How To Make Your Garden Better

How To Make Your Garden Better
by Kent Higgins

Seven Steps to a Better Garden This Year

Would you like to have a better garden than you had last year, with less effort on your part? The answer, of course, is an emphatic “yes,” so here are a few suggestions.

Basically the formula is simple, namely, to do now everything you possibly can to save yourself later on – steps, time, worry and lost opportunities.

Even simple formulas dont work unless you do something about them. lets get this one started right by working out a step-by-step plan and then following it through.

Order early

In all probability you will want some new flowers, shrubs, and trees, and probably grass seed, with which to improve your garden at planting time. Send right now for a number of catalogs or visit their websites covering the items in which you are especially interested – not only plant materials but insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers and garden tools.

Consider power equipment, if possible, as it is a great time and labor saver. A few minutes invested will bring you a wealth of information about all of these things. By being an early bird you will find out about a new flower, shrub or garden implement before you see it in a neighbors garden or hear about it at your garden club.

With the new catalogs or “dream books” before you, plan your garden and make your order. Some things, such as seeds of flowers and vegetables to be started indoors or in a coldframe, you may need almost immediately, while some things can wait if necessary.

Gardeners living in the South will be planting when Northerners are merely thinking about it. Early orders are usually filled with the varieties you specify without substitutions due to depleted stocks. No need to worry about receiving plants too soon. They are shipped at the proper time for planting in your area. Shipment of items such as new tools and insecticides can be deferred until later but it is well to make your orders now, ready to start the garden as the time approaches when you will need them.

Look to Labels

Procure labels early in a sufficient supply to mark the things you plant. Plastic labels are good for annuals and vegetables. In all probability you will regret it later on if you do not have permanent labels for trees, shrubs, roses and perennials. Easily read, long-lasting labels add much to the pleasure of gardening and are a good place to record planting dates and other pertinent information.

When labels are on hand early they can be properly inscribed and placed with the seeds or plants in advance of the rush at planting time. We find it very helpful for instance, to separate vegetable and flower seeds into groups: those to be started indoors, outdoors early (hardy), outdoors late (tender) and so on, each variety with its prepared label and each group placed in a small box. As the different planting seasons arrive, everything is ready for immediate action.

Plans Come First

The preparation of planting plans is another great time saver that much too often is neglected. Many beginners – just the folks who most need them hesitate to attempt making planting plans, because they feel it is a complicated task requiring expert knowledge. Of course its true that an expert may do the job better and in shorter time. But that applies to any DIY job you can think of so dont hesitate to start. The worst possible planting plan is better than none at all.

The mechanics of making such a plan are not as complicated as you may think. At any office supply store pick up a pad of cross-ruled paper, which simplifies drawing to scale.

On the master plan you can put down, to scale, such things as the boundary lines of the property; the location and dimensions of the house and any other buildings; drives and walks; and such fixed objects as existing trees, large rocks or other “permanent fixtures.

Then you can sketch in location of the hedges, lawn areas, flower borders, vegetable patch, rose garden or any other special plantings you have or would like to have.

Also locate trees and shrubs which you plan to purchase, keeping in mind the ultimate size they are likely to attain. A good book on how to plan the home grounds will help with this task. Your plan will not only tell you what to order but, when planting time arrives, you will know exactly where each plant is to go.

This will save you many minutes, if not hours, in family discussions about “where shall we put it?”

Do It Yourself Project

If extensive planting is to be done, more detailed plans may be made for special areas such as the shrub border, perennial border, rose garden or rock garden. You can take my word for it: no other investment of time and there is no expense involved will do so much to give you a place that you will be proud of and happy in.

Little Frame a Big Help

For actually getting the garden off to a flying start when weather permits, I know of nothing that will prove more helpful than a small coldframe. It is always a marvel to me that so many eager-beaver beginners wait for years before taking advantage of the great help that even a very small frame can be in getting planting under way.

Consider also the pleasures to be had in operating a frame while most other garden operations must be held hostage by weather pending the fickle vagaries of spring. A frame as small as 4 by 6 feet, placed in some sheltered, sunny spot – such as on the south side of the garage, fence or hedge will enable you to start scores of seedling annuals and vegetables.

It is also possible to grow a few extra-early lettuces, onions and radishes to maturity. Later use it for starting perennials, rooting cuttings and protecting semi-hardy plants, such as the large-flowered chrysanthemums, over winter.

Of course you cant build a frame while the ground is frozen solid, but you can get all the parts ready so that when the time arrives it can be put in place in a matter of an hour or two.

In many sections of the country, where the soil seldom freezes more than 2 or 3 inches deep, a frame may readily be put in at any time. A frame may be bought ready-made at a moderate price or you can build it yourself.

Convenient dimensions are 6 or 8 feet long; 4 feet wide (to the outide of the boards); 18 inches high (above the soil inside the frame) at the back, and 12 inches at the front. The frame may be partially buried so that the front boards are only 4 to 6 inches above the ground. This helps keep out frost. Wood should be treated, which prevents decay. “Standard” sash from lumber yards are 6 by 3 feet, but these are heavy and unwieldy; sash 4 by 2 feet are available and better suited for home garden use. For a very light and inexpensive sash polyethylene plastic is satisfactory but not as durable as glass.

A Workbench Assists

Another mid-winter job which will pay big dividends later on is to provide yourself with a workbench that can be used for keeping all gardening tools sharp and in good repair. Any tool employed in working the soil such as hoes, shovels of various types, trowels even a pickax will get dull, just as do grass cutting tools of all types and pruning shears.

Even the weedeater needs to be cleaned up to “cut better.” Furnish a workbench with wrenches, emery wheel, coarse and fine sharpening stones and medium-weight machine oil. With all these items assembled together you will be encouraged to keep all gear in tip-top working condition.

Peg-Board Helps

“Where did I leave those shears?” How often have you asked yourself that question and lost precious minutes in trying to locate them? The peg-board is one of the greatest assists to the gardener that ever came along.

With one nailed up on your garage wall you can readily have a definite place for each of your small garden tools, and whats more, you will find yourself automatically putting them away where they belong. An outline of the tool, marked on the board, immediately shows anything missing.

When Should it Be Done

Just like your garden lights heres something else that should have a place on that peg board in a gilded frame – a date book. Most families at this time of year are flooded with advertising calendars some with dates ruled off in big squares for memoranda. Take one of these and mark down on it the approximate dates for various important garden operations including mowing, fertilizing, and addition of low voltage garden lights. For instance

March 1 start indoors, hardy annuals and flower seeds

March 15-make first planting in frames, sow sweet peas, prune roses;

April 1 plant hardy annual and first vegetable seeds in open, fertilize daffodils and tulips.

Of course these dates will vary in different sections of the country; and often they will not work out there may be a late blizzard when sweet peas should go in the ground. But they do serve as reminders and as a guide to show whats coming up; and they will prevent your overlooking, or being unduly late with, many important garden operations.

Perhaps you cannot accomplish, especially the first year, all of the things suggested here. But the nearer you can come to it the better your garden will be. The ideas are all practical and most involve little or no expense. You will soon find that a running start will get you further faster and with the least effort.

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