Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips
Alright, you’ve got your plants and seeds, and you’re ready to get started planting your garden. But what plants should go where? What about soil and water and food? Are there plants that shouldn’t be next to each other? How do I take care of it all moving forward?
Well, those are all good, and valid questions. And the answer is almost always, “It depends.” I know, that’s not helpful. However, I want you to know that there are resources out there for you to help get it right.
I also want you to know to not be afraid of your garden. Experiment. Play. Keep notes. If something isn’t working, try something else. In the garden, change is good. The benefits of the education you’ll receive about living systems far outweigh the costs.
Gardening is an epic, life-long adventure. There will be astounding feats of greatness that you accomplish. You will also lose dear (plant) friends along the way. One of my favorite quotes is from the late, great, J.C. Raulston who said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not really stretching yourself as a gardener.” Want to know more about Mr. Raulston and his accomplishments? Check this out. He was a pretty impressive guy.
#5 – Plan Your Garden, Garden Your Plan
We know the basics of plant life, right? Light, Soil, Water, Food, Air, Temperature. All of these factors play a big role in the life of your garden. An imbalance in any of these can nip your success in the bud – pun intended.
I do want to point out one thing, though. After you do all of your planning, drawing, and such, follow that plan. Unless you learn you royally screwed something up in the plan – like not having a structure for your pole beans to climb or figuring out that where you thought you had 8 hours of sun only gets 2 hours – then follow the plan. It makes your notes through the growing season more accurate so you can take what you learn and apply it to future gardens.
#4 – Create a Care Schedule
We are all busy people. We have places to go, things to do, and people to take care of. It’s important to remember that gardening isn’t a “set it and forget it” hobby. Vegetables and annual plants/flowers require consistent care and attention.
But it doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. A few minutes per day, and then a block of time on your day off, will get you to harvest and/or bloom with great results. Incorporate garden time into your schedule, just like making dinner or brushing your teeth.
10-15 minutes daily in the morning to water, pull a couple of weeds, monitor the health of your garden, harvest a few things that are ready, and look for/remove pests are all you need to do during the week. Getting outside for a few minutes gives you fresh air, exercise, and maybe a little bit of sunshine to start your day. A quick note in your journal on what you did or noticed will help you keep track.
If you’re REALLY busy, enlist helpers. Teach kids to take on certain “chores” and hold them responsible. Once your plants are established, for example, weeding is a great chore for kids. Challenge them to keep your garden weed-free for a prize at harvest time. Teach them how to recognize when the green beans or jalapenos are ready to be picked and let them do it. It’s really fun to see their happy faces when they eat something they had a hand in creating. Or maybe there’s a neighbor who would love to help (and share in the harvest).
#3 – Plants Need Food
Just as we need to eat, plants need to eat too. They create energy from photosynthesis, which is the process of using the energy of light to take the carbon out of carbon dioxide to make glucose (sugar) to feed itself and release oxygen back to us (plants are why we can breathe). Carbon is the basic building block of all life. But plants need so much more.
To thrive, plants also need Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium – they’re called the Macronutrients (NPK). These are the numbers you see on fertilizer bags. A high nitrogen (N) fertilizer will promote solid green growth of leaves and stems. Phosphorous (P) takes care of flowering and root growth. Potassium (K) also increases root growth and establishes the overall health and growth rate of the plant. Plants need other minor elements too, like Sulphur, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, and more.
And finally, they need beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae in the soil to help them assimilate those nutrients and establish plant communities. Fungi, for example, have a very extensive network of nutrient gathering “roots” that trade sugar that the plant makes for water and nutrients that the fungi gather. This is known as a symbiotic relationship.
Fertilizers and soil additives are a manual way to enrich soil that is deficient in the nutrients and microbials your plant needs. They come in organic and regular varieties. This is a huge topic, so I would suggest talking to gardeners you know, researching with the UF/IFAS websites, or asking us here at the store. That said, in general the most important times to feed your plants are 1) at the time of planting; 2) at the time of the first flowering; and 3) at the time of the first fruit setting, with small amounts through the middle of the harvest time (and in Florida often you can extend harvest time by a few weeks with continued harvesting and feeding).
#2 – Plants need regular watering
It’s recommended that we humans drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water every day because we need water to survive. Likewise, plants need regular drinks of water too. Water is the fluid that keeps leaves open to collect the sun’s energy, keeps nutrients available where needed, and is the substrate where all of the biochemical processes for life happen in a plant (and really, in us too).
In places like Florida where we have high humidity, if you can water the soil without touching the leaves, your chances of harmful fungul diseases of the leaves decreases dramatically. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and containers that water from the bottom (like Earthboxes), are the best way to do this.
If this isn’t possible, just make sure you water in the mornings so that the sun can dry the leaves. Dark moist environments are bad fungi’s dream environment (just think of athlete’s foot, but on your plants).
Watch for leaf wilt on hot afternoons (see picture to the right), if this happens then your morning watering is not delivering enough, you’ll need to water more. And some plants just need more water than others, you might try supplemental watering of certain plants using bottles you stick into the soil that leak water out slowly (I’ve done that on hot patios when I didn’t have an Earthbox), there’s lots of DIY for bottle watering if you look around the ‘net for it.
#1 – Observe the Wonders of Your Garden
I can’t stress enough how many wonderful things your garden will teach you and your family over time. You’ll learn what the plants you like to grow want, and when they want it. You’ll see little insects and figure out if they are good or bad for your garden. You’ll taste the freshest most delicious produce you’ve ever eaten in your life. You’ll smell flowers, freshly-worked soil, Spring rain, and the scents that certain plants have, like tomatoes, or geraniums, or rosemary. With a journal you can look back on gardens past and remember what worked and what didn’t.
Through a garden, you will grow as a human being who shares this planet with other wonderful creatures. Only by diving in and experiencing these true wonders of the world will you know the joys of getting your hands dirty like this. I suggest you get started, right now. We’re here to help – just ask us!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re enjoying these gardening thoughts. Care to share? Send me a comment, or email me a question.