Preparing a New Garden
Getting It Right from the Start
It doesn’t matter whether you have just moved into a new home or you have a piece of land that you’re going to make into your dream garden , the whole process can seem daunting to those doing it for the first time. It is however a large amount of fun from the design process through execution can be extremely rewarding. The opportunity to act as god in your own little space can be very appealing. A word of caution however, as anyone who is experienced in gardening knows, accommodating plants in the correct places is essential to success. When starting out in gardening it is often very frustrating to wait for plants to establish themselves, patience however is crucial. Planting plants at the correct time in the season, when the soil has adequate warmth is essential to prevent shock or even death to your babies. In their eagerness to get plants going many novices start planting outside at the first sign of spring. The problem is although the novice may feel spring has arrived; the experienced gardener knows that the temperature of the soil is crucial to the success of many plants. Many of these well intentioned bursts of gardening enthusiasm lead to failure and a loss of appetite to try again. I remember one of our first gardening experiences. March arrived and the temperature soared to the 20 Degrees Celsius. Great we thought and started sowing all our seeds, two weeks later the temperature plummeted back down to freezing and all our efforts were in vain. So instead of diving in head first at the first sign of spring, it is better to spend a few days planning and preparing your garden for when the time is truly right. It is quite easy to dig up a plot and throw some plants in the ground. It is another thing entirely to create a healthy, living garden that thrives and beautifies your garden.
What Will Grow Where?
The primary thing to work out when you’re planning your garden is what will grow where? In fact, this is where most novices make their first mistake. More often than not, people go to a garden store and purchase plants prior to them considering where the plants can go. They then plant them in positions in their garden that are not good for the plant and wonder why the plants do poorly. There are three main characteristics to look at when determining what plants will grow in a particular area. These are:
- Soil Composition, and;
- Soil Moisture.
Now let us look at each these characteristics in greater detail.
With regards to sunlight, you are limited by the influence you can have as what you have is what you have. It is crucial to have an idea of the amounts of sunlight the different areas of you garden will get. Plants that need full sun generally require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Planting these plants in areas that only get mottled sunlight, for example under deciduous shading trees, will lead to them having poor growth. Alternatively, planting shade loving plants in direct sunlight is likely to kill them rather quickly. As the sun moves across the sky during the day, light intensity will vary as plants shade other plants. Unless your garden has no shade, it is wise to look for plants that require half sun. A garden in full shade requires the most planning however, do not be deterred, there are lots of wonderful plants that will thrive in the darkest of shade.
Different plants require different soil characteristics. What type of soil your garden has determines what type of plants you can grow without altering the composition of your soil. The three main components of your soil are sand, silt and clay. A sandy soil has the biggest particles and as such allows better drainage. Soils containing large amounts of clay will hold the most moisture. It will also be the most compact soil type due to the small particle size. Soils high in silt fall somewhere in between sandy and clay soils. An ideal soil for your garden is a loam that contains approximately 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. The easiest method to use to determine what type of soil your garden has is to dig a number of trial holes to obtain some samples. There are a number of tests that can be employed to determine your soil type. A method the seasoned professionals use is simple, take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If it crumbles without any influence your soil is likely to be sandy and too lose. If it doesn’t break up, using your thumb then try to break up the ball, if your ball will not break up you soil is likely to be high in clay. A more scientific method to test your samples is to place a cupful of soil in a half litre jar and add water. Agitate the mixture until all the soil is held in suspension in the liquid. Leave the liquid to settle over night after which you will be left with three distinct layers. The bottom layer will be sand, then silt and on to clay. You can then roughly estimate the proportion of each layer and get quite an accurate idea of your soil type.
What your soil type is will shape what soil amendments you must make. Whatever your soil tests show the best way to improve any soil is to add copious amounts of organic matter. In the event that you have a soil that is high in sand or silt, add a combination of topsoil, peat moss or good old garden compost. If you opt for peat moss you must ensure that you moisten it prior to adding it to the soil. If your soil is really high in clay, you can add peat moss and sand, although some gardeners do not like adding sand to soil as under certain conditions it can make a similar thing to concrete. As long as you’re careful though, adding organic matter and peat moss as wells as sand can greatly aid the breaking up of clay soils and increase the drainage. If however, you garden soil is extremely heavy; a raised bed may be the best option as it will allow you to control your soil type and help your plants with more drainage.
Moisture conditions in your garden vary greatly and understanding this variation can help you keep your plants living environment as close to perfect as possible. So look at your garden daily and see how quickly the soil dries out. If your garden lie on a slope, the top of the garden is likely to be drier than the bottom. If the lowest art of your garden holds water, you can look into raising the beds as described earlier. Even so, in these circumstances it is beneficial to stick to plants that like having water logged roots. In contrast, if your garden is extremely arid it is best to air on the side of caution and stick to plants that enjoy dry soil. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to add enough moisture to satisfy moisture loving plants.
Don’t Fight Mother Nature
Although some measures can be taken to make your garden a hospitable environment for certain plants. It is advisable however to work with nature as it will make your gardening life so much more enjoyable and rewarding. You may get away planting full sun plants in that shady spot but you are likely to have to feed them more and treat them with fungicide but they still will not flourish like they would if they had been planted in the correct position. Plants want to grow so let them bloom by working with nature and planting them in the right place.