Starting a Garden & Getting Ready for Growing Season

by Chris Lambton

Gardening may seem like a chore to many people, but for those of us who love to get our hands in the dirt, it can be a rewarding, zen-like experience. But just loving to do it is only half the battle. Any gardener who's planted more than one season can tell you...the actual growing part is easy. It's the steps you take when planning a garden that are key to a successful season. Because the secret to a bountiful garden starts long before blooms or fruit produce.

Get Your Garden Off to Great Start

Here are a few ideas for getting your garden off to a great start this growing season, including:

Set Your Gardening Goals

Remember around the New Year when you were busy making resolutions for your health, your work and maybe even your garden? If so, now is a great time to pull out that list and put it into action. Studies show that setting (and committing to) a physical goal makes the chances of you reaching it substantially greater. What do you want from your garden this year? Vegetables that produce four months out of the year? A show stopping colorful floral display that will make you the talk of the neighborhood? A lush, green blanket of plants and ground cover? Knowing what you want as your end result helps you determine how to start a garden accordingly.

Plan Your Garden

Late-winter and early-spring can be an excellent time to let your inspiration take over as you begin planning your garden. Even a stormy spring day is a great chance to daydream about changes you'd like to make to your outdoor spaces this growing season. Use a notepad to sketch out what you want your space to look like. Not an artist? Look through gardening magazines to get inspired, and then cut them up and make a collage once you have a vision in mind.

Decide if you're going to grow from seeds or purchase and transplant starts. If you're starting from seeds, keep in mind that while you'll save money, you'll also need to start much earlier. Planning before you plant can be the difference between a mature plot that flows and works together, and one that looks mismatched and is lacking a basic sense of foliage symmetry. You also risk not putting plants in the appropriate spot for adequate hours of sun each day.

Choose Your Plants

First and foremost, you should know what grows well in the region of the country you live in – this will tell you what types of flowers, plants, trees and fruits and vegetables will grow well. The country is divided into what's known as hardiness zones. Also referred to as planting zones, these are the guides that dictate temperature swings (highs and lows) so you can determine if a particular plant will successfully grow in your area. A good example of this is citrus, which does well in the southern states like Florida where it's warm year-round, but would not survive the cold, harsh winters of the Midwest (unless you bring it indoors).

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Other things to keep in mind are how long is your growing season? How long do you want to wait before your plants begin to produce? What is the sun pattern in your yard throughout the day? Planting tomatoes? Full sun. Lettuces, beets or cilantro? These do well in partial sun, so some shade throughout the day is fine. And, of course, what do you like?

Get Your Soil Ready

Part of preparing your garden is getting your soil ready. Before you can begin planting anything in the actual ground, taking the time to prep soil and make sure it's in good shape can be a game-changer. Sometimes you can just look at your soil to assess it. Is it rocky? Does it have a high silt, sand or clay content? But there are also factors that you wouldn't necessarily be able to determine just by looking. You want to know the pH of your soil – most crops prefer a neutral pH (around 7). In addition to the pH, you also want to determine nutrient levels. You can purchase an inexpensive soil testing kit from any hardware store or online. Once you know the nutrient and pH make up of your soil, you can manipulate it by adding in organic components to get it balanced.

Start Planting

Now comes the fun part! After you're finished getting your garden ready to plant, you get to actually start digging! If you're starting with seeds, the back of the seed packets will have specific directions regarding spacing. If you're transplanting, the original containers will also guide you to ensure you're planting appropriately for optimal growth.

There are a few basic guidelines you can typically depend on, though. You want to plant seeds about three times as deep as their diameter, and if you're transplanting, dig as deep as the original container's depth for most plants (there are a few exceptions here – like in the case of tomatoes, which need to go into a deeper hole). And always, always wait until that last frost has come and gone.

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When you're planting large plants, make sure you add dirt back in after you've added your plant. You don't want any roots showing as your plants start to grow early in the season. Rake over once soil has been added to help smooth the dirt and ensure you have added enough.

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One trick I always use is to dig a trench for my perennials with the Fiskars® Steel D-handle Transplanting Spade. They fit nicely together and as they grow they create a uniform line of gorgeous flowers.

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I also make sure to space out my plants into little groups that won't crowd each other but will look pleasing once they begin to get fuller and spread into their own spaces. Consider this during your planning phase and be sure to follow through.

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Finally, always remember to water. Especially when they're young and have been recently planted, plants need lots of attention in the form of sunlight and water to help them bulk up and ground into their permanent home.

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Invest in the Right Tools for the Job

In all honesty, you really don't need to break the bank stocking up on a ton of tools to plant a great garden. But having the basics on hand will make the job of starting your garden much easier. You want a good pair of leather-reinforced gloves, plus a basic shovel, a good rake, a garden hoe and a nice cultivator. I use the Fiskars® Long-handled Steel Digging Shovel and Fiskars®Aluminum Garden Rake for prepping my soil and digging holes to plant some of my larger plants.

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You should invest in some smaller tools, too. I love Fiskars® Big Grip Trowel for digging and turning soil. And the Fiskars®Big Grip Transplanter is perfect for initial planting – the graduation marks on the blade make measuring the depth of holes simple and accurate. I also use the Fiskars®Big Grip Knife to free up any root-bound vegetation before planting in the ground and the

Fiskars®Big Grip Cultivator after planting to smooth out the soil around the roots. Lastly, make sure you're set up for once your garden is established by having a good pair of pruning shears like the PowerGear2™ Pruners.

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Keep a Garden Journal

Keep track of your garden progress and plantings as you move forward the growing season. A garden journal is a great way to keep detailed records of planting lists and times, as well as different weather conditions. The long year in between planting seasons can lead to forgetting a few things. Make it easy on yourself by jotting down notes about where and what you planted and how well things faired. This way, next year you're more likely to remember thinking you wanted to try moving your lettuces to the other end of the garden, or that you wanted to try a different variety of tomatoes.

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