Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time to start planning the garden!

It's that time again! Time to gather your gardening catalogs, leftover seeds, and some graphing paper to plan that garden... I need no reminder note on the calendar to do this yearly. I know it's time when I start receiving the multitude of gardening catalogs in the mail.

I'm fairly new to vegetable gardening, but I have flower gardened for years with my mother. We've lived in our house for about 6 years now. When we purchased the house it had been vacant for over a year. Needless to say the existing gardens were in bad shape.

Problem #1 - We have a yard full of annoying Bermuda Grass, which is worse than crab grass, as it takes over EVERYTHING with extremely long, deep reaching roots. Bermuda grass spreads through seed, rhizomes, AND runners - a triple threat! There was Bermuda grass all in the flower beds and it took 3 years to get most of the offensive grass under control in the beds, without the use of herbicides.

Problem #2 - The dear lady that lived here before us planted everywhere! I mean everywhere. There were honeysuckle vines growing on trellises that blocked entry into the flower beds. There were clematis vines growing prostrate on the edge of flower beds, spreading tendrils into the yard area. Daffodils abound in every corner, nook, and cranny of the yard. Yes, I know daffodils proliferate on their own, but these are various varieties mixed together. She must have spent over $500 just on daffodils.

There was a pair of cedar trees in the middle of the side yard interdispersed with a large rose bush, two crepe myrtles, and a large rock garden. You had to decide between cedar needle and rose brier attacks to get through to the backyard. As much as I hated to do it we had to take down the cedar trees and one crepe myrtle. The lone rose bush eventually relocated to my newly claimed rose garden.

Problem #3 - There were bushes everywhere and some of these bushes produce berries, which produce new bushes! I see Nandina everywhere. The city uses them in medians and other vegetation areas near the highways. The pros - nice coloration of the leaves, winter interest in the form of berries, and certain varieties grow fairly tall. The cons - these bushes appear leggy to me which means my yard always looks unkempt, and those berries make babies. 4 years after a major Nandina removal I still have spots where babies come up...ugh!

Problem #4 - Two of the younger trees in the yard had started to die off. Both were maples and were dying off on the same side, which happens to face an area where a massive, old tree stump laid. Presumably that old tree had been diseased and I believe that the disease may have spread to the roots of the younger trees. Removal was a given. They were too close to the house to risk them falling on their own. I must add here that one of these was a blessing to lose. It was yet another item placed awkwardly in the yard. This poor fellow was dead center of the front of the side yard, effectively cutting off use combined with the earlier mentioned pair of cedars and companions. (We have a small city lot. It's a half acre total, with a wide cottage home footprint, 2-car garage with workshop, driveway wide enough for 3 cars and a storage shed...the side yard and a narrow front yard is just about all we have left!)

The trees would not have been a problem other than the fact that I couldn't plan my garden until all of the removal had been completed. Gardening in shade is significantly different than gardening in full, hot, southern summer sun.


By the way, not to worry, we still have a yard perimeter full of trees - 3 grand old pecans, an intimidating 100 foot tall oak, 2 white pines, a cypress hedge, a full-grown mountain laurel hedge and multiple neighbors trees that overlook our yard. I think we're sufficiently covered!


With this said, it took a lot of continuous planning to reach a manageable flower garden level. I would still be pulling my hair out if I hadn't run across a garden planning booklet by the Cooperative Extension at my local county fair. The Cooperative Extension is a new gardeners best friend and an old gardeners playground!

If you are unfamiliar with your local Cooperative Extension you have no idea what you're missing. This agency had studied or is currently studying everything related to plant growth, maintenance, and durability in your area. They have spent many years compiling this information and know their business. There is no need for you to recreate the wheel here. It simply wastes your time and money trying to find all of the truly agreeable plants for your home. (Not to discourage you from trying new plants here and there. Although losing $20 is vastly different than losing $500+ planting things you think may work.) In the off chance that you don't have a local agency Growing Groceries or Plan Garden may be able help you with the basics of making a garden map.

A plan should always be your first line of defense. Yes, defense. When planting you need to consider several things:

  • Light requirements of each planting and the light provided to each individual area of your yard. You can purchase a light meter if you'd like at your local gardening supplier or simply note observations for each area by checking on them periodically throughout the day. Keep these notes handy when laying out your garden plan.

  • Water needs have to be considered. Is there a water source nearby in case you receive less than anticipated natural precipitation? Does this area of the yard pool water when you have heavy rains? Is the soil always wet in this area? Too much water can be just as damaging as not enough.

  • Do the plants you want to grow like similar conditions? Seed packets and potted plants normally have details included that tell you the plants preferences. Pay attention to this to avoid killing off half of your lovely new plantings.

  • Pruning and deadheading care also need some thought. If either one of these items is needed for maintenance of the plant you'll need adequate access to it periodically for grooming.

As your growing experience increases you'll learn that there are more items you'll need to consider as you go, but these will get you off to a good start. Considering these things will prevent loss of plants, give your plants the healthiest growing environment for maximum production of new growth, prevent you from becoming discouraged by loss, and enable you to grow without relying heavily on pesticides and herbicides.

So get out that graphing paper and start planning !

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