Thoughts for Beginning Gardeners

January 1, 2016

Successful gardening means you are simply doing it (and hopefully, enjoying it). It has nothing to do with prize-winning plants or abundant harvests. It has nothing to do with the results of your planning, preparation, care and maintenance or the end result.

There really is no end result. Gardening is a continuum. It begins when you start even thinking about gardening and ends, not with the seasons but with your inability to continue for whatever reason. It is a life long pastime. There is no person who has, or ever will truly master this thing called gardening.

I don’t think any new gardener has any idea of what amount of time they will need to spend in their garden during any particular season. Once you have a plant (or plants) growing, you could do nothing more and still have a garden. It will probably not look like a gardening magazine photograph, there will likely be lots of weeds and competing growth of things you didn’t plant but you will still have some blooms on your flowers or some edible vegetables if you planted them.

Gardening, as a subject, is comprised of specialties, not unlike medicine or law. Everything from lawn care, garden design, growing specific plants, vegetable gardening, container gardening, roof gardening, you name it; the list is practically endless. Do not despair! You can easily enjoy gardening without any “specialty” and without even knowing what the specialties are.

I do not mean to suggest that gardening knowledge and experience are not required to achieve gardening competence. This will come through your own efforts, however minimal, along with some timely advice from knowledgeable, experienced gardeners. Trust in the fact that your garden, however small and however designed, is your beginning. You are a gardener by definition. You don’t need anything more to start.

Botany: A plant’s job is to reproduce itself. The whole deal is to create new seed or stems for the plant to continue its existence on earth.

Sunlight: Sunlight is the “magic” that causes plants to grow. All plants need some degree of light. Most vegetables need full sun (this means about six hours a day). Flowers, shrubs and trees are all over the board. Some do beautifully in shade, some love the sun and most will survive with a mixture of both. Don’t wrestle with perfection. Pick your plants and grow them with love. You’ll be surprised how well most will do. As you watch the growing season progress and tend your plants you will know more than anyone about your own garden.

Weeds and Insects: Weeds are plants, not much different than many of the flowers or vegetables that you will be planting. The problem is they come up unexpectedly in our gardens where they are uninvited and unwelcome. Controlling weeds is as much a part of your gardening experience as watering your plants when they are dry. Most gardeners will spend more time dealing with weeds than any other garden activity.

Insects will be all over your garden, all through the growing season, from early spring until winter. Some will eat some of your plants at various stages of their life-cycles. Some will eat other insects which are eating your plants. Most are beneficial and of value to your garden. Many can be repelled and controlled simply by diversity of your plants and companion planting.

My first advice to anyone beginning their gardening experience, with reference to weeds and insects is DO NOT USE CHEMICALS. Herbicides and insecticides take up a great amount of space in any garden center, promising to rid your garden of all unwanted pests. Do not even think about it. These chemicals do nothing for your soil. In fact, they are harmful to many beneficial insects and invisible microorganisms that your soil contains and your plants need. Deal with your weeds mechanically, by yourself. Using a good layer of mulch will create a decent barrier to weed seeds. Spend some time learning about the various types of weeds and insects that you find. Understanding their needs will make you a far better gardener than spreading poisons.

Disease: Plant pathology is a huge subject and many diseases common to our area could find their way to your plants. Leaf spots, mildews, rust, wilt, rot, blight, viruses……on and on. Remember this fact: 97% of plant problems are cultural. The cause is generally the fault of the gardener. Improper planting, spacing, water, fertilizer, sunlight, airflow, pruning, etc. Try to keep your plants mulched, avoid overhead watering, allow for air flow and light by not placing plants too close together. Again, avoid synthetic “disease prevention” chemicals.

Above all, enjoy your time close to nature in a serene setting that you created. Gardening provides pleasure away from the many tensions that life confronts us with.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy and productive New Year. Thanks for your many comments and support.

For questions or comments: ron@primexgardencenter.com