Starting a garden from scratch or improving and existing one can seem a bit intimidating. But I’ve done both many times and have learned quite a few valuable lessons along the way. I had a chance to put into practice again, all that I’ve learned firsthand.
After two years in a beautiful, thriving garden used for our working set of Fresh From the Garden, we had to change locations for the final season. This meant starting from scratch again; not a job I was looking forward to, but one I knew how to do. The tips below will provide you with some of the same information I used to turn barren land into a thriving, abundant garden in just a few months.
Scouting the Site
A universal principal for a garden to look its best is to make sure that you provide the plants with the conditions where they have the best chance to grow. I call this “right plant, right place”.
If you want to create the best opportunity for plants to thrive in your garden, plant what grows best with the conditions you’ve got. Trying to force a plant that loves sun to grown in the shade or vise versa will only result in a stressed plant and future problems.
Create a Deep Bed
Once you locate an appropriate site, consider planting in raised beds. To me, it’s the best way to provide the ideal environment for plants to thrive. It can be as simple as mounding up soil in a deep wide row and angling the sides enough so they don’t wash away when watered. This choice is certainly the cheapest but you may need to reshape and mound the beds several times each year.
If you choose to contain the soil within the bed with physical boundaries, then you’ll need to decide on the material for that. There are a number of options including wood, stone, broken concrete, retaining blocks and composite plastic boards.
I used large boards, 12 feet long and 12 inches wide. The height is more important than the length. A deep bed gives ample opportunity for roots to spread out, an important key to garden success.
Add Great Soil
Once the bed is created, the next and most important step in the process is filling it with the best soil. I used a blend of organic matter for my garden. Knowing that great drainage and good soil structure is critical for success, using organic material such as compost, rotted leaves, aged manure, etc. is an easy way to achieve those results. Incorporating as little as 25% organic sources will greatly improve existing conditions.
I filled the garden beds with a mixture of high quality soil products. Specifically the ingredients to my soil success included these components:
Complete Landscape Mix (CLM) by Mr. Natural (70%). This mix includes composted hen manure, expanded slate (for drainage) worm castings, compost and green sand (for drainage and potassium).
Worm Castings (15%). I added additional worm castings (worm poop) because they add nutrients and help suppress soil diseases.
Composted Cow Manure (Black Kow Brand) (5%). There’s no secret to the benefits of incorporating manure into garden soil. I added this component to increase the organic matter and to improve the soil structure that Black Kow offers. It is pure, without fillers and always consistent. A bagged, high quality cow manure is an easy way to improve soil.
Compost (10%). Homemade compost is the best ingredient you can add to any soil. A little goes a long way to improve soil structure, moisture retention, drainage and nutrition.
Add the Right Plants and be Proactive
You’ve heard the old saying, an ounce of prevention…Well, in the garden it can be worth a pound of fresh vegetables or flowers. I call it the difference between being proactive and reactive. Being proactive allows you to catch potential problems early and deal with them in time to prevent them from becoming a bigger problem that requires more drastic measures.
First, put the right plants in the right place. Patrol your garden as often as possible to scout for potential pests and disease problems. I did every morning and found it very relaxing. It gave me a chance to stay connected to what was going on in the garden. But be sure while on patrol to look closely at your plants. Many looming problems lie under leaves and near the soil, where it is easy miss.
Another way I made sure my plants stayed healthy and well watered was to irrigate with soaker hoses. Watering overhead can potentially lead to disease if the leaf surface stays wet for too long. Soaker hoses on the other hand, allow water to seep out slowly, right at the soil surface. This keeps the leaves dry and gives the roots time to take in all the moisture they need.
Creating a great looking garden at home does require a bit of planning and work on the front end. But, long lasting, fantastic results will be the reward for years to come.
We just made one of our garden beds, dug a big hole and put in some mulch and compost with the dirt. The ratios were probably 30% mulch/compost, 70% of what was already there. How long do you recommend to wait before planting out our vegetables?
Joe Lamp'l says
No need to wait Denise if what you’ve added is already composted. The risk is adding fresh wood chips into the soil. That can deplete the nitrogen in the soil. But as long as it’s not fresh, add it in, and plant away.
I have just completed our County Extension Service’s Master Gardener Program and graduated. Now I am an intern for the next 8 months before I become “legal”. Anyway, I have always had lots of plants (landscaping) in my yard and just last year tried my 1st tomatoe crops. I got wonderful, full vines but only 5 cherry tomatoes off three bushes almost as tall as I am! Found out that the “starts” given to me were hybrid seeds and did not reproduce. I’ll try again in the fall when the weather is cooler here (FL) as it is already too hot now. I am trying my hand at proprogation of some crotons, a honeysuckle vine, and a bougainvilla. We’ll see how they do.