This is a guest post from Anna, the editor of Green Talk.
I have been gardening for nine years now, and I have made more mistakes than I can count on my hands and toes. What do I do? I learned from my mistakes and kept growing –literally. The following year I will probably make different mistakes. But that is okay. Gardening is trial and error, but it is beyond rewarding. Where else can you nosh on tomatoes, green beans, and lettuce at your whim? So, to make that gardening experience more rewarding, I am going to share with you how to get your plants off to the right start. This advice is for vegetables, shrubs, and perennial plants.
Your plants won’t magically perform for you unless you give them the right growing conditions.
1. Not all Plants like the same PH.
Not all plants share the same PH preference. For example, blueberries like acidic soil, a PH of 4.5. My soil PH is about 7. I simply stuck them in a hole in a not so sunny area and then couldn’t figure out why they weren’t prospering. I fed them compost and waited and waited until the leaves started turning yellow! Then I got busy researching what I had done wrong. I should have amended the soil before planting them to lower the PH. I could have created a raised bed with the proper PH balanced soil or put an acidic amendment in the planting hole.
I ended up moving them to a sunnier place and added an acidic amendment to the soil and started feeding them with the right (notice the word—right) fertilizer each year. And guess what? They are starting to grow better.
See HERE for a general range of PH preferences for different plants.
2. Plants Need Good Drainage:
I could write a book about drainage. Check your soil type before planting anything. My soil is clay, so water simply puddles. Read HERE how to test your soil. It is very easy to test.
PS. My soil has killed a number of pine trees since they drown. I wasted my money and time.
However, trees are not the only plant that will suffer from poor drainage. Some of my herbs, such as sage and lavender need good drainage, and they struggled in the beginning. I continue to amend the soil with compost every year.
Plus, I never plant any small plants I grew from seed in my clay soil even it if was amended. I plant them first in my raised beds and let them get big and strong. Then I move them in the fall when it is cooler. I have killed more seedlings than you can think of by planting them directly in my amended soil.
As for vegetables, the plants grow in raised beds. I put half topsoil and half compost in the beds. The beds are easy to make.
The other benefit of raised bed is that the soil is warmer which help the seeds germinate. Read HERE on how to make your raised beds from cedar. Alternatively, you can make beds using brick, stone, untreated pallets, or logs. In fact, some people even grow their plants on top of a log (hgelkutur method.)
For more information on how to amend your garden based on the type of soil that you have, read HERE.
3. Don’t Move Certain plants.
Certain plants grow long tap roots such as the butterfly weed plant. This plant is an excellent addition to your garden since butterflies and bees adore it. However, find a sunny spot in your garden and don’t move it. It can grow to three feet by three feet so make sure you give it space.
4. Be sure to give Your Plants Enough Space.
I would argue that the worse mistake gardeners (including me) make is not giving their plants including vegetables enough space. If the plant instructions tell you the plant will be a certain size, it will be that size or bigger especially perennial plants.
Don’t crowd your plants because either they will bully other plants, get sick or become bug infested since they become weak. Don’t crowd your vegetables such as squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. They need the air and time to dry out from watering. Otherwise, they will get a host of diseases.
This year I ignored my advice and allowed collard greens and kale to continue to grow among my brassicas. By fall, the brassica plants were covered with powdery mildew because I used row covers to ward off those darn cabbage moths and planted my plants too close together. I had to cut off all the leaves of my kale, collards, and brassicas. You can’t imagine my sadness.
If I had had a longer growing season, the kale and collard greens would have grown new leaves.
In addition, as I mentioned above certain plants can become bullies. For example, mint and asters can get very aggressive and push out or smother other plants. I started with three aster plants seven years ago, and now I have 30. Russian tarragon and roman chamomile were growing in between the asters. I no longer have the chamomile and saved four Russian tarragon plants from suffocation.
5. Plant Plants According to their Sunlight Requirements.
If plants need full sun, be sure to plant where the plant receives 6 hours or more sun—preferably morning sun. (Remember my blueberry story above? I had to move them since they didn’t receive enough sunlight.) Here are some links to guide you.
Plants that need full sun
Plants thrive in full shade.
Some of the sites I like to use to research before I plant are as follows:
So the moral of the story is read up about your plants before you plant to determine the following:
Does it need good drainage or can it live in wet conditions?
Does it need full sun or part shade to thrive?
What kind of soil PH does it need?
Be sure to know each plant’s watering needs.
Anna is the editor of Green Talk, a green living website that inspires sustainable and healthy choices for body, home, and garden. (Be sure to get her free gardening e-book.) She is also a mom of four boys and avid (okay obsessed) gardener and built a green, nontoxic home ten years ago.