Green Thumb Guide to Garden Preparation
(ARA) - Planting a beautiful garden is a key element to creating an enviable landscape. Realize, however, that planning and maintaining a successful garden can be challenging. To help ensure a successful, easy-to-maintain garden, itís important to work from a detailed plan. This includes evaluating everything from the design of your garden to how youíre going to control weeds. While there are no guarantees, time spent developing an initial plan of action thatís well thought-out will pay off in the end. Following are some key areas for consideration in preparing your garden:
Planning the right design
Evaluate your landscape, noting where existing trees, shrubs and vines will fall in your design. Also consider other physical characteristics, such as which areas are shaded or sunny, locations with poor drainage, and even what angles offer the best view of your future garden.
Now is also the time to consider the amount of work youíre creating for yourself in the future. For instance, free-flowing, curved or rounded beds are much easier to care for than square or rectangular ones. Also consider the benefits of designing a larger bed versus smaller ones. Not only are larger beds more attractive and provide a better opportunity to incorporate a wider variety of plants, but larger areas are also easier to water and fertilize.
Beyond geometry, other considerations for your design involve what to plant and where to plant it. Here is where you can also limit future work. Reduce time spent pruning by spreading plants out in your design rather than crowding them together. Whatís more, consider incorporating plants with dense growth patterns -- they look great without pruning at all.
Another time-consuming chore is watering. Plan your design around native plants and flowers, or ones with proven durability -- these require less water. For those that do need more water, plan to group them together (preferably near a faucet or hose). That way you can concentrate on watering them without needing to saturate the whole bed.
Preparing Your Flowerbedís Soil
To thrive, roots need well-prepared soil. Therefore, prior to planting, itís necessary to prepare the soil, especially if a flowerbed has never been in that location before. The first step is to evaluate the soil.
Evaluation can be done both by appearance and by feel. Dark colored soils are typically high in organic matter, which is a good thing. Light colored or reddish soils are often sandy or have a high concentration of clay, which is not good for planting. You can also determine the quality of your soil by rubbing it between your fingers. When moist, sandy soils feel gritty and falls apart easily, whereas clay will feel harsh when dry and sticky when wet.
Both clay and sandy soils can be greatly improved by adding organic matter. This can be found around the home in the form of fallen leaves or vegetable compost from your kitchen. Or, you can purchase peat moss or aged manure in bulk from a landscape supply store. Lightly dug several inches into the soil, these natural substances will be further broken down by useful soil organisms such as bacteria, fungi and earthworms.
The final step in soil preparation is a soil test. This will not only measure the levels of nutrients in your soil to let you know whatís available and what the soil lacks, but it will also indicate your soilís pH level. This is the relative acidity or alkalinity, which affects how plants take up the nutrients they need to thrive.
To perform the test, you can collect soil samples from six inches below the surface in several areas of your garden and then send them to your local Extension Agency or a soil lab. Or, you can purchase a do-it-yourself kit from a garden center or nursery.
With a pH of 7 being neutral, those soils with a pH lower than 7 are acidic, while soils above 7 are alkaline. Most plants grow well within a pH range of 5.0 to 6.5. If your pH is too low, you can add dolomitic limestone to raise it. If the pH is too high, you can add fine sulfur to lower it.
Now itís time to get your hands dirty and rid your soil of those menacing weeds that can ruin your well-planned garden. First, thoroughly remove all of the existing weeds and grass by hand. Do not use a rototiller or chop up the turf by hand or machine. Thatís one way of guaranteeing those weeds will return. Understand that the roots and runners of perennial weeds have the ability to regenerate a new plant from nearly each and every one of the tiniest fragments of a root. You could end up with more weeds than before you started. Manual removal may seem laborious and time consuming, but hopefully it will be the last time you have to do it.
With all the existing weeds removed, take measures to prevent the arrival of new ones. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide like Preen early in the season to your soil surface. Preen is formulated to actually prevent the growth of weeds that would ultimately compete with your plants for survival. However, it is specially formulated to not effect the health of established plants. And, since it wonít migrate in the soil, it can even be applied on sloping areas without fear of leaching or run-off when it rains.
To further save time, you can apply a combination pre-emergent and fertilizer, like Preen Ďn Green. Endorsed by The American Rose Society, this product not only eliminates the need to ever pull another weed, but its balanced 9-17-9 fertilizer also encourages strong root development and improved vigor. One application prevents weeds for up to three months.
Eliminating weeds not only enhances the beauty of your garden, but also without any weeds to compete for vital nutrients and moisture, your flowers will grow more beautiful and robust.
Make the most of the light
Two common problems in gardens are areas with too much sun and areas with too much shade. One way to have colorful flowers every year in fully sunny spots is to plant perennials. They donít flower as long as annuals, but by selecting varieties with different flowering periods you can have blooms throughout the growing season. Some combinations could include cornflower, iris and primrose.
In areas lacking light, there are also perennials that have adapted to shaded sights. Theyíre able to perform photosynthesis with lower levels of natural light. These include lily of the valley, forget-me-nots and Jacobís ladder, which could be combined with ferns and other shade-requiring foliage plants, such as hostas.
Something else to consider is heat. This is the condition under which annuals thrive. There are a number of annuals that can take high heat, including dahlia, hibiscus, marigolds and impatients.
For more tips on how to prepare your garden, call 800/233-0626 or visit www.preen.com.
Courtesy of ARA Content and Homedeco Direct.