Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

Get growing

April 28, 2002


As is true in life, so is it in gardening: If only I had known then what I know now.

I've learned a lot since my first gardening attempts. As a result, my garden improves a little every year. After all, the more we garden, the better we get.

Here are a few gardening tips I wish I knew way back when:

Assess your site. Study it to determine how much sun and shade it gets, whether it has naturally wet or overly dry places, where the natural paths are and what kind of views it provides. Work with the garden's topography.

Think about and plan your garden. Look at gardens you find pleasing. Can you incorporate that style or those plantings into your garden? Have a written plan or, at the very least, have a plan in your mind before you head to the garden centers. Otherwise, you may end up with a messy hodgepodge when what you were after was a casual cottage garden.

Lay the hose along the ground to determine the shape of a new garden bed, but don't start digging as soon as you find one that pleases you. First, mark the outline with flour or spray paint, remove the hose and get out the lawn mower. Now, mow around the edges, making sure you can maneuver without difficulty. If not, adjust the contours so you can.

Improve the soil. Get your soil tested and amend as recommended. Spend your time and money amending the soil where your plants will be, not in the pathways.

Build raised beds. The soil in these beds is quicker to warm in the spring so you get to plant sooner. Plus, you can sit along the sides of the bed and save wear and tear on your knees and back.

Select plants that are easy to grow and suited to our region, unless you have the time and knowledge to coddle ones that are marginal. Be sure to plant flowers that you love, and plant plenty of them. This way the bugs can have a few, you can snip a few for the house and you will still have lots in the garden. Remember, too, that nothing lives forever. Sometimes we need to yank plants and put them into the compost pile.

Make your garden dynamic and fun. Try different annuals every year, experiment with containers or vines and move perennials, especially when they are not performing their best in their current location. Place surprises in your garden: statuary half-hidden in the hosta leaves, a welcoming garden bench next to the lilac bush and a bird feeder in full view from the kitchen window.

Soak sphagnum peat moss before adding it to the garden. Applied dry, it may wick moisture from plant roots. To moisten it, slit open the bag and pour in at least a gallon of water. Allow it to soak overnight.

Avoid planting mums under streetlights. They depend on the shortening day length to know when to begin their bloom season. Don't confuse them by placing them near artificial light sources.

Place a container inside a larger one (both with drain holes) and fill the space between the two with sand. Double-potting container plants is an excellent way to prevent them from drying out in the summer. It also provides added heat protection.

Use the sun to your advantage. Many plants, like daffodils, turn their heads toward the sun. Place them along the north side of the garden path so visitors will see their blooms. Position deeply colored plants, like Japanese blood grass, so the sun is behind them to illuminate their bold coloring.

Speaking of sun always wear sunscreen and a hat. Drink plenty of fluids while gardening and pace yourself. After all, it is called the gardening "season," not the gardening "day."

Well, there you have it a dozen tips. To be sure, dozens more exist. With frost all but a forgotten image, we busy ourselves pulling weeds, preparing flower beds and mowing grass. We confidently set out colorful annuals, tender perennials and tasty vegetables.

Now, with trowel in hand, I say, "Oh, yes, let the season begin!"

Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital

and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.

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