Planting and seeing the result of your garden work can be a joyous experience. But there can be many trials and tribulations along the way, such as weather issues and pests. Plus, let’s admit it, growing in the Texas summer heat (which can start in April), can be a challenge.
This section provides information about gardening in the urban setting and resources for further study and practice.
Gardening 101: Getting Started
According to the About Home website, there are basic steps to starting a garden:
- Start Small
- Time to Plant
- Check the Soil
- Prepare the Bed
- Choose Plants
- Label Your Plants
Place your garden where you'll see and enjoy it often. This will also motivate you to garden more.
If you have your heart set on growing a specific plant, check to see what growing conditions it requires. Vegetables will need at least six hours of sun exposure a day. The same goes for most flowering plants; however, there are still many to choose from for a partially shaded site.
If you want to start a garden where there is mostly shade, your choices are going to be more limited, but not prohibitive.
One of the many aspects of a successful garden is knowing when to plant.
Planting in the North Central Texas region is different than planting in East Texas, the Panhandle or any other part of Texas. The Dallas County Master Garden program and Texas AgriLife are two wonderful resources in learning about gardening, soils, plants and appropriate times to plant.
Another great resource is this handy Home Vegetable Guide.
At the very least check your soil's pH. This will tell you how acid or alkaline your soil is.
Plants cannot take up nutrients unless the soil's pH is within an acceptable range. Most plants like a somewhat neutral pH, 6.2 - 6.8, but some are more particular. If you are growing plants from the nursery, check the plant tag for specifics. If no pH preference is listed, a neutral range is fine.
You may also want to check the texture of your soil or even the nutrients and minerals in it. You can have that done at your local Cooperative Extension office and some nurseries.
Soil texture refers to whether it is sandy, heavy clay, rocky or the ideal, a sandy loam. Whatever the texture, it can be improved with the addition of organic matter such as compost.
This is no one's favorite garden chore, but there's no way around it.
Your chosen site will probably have grass on it or at least weeds. These must be cleared somehow, before you can plant anything.
Tilling without removing the grass or weeds is best done in the fall, so that the grass will have a chance to begin decomposing during the winter.
Choosing what you like to grow is harder than you might think. If you are starting small, you have to limit yourself to a handful of plants.
If you are growing vegetables, start with what you like to eat and what you can't find fresh locally. Corn takes a lot of space and remains in the garden a long time before it's ready to be eaten. If you have corn farms nearby, you might want to use your small garden for vegetables that give a longer harvest, like tomatoes, lettuce and beans.
Flower gardens can be even more difficult to decide on what to plant. Start with the colors you like. Rather than basing your dream on a photograph from a magazine, take a look at what your neighbors are growing successfully.
Sometimes you have to plant when you have the time, even if that's high noon on a Saturday. But the ideal time to plant is on a still, overcast day.
The point is, stress your new plants as little as possible.
You hear a lot about mulching lately, but it really does make a major difference in a garden.
Mulch conserves water, blocks weeds and cools the soil. Organic mulches, such as shredded or chipped bark,
, straw and shredded leaves, will also improve the soil quality.
Keep a record of what you have planted, or better yet, keep the labels that came with your plants. This will help answer any questions about what the plant may need if it starts looking poorly and will remind you next year of what you liked and what didn't work.
It also helps to take pictures and label them. You'll remember color combinations and favorite plants.
Hopefully when you were selecting plants you did some background checking and didn't select too many prima donnas.
Just remember, all plants are going to require some maintenance.
You've heard the saying "Stop and smell the roses"?
Gardeners can be the worst at taking that advice. We're so busy with our heads down at soil level, pinching, pruning and pulling every weed, that we often don't appreciate what we've created until someone else tells us.
Step back and enjoy what you've accomplished. Then start making plans to expand next year.