By Denise Brenner, Senior Financial Accountant
Amidst marathon snow shoveling sessions I noticed my tulip bulbs were already hard at work sprouting the tips of their leaves through the soil. Hooray! With the arctic temperatures that February brought to Ohio, there’s nothing more joyous than a sign that spring is around the corner.
Spring also means that it’s time to start thinking about gardening. Though I find working in my gardens a stress reliever, it can also be a stress inducer if you aren’t strategic with your planting. Here are a few gardening basics to help you get started.
Types of plants
Plants are often classified by their life cycle:
- Annuals bloom for only one growing season. Examples include impatiens, petunias and most vegetables. Annuals typically provide lots of color.
- Biennials live for two growing seasons. Black-eyed Susan, pansies and many garden herbs are common types of biennials.
- Perennials are plants that have a life cycle longer than two years. Phlox, hostas, coneflowers, and mums are well known-perennials. Fun Fact: Tomato plants are actually perennials – they just need to be maintained in a greenhouse or indoors during chilly winter months.
While logic would tell you that perennials are the most convenient type of plant for your garden, many don’t offer a lot of color. They also spread quickly and need to be tamed every few years. The best gardening strategy is to use a mix of all three types of plants. Doing so will give your garden color, variety and fullness without the mess.
The types of plants you are used to seeing in your geographic area didn’t end up there by chance. Plants are also classified by their native geographic area, aka their hardiness zone. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and the American Horticultural Society Plant Heat Zone Map will help you chose native plants to maximize the production of your gardens.
The benefits of gardening are immense and far-reaching:
- Health: Gardening is therapeutic (the mental) and serves as a form of exercise (the physical). Vegetable gardens also provide a fresh and organic supply of healthy edibles.
- Financial: Even with little work, one vegetable plant can supply produce for many months. Think of the impact on your grocery bill!
- Social: There’s nothing better to encourage interaction with your neighbors and others who have similar interests. Community gardens also have a significant positive impact on our cities nationwide. Note: Find a local community garden here.
Ok… I’m sold. Now what?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are a few tips to encourage gardening success.
- Mulch the soil around your plants. Mulching is critical for maintaining the condition of the soil and preserving the moisture in the roots of your plants.
- Water your plants in the morning or at dusk. Morning is best because the soil (and therefore your plant’s roots) will stay moist throughout the day. Dusk is okay, but it can encourage mildew growth on cool evenings. NEVER water at high noon. Not only is it inefficient (most of the water will evaporate immediately), but doing so can scorch your plants.
- Fertilize your gardens regularly using a product that’s safe for the plants you’ve chosen. Follow both the product’s instructions and the recommended guidelines for specific plants. Planet Natural provides a great overview of fertilizers on their YouTube channel.
- Trust the growing instructions. Don’t make the mistake I did when I planted my first garden: “These tomato plants are so tiny… they don’t need to be spaced 12–18 inches apart!” WRONG. Within a few weeks, you’ll see why the spacing is critical. In the meantime, plant cool-weather vegetables such as lettuce or spinach in between. As the larger plants mature, the cool weather veggies will finish their growing cycles and can be removed.
Here are a few additional gardening tidbits I’ve acquired over the years:
- Taking photos of your perennial plants, trees or shrubs at about the same time each year is an easy way to track the growth and evolution of your gardens. It’s also a motivating factor to encourage you to keep up the hard work!
- If you share your neighborhood with wildlife, raised beds can deter them from snacking in your gardens. Natural methods of pest deterrent, such as positioning marigolds around your lettuce and other vegetables, are also effective.
- If you live in an apartment or community without access to a space for a garden, hanging or container plants are easy to maintain on a balcony or patio. Look for container-ready options at your local nursery.
- Herb gardens are easy to maintain and do wonders for your cooking! Basil, cilantro, dill and rosemary are low maintenance plants that will infuse a wealth of flavor to your meals when freshly picked.
Happy gardening, happy spring!