Green Up Your Thumb: Tips for a Beginning Gardener
Anyone can have a green thumb. Even if you're a total gardening newbie, our tips will start you out on the right foot.
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Small gardens are easy to manage, and by starting on a small scale you'll quickly learn gardening basics such as weed control, pest and disease control and watering requirements without being overwhelmed. As you develop more confidence and skills, you can expand the area or create a new garden bed elsewhere.
Start a Compost Pile
Whether you choose to build an elaborate bin and compost on a grand scale, create a simple pile in an out-of-the-way corner of your property, or place a store-bought composter in a sunny spot in the yard doesn't matter. All that matters is that you make compost — and use it, of course. Spread a thin layer over your garden beds at least once a year. Mix it with the native soil when planting. Apply it as a topdressing to lawns. Top off containers with it. And use it to make compost tea.
And, if for whatever reason, you can't make your own compost, you can always buy it. Many cities across the country make and sell compost in bags or in bulk, producing it from leaves and other lawn refuse collected throughout the year.
Add Paths to Protect Soil
Maintain Soil's Good Health
Also, avoid working the soil when it's wet. Otherwise, once it dries, you'll wind up with big clumps of hard-packed soil. And finally, don't overwork the soil, especially with a rototiller. Good soil isn't powdery; it's a mixed bag of particles of varying sizes and shapes. "Personally, I don't use a rototiller because, in my opinion, the tines disturb the soil way too much," says master gardener and HGTV host Paul James. "And I rarely turn the soil with a shovel. What I occasionally do is loosen the soil with a broadfork, which aerates the soil without disturbing its complex structure."
Mulch, Mulch and More Mulch
Mulch suppresses weed growth, maintains soil moisture, stabilizes soil temperatures and much more. So do yourself a favor: Mulch everything in sight with whatever organic mulch you like.
There are hundreds of non-native plants that are well-adapted to various areas of the country and are easy to grow. Many non-natives, however, are notorious for pest and disease problems or require special care. To learn more about native versus non-native plants in your area, visit your favorite nursery or contact your local master gardeners' group.
Prune With Care
Consider Light Conditions
Shade-loving plants, like hostas and ferns, need much less sun than sun-lovers, like salvia and daisies, to thrive and will actually blister and shrivel up if planted in direct sun.
Visit the Garden Regularly
By dealing with those little things each day, you won't be so overwhelmed by the time the weekend rolls around. In fact, you may discover that by tending to your garden daily but briefly, you'll have time for alternative weekend activities.