Don’t know your rosemary from your rototiller? Want to get your fingers in the soil but don’t know where to start? No need to sink a ton of money into a new hobby, you can try out gardening on a small scale and let your love for it grow and bloom. Whether flowers or veggies, you can get your green on pretty simply with a few outdoor containers or a sunny spot of land, some seed or seedlings. It’s easy, fun and rewarding.
For many Master Gardeners, our love of gardening started with a snip of a houseplant shared by a friend. We rooted it or planted it and began a love affair with dirty fingernails and the aroma of loamy soil. Some of us caught the grow bug way-back-when with a Dixie cup of bean sprouts. However the garden muse struck us; we all started generally the same…knowing nothing.
You do need a sunny spot outdoors, and start small, a 3’x 3’ plot or raised bed is perfect. Even a container garden will work, but no more than 6 or 8 pots so you’re not overwhelmed. The size of your first garden is important because you need time to devote to weeding and care. Starting small will still allow for plenty of flowers or some easy veggies like lettuce, radishes, green beans, and snap peas.
The soil you choose is important. If you’re using pots for your garden, use a nice soil-less potting mix, containing fertilizer and perlite or vermiculite and peat moss. Moisten with water before planting. The mix should be crumbly, hold together when squeezed, but not dripping with water. If the pot is especially large, you can fill the bottom half with rinsed out milk or soda jugs that won’t compost, then fill with the rest of your soil. Make sure there’s plenty of drainage holes in your container. If you’re planting in garden soil or a raised bed, you might amend the soil by adding in compost and peat moss, mixing well, to make your soil nice and rich. Now just add seeds, right? Not so fast. Choose your plants carefully. Read seed and plant labels to see if the varieties you want to plant are compatible with your space. If this is your first garden, it might be easier to purchase starter plants grown in a greenhouse instead of seeds. This is particularly helpful with seeds that need a head start indoors before planting them in the garden. However, some veggies do best when seeds are directly sown like lettuce, carrots, and radishes. Do a little reading beforehand. Seed packages have tons of information and details about when and how to plant and if the seeds need a little prep work. Some need to be soaked to soften before planting, but the package will tell you. If that’s a requirement, a day or two between damp paper towels will usually help the seeds to start sprouting. Seed packages will also tell you planting depth and spacing and whether or not they’ll need to be thinned out once they poke up. Also check package for proper planting time, a range of dates is provided. The dates will guide you to plant when soil temperatures are right for that plant.
Watering seedlings properly is important. Water regularly but don’t overwater and try to keep foliage dry to avoid mildew or mold. “Damping off” is an actual pathogen that causes young seedlings to die if they’re too cool or too damp. Once the seedlings grow a set of mature leaves, they’re tough enough to stave off the pathogens. An average of 1 inch of water per week is a good guideline for the garden.
Some veggies need additional support throughout the growing season. Climbing beans and peas need a light support, while cucumbers and squash need a more substantial support system. Go back to the seed package for maturity date, not all veggies produce at the same time.
Patrol your little garden regularly, pick weeds as they sprout and keep an eye out for pests.
You’re now ready to go forth and garden. Have fun and experiment. Oh, and welcome to the happy group of dirt diggers.
For all your gardening questions call the Linn County Master Gardener Hortline at 319.447.0647.