Sunday, May 8, 2011

Get out and get dirty, gardening 101

     The weather is warming, grass is greening, time to escape outdoors after a long winter. This is one of my favourite times of year. One of the things I like best is planning the garden, fresh herbs and produce all summer long.

     Like anything else, it is important to have a bit of knowledge before you start gardening. This post is a quick, very simplified, guide to the fundamentals of gardening and how to avoid some common mistakes.

Rule 1 Location, location, location. Know your spot. You can grow plants anywhere but where you are and where you are growing determine what will grow. For example, I would love a lemon tree but Toronto is way too far north, wrong zone. I wish tomatoes or potatoes would grow in my back yard, no luck, my walnut tree kills them. I want beautiful drifts of ever blooming annuals, sorry too much shade.

     There are hundreds of variables that affect whether your plants will thrive so be smart and pick ones that are for your growing zone, that get the right amount of sun and that can survive with existing plantings. This is probably the most important rule and the one most people if not ignore, get wrong. I have made mistakes in this category myself. The reason it is so important is conditions can change drastically in just a few feet.

     So you have two choices, pick your plantings and find the correct location or find the location and choose plants that will grow in that environment. Your three variables are; plant hardiness zone, sunlight and existing plantings.

       Any garden centre can tell you your growing zone. This is only important if you are planning perennial beds, shrubs or trees. You need to know what will survive the winter in your area. 

     All plants require sunlight in varying amounts. It is what drives photosynthesis, how plants feed themselves. For reference, full sun is eight hours or more over the course of a day, partial sun is at least 4-6 hours and shade is under 4 hours. Check your spot at various times during the day and make a note of the amount of direct sunlight it gets. One other thing to keep in mind is time of day. The sun is hottest between 10 am and 2 pm. That particular four hour window may be to intense for some shade plants.

     All plants have survival methods and this impacts what will grow around them. Some like mint or strawberries are prolific spreaders, crowding out other plants. Trees like pines, cedars and walnut release chemicals that change the soil around them. Finally, trees and shrubs can have extensive root systems that quickly take up all the available nutrients and water. You need to be aware of what is around or in the area you want to plant.

Rule 2 Know your soil. Sandy, loamy, acid, alkaline, arid, soggy: all different soil conditions that will determine what will grow. You can change soil conditions, but you have to know what you are putting your plants into when they go in the ground. For the dirt on dirt, click here.

    I have several different challenges in the three areas of my garden. As the season progresses, I'll walk you through how I deal with the various issues and my success or failure.

       These are the two basic rules you need to keep in mind when you are planning your garden, whether it be beautiful beds of flowers or a bountiful vegetable patch.

     How does your garden grow?


  1. I bought 5 bags of black soil and the compost will hopefully be ready next week.....can't wait to get dirty! (that didn't sound quite right at all???). Will have my garden page up and running soon too. I did tomatoes in a pot on my deck last year....might try that again too. Or maybe beans this year.

  2. It is hard to stay on top of all of this, I don't know how you do it. I'm having a hard enough time posting ahead of what I'm doing and I'm not taking care of three children.
    I spent the weekend doing clean up in my gardens, Lots more posts before D-day, the May 24 weekend. Take care Paul


Thanks for your comment, I hope you enjoyed your time in the "Kitchen".