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Smart Tips to Become a Successful Gardener
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Smart Tips to Become a Successful Gardener

AUBURN, Ala.- Gardening can be a great way to brighten up your yard, spend time outside, eat healthier and even save money. Many people want to begin gardening, but feel there are too many elements and often become overwhelmed. It is important to realize that you cannot become an expert gardener overnight. It takes time to develop the skills and figure out what works best for you and your gardening space.

There are many elements to creating the perfect garden for beginner gardeners, but if taken one step at a time, finding the best choice for your garden is easy.

Select the place

Setting your garden up for success begins with picking the best space available to start your garden. The area needs to be convenient for you to water and tend to the garden. Dani Carroll, a regional home grounds, gardens and home pests agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, suggests that beginner gardeners build a raised planting box. Even as an expert gardener, she enjoys  the simplicity of a raised-bed garden. In raised-bed gardens weeds are less present and more manageable.

Sunlight in the garden is key for any plant.

“Most veggies and herbs require full sun for optimum production.  Full sun is typically six to eight hours of uninterrupted sunlight.  It is best to pick a spot that receives that six to eight hours in the morning to early afternoon hours.  Alabama summers can pack a punch – if the area is semi-shaded in the late afternoon that is okay,” Carroll said.

Pick the soil

Picking the best soil to plant and nurture your garden in is crucial. Alabama’s soil has mineral-rich soils; however, it does not have the organic matter necessary for plant growth.

“Our soils are often amended with organic matter such as composted leaves, kitchen wastes, wood shavings, etc. to create a more hospitable environment for our veggie plants. [Organic matter] increases drainage in clay soils and increases the soil’s ability to hold water in sandy soils.  It also adds nutrients and improves soil health,” Carroll said.

In raised beds, compost, mulch and potting medias can be mixed in with a little bit of the native soil and create a great mix for your plants.

Choose the plants

This is the fun part. Picking the type of plant a gardener wants to grow is based on personal taste and the intended purpose of the garden. However, some plants are harder to grow than others, so for beginner gardeners it is best to stick to the basics while you are learning and expanding your gardening skills.

According to Carroll, the easiest edibles to grow are the herbs. Many are drought tolerant and bugs are not as big of an issue as with other edibles. “Some of the herbs that I use most often are basil in pesto, pizza and bruschetta, as well as cilantro for Thai and Mexican dishes.  Herbs also make great container plantings with their fragrant foliage and pollinator attracting flowers,” Carroll said. Some vegetables can be easy to grow such as cucumbers, beans, bush beans, lettuce, spinach, radish and kale.

Use the right methods

While gardening is heavily dependent on the gardener, there are some general tips and gardening secrets that can give your garden the extra boost it might need.

Watering is essential, but if done incorrectly, can be detrimental to your garden. Gardens should receive an inch of water per week.

“Sometimes we tend to love our plants too much by offering too much water and fertilizer.  If you are not growing in the soil, but rather, in gardening boxes or containers, they will dry out quicker and need to be watered more often.  After plants are established, I like to make sure when I water that the soil is wet at least six inches deep to maintain deep healthy roots,” she said.

Another mistake gardeners make is not working in their garden everyday. This is the best way to make sure pests do not take over your plants.

According to Carroll, the biggest mistake beginner gardeners make is “starting way too big.” Remember to start small and tend it well. This will make the process more enjoyable for you and produce a more plentiful harvest.

Do not fret over the many factors or even the process that accompanies beginning a garden. Start slow and small and, in time, you will be looking at a beautiful garden filled with the plants you have tended to throughout the season.

To learn more about how to enhance your garden and landscape, check out Alabama Extension’s “Gardening in the South” series. You can find the series on iBooks.

Based on proven Master Gardener training and seasoned with university research, the “Gardening in the South” series of books is packed with information, tips and tricks to being a successful Southern gardener.

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About Lauren Tanner