The secrets of successful gardening – revealed

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I often find that people often believe there’s some sort of secret to being a good gardener. I’m here to tell you that there aren’t. It’s mostly a matter of knowledge – knowing your yard, learning a bit about the plants you want to grow, and then planting correctly and not forgetting to water, weed, and feed them occasionally.

That doesn’t sound hard, does it? It isn’t. Here’s what you need to think about:

1. What’s the light like in your yard? Are the spots where you’re thinking about planting mostly sunny? Mostly shady ? A mixture of both? Maybe you’re not sure. If so, spend a little time observing where you plan to plant. Then you can estimate about how much sun it actually receives. Six hours is the minimum for plants that need full sun. Eight is better. (When areas are in the sun only in the afternoon, not the morning, I always count each hour as two, since afternoon sun is brighter and hotter.)

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2. Do you know what your soil is like? Dig down and see. It is hard, red clay? Rocky, loose, and easy to dig in? Are there spots that stay wet a long time after rains? Or areas that are hot and dry and the hose won’t reach?

3. The reason you want to know about the light levels and the soil in your yard is that they really matter to plants. Some like sun and others want to be placed in shade. Some will tolerate damp clay soil and others will sit there and sulk (before slowly dying). So you’ll want to pick plants that like the conditions you have. Read the plant’s label before you buy and ask for advice from someone at the garden center where you shop.

4. Whether you’re planting a tree , a shrub, or a flower, take the time to do it properly. Don’t just dig a hole, stick the plant in, and hope. That's a recipe for failure.

5. Plants need watering – either from rain or from you. The rule of thumb for watering is that anytime rainfall is less than an inch a week, most plants will need a little water. But plants in clay soil will need watering less often than those in rocky terrain, and mature plants (especially trees and shrubs) will need less additional moisture than plants you’ve set out recently. (That’s because new plants’ roots have yet to grow deep into the soil. You’ll water annuals more than perennials and water everything more in hot weather than when it’s cool. You can feel the soil or poke a stick into the ground next to the plant to see if it comes out damp.

6. Mulch every plant with something like fine bark or pine needles. That helps keep moisture in the soil and prevents annual weeds from popping up. Three to four inches is about the right depth. No deeper, please!

7. Walk around your yard at least weekly and look at all your plants. Pretty soon, you’ll be able spot any problems in their early stages – when they’re much easier to control.

8. And don’t forget to sit down and enjoy your handiwork. I know it may sound silly, but I think that plants grow better when they’re appreciated.

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