Mistakes are a great learning tool, but they also can dampen any enthusiasm for a new project. When early mistakes compound problems further down the road, they can turn someone away from a pastime that offers great satisfaction, healthy activities and a renewed appreciation of the natural world around us.
So, if you are just starting on the gardening odyssey, let’s look at how to avoid a few common mistakes. Avoiding these trouble spots will make gardening easier, much more productive – and fun!
There are three main components to consider when starting out: sun, soil and water. In simpler terms, location, location, location. If you provide your garden the right combination of these three items, you sidestep many problems that can occur as the growing season progresses. These concepts apply to both vegetable and ornamental gardening, and to any specific type of plant you want to grow.
Let’s start with sun. Different plants have different light needs. Plants are categorized as sun, part sun/part shade and shade – but what do those labels mean? Here’s the breakdown. Full sun means at least six to eight hours of full sunlight a day and you start calculating that after 10 AM. Early morning sunlight isn’t considered strong enough to be included in your calculations.
Part sun/part shade is four to six hours of sun daily and anything less than four is considered shady. Make these calculations after the trees have leafed out in the spring; the sunlight in your yard shifts from winter to summer.
Your soil is the foundation of your garden, both literally and figuratively. It provides support, nutrients and water to your plants. Just like humans, different types of plants have different preferences in nutrition and water. Find out what you can provide and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions. First and foremost, if the site is new to you, or it’s been at least five years since the last one, get a soil test. Find out what you do – and don’t – need to add to your soil. Soil tests are available from the UConn soil lab at https://soiltesting.cahnr.uconn.edu/sampling/
You can amend your soil with additional nutrients and elements, but it’s difficult to significantly change water-holding capacity. The test will help you determine how well your soil holds or drains water, allowing you to choose plants that are happiest in those conditions. Observation will also tell you a lot: how quickly does an area drain after a rainstorm? Is it wet is spring, but dry in the summer? Is it always damp?
A related issue is access to water. While an established plant in the right location may not need any supplemental water, both vegetable gardens and newly planted ornamentals will. Is it easy to get water to this area? Do you need to develop a water storage system, such as rain or water barrels? Or is another location really a better overall choice?
Once you know the characteristics of your space, you can then choose plants that will do well in that location without a great deal of extra work. The old phrase ‘Right Plant, Right Place’ is a valid one. Don’t try to significantly alter the location for a favorite plant that really isn’t right for the spot. It will only lead to frustration and poor results. Instead, find plants that like your location and choose from those. Let your gardening provide a positive experience!
For answers to your gardening questions, go to https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/ . We’ll be happy to help!
Article by Sarah Bailey, UConn Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator