisted on trying to grow a banana plant when I lived in New England. My leafy friend, predictably, did not fare well. That’s a big (and dumb) example, but it applies to how and when you think about sowing your seeds. Speak to the team at your local nursery or gardening store to do a sanity check on your seed choices before getting started. Also be sure to ask about beneficial local varieties of plants, as they are all but guaranteed to thrive, attract local insects and wildlife and may be able to help nurse your veggies along.
-Third, plant at least a couple of each of these marvelous beneficial companion plants SOMEWHERE in the garden: (a) a nitrogen fixer—you can find some delicious beans or green peas to do the job. Unless you’re garden is heavily manured, the extra nitrogen will boost the surrounding plants. (b) beneficial pollinator attractor—insects and microorganisms make your garden go round. Help the ecosystem take care of itself by adding a couple flowering plants like Borage. (c) perennials—make sure your yard (and preferably your garden too) is anchored by some solid deep rooted plants that promote microclimate stability, the local ecosystem and the soil health of your garden.
Every garden is different, so the requirements and needs of each will vary. Be sure to plan reasonably for your garden. If possible, keep the thirstiest and most high-maintenance plants closest to the house, lest you forget about them.
Most importantly, have fun! Your garden is going to grow SOMETHING no matter how badly you goof up, and you’ll have a good time and learn a lot from the experience.
What’s the best advice we have? Well, use www.smartgardener.com, naturally. Allow our algorithms to determine the best veggies for your garden based on your climate zone and layout. We’ll even help you plan when to seed, transplant and harvest with our customized weekly-to-dos we generate for you. Our planning app saves you a lot of tedious time reading the back of seed packets. And it’s all free. If you’re new to gardening, be sure to also check out our Soil Guide before getting started.
Matthew Melone—member of the Smart Gardener team.