A Fresh Start! Garden Tips the Experts Wish You’d Take

FreshStartApr15The experts have a truckload of advice for home gardeners- if only we’d listen! Here is some of their most valuable – most often ignored – advice.


By CJ Kwiatkowski

CTW Features


Gardening professionals are our guides, our mentors, and often our saviors. Because they are professional gardeners, they understand the need for patience and nurturing, and so, they continue to instruct and educate. When we listen, we learn that the sources of our frustrations are often simple, and the solutions straightforward.


Forget the quick fix

“People tend to forget that plants are living things with living requirements,” says Alex Grainger, a consultant at Wells Medina Nursery in Medina, WA, just outside of Seattle. “Rather than adjusting the condition of the plant, people often want short cuts and easy fixes. It’s just human nature, but it doesn’t work for plants.” A popular “quick fix” is using fertilizer as a cure-all for sick plants, says Grainger. “The plant must be healthy to respond well to fertilizer, or else fertilizer acts as a toxin. Take the time to find out what is wrong with the plant. A professional will help you diagnose the problem.”


Too much and not enough

Believe the experts when they tell you there is no one-step approach to watering. Plants’ water needs are variable and dependent on conditions that change daily, even hourly, in an outdoor environment. Gardeners need to understand that there are many factors involved in watering. There is no such thing as a cut-and-dry watering schedule.

Begin by asking a gardening professional about a plant’s general watering needs, and then pay close attention to actual conditions, such as the strength of the sun, and, to a lesser extent, heat and wind throughout the season. Get in the habit of checking the soil in your garden and containers for moisture. Dig down to see if soil is moist below the surface, around the roots of the plant. Surface moisture is not an accurate indication of adequate moisture, it’s the soil underneath that matters.

Gardening pros also cite over-reliance on watering systems as a common mistake. Many gardeners attempt to water the yard and garden at the same time, hoping that the sweep of the sprinkler will sufficiently and evenly nourish everything in its path. As a result, garden plants are generally either parched or drowned. The professionals suggest watering the old-fashioned way, with a good sprinkling can or hose, which encourages closer contact with the plants and a better awareness of what’s happening in your garden. It is best to water deep and long, in the early morning hours.


Know your space

Homeowners take time to assess their yards and gardening spaces before they shop for plants. He suggests jotting down details about light factors, soil conditions, and existing trees and shrubs. Measuring spaces like beds and border lengths, and snapping a few pictures, is helpful to professionals who want to guide you to the right plants for the right places.

Herb Quarles, a consultant at A Growing Concern outside of Asheville, NC, is a passionate gardening educator who will often visit a client’s backyard to diagnose problems. One of the most common mistakes he sees is plantings too close to foundations, walls, and fences. “When foundation beds are not wide enough, plants don’t receive sufficient air and light circulation and grow lopsided, the structure-facing side of the plant usually wilts and dies. I see this mistake made repeatedly,” says Quarles. Carefully consider light conditions and what degree of drainage a specific plant needs.


Other tips, often overlooked:

Lighten up on the mulch. Deep and heavy mulching near tree trunks will suffocate tree roots.

We often plant too deeply and space plants too far apart. Close spacing shades the soil and prevents evaporation.

Hanging baskets lined with moss or hay absorb moisture quickly and require extra attention.

Bark mulches are detrimental to plant growth. As it decomposes, it steals nitrogen from the soil and, ultimately, the plant.

Outdoor containers must have drainage holes or plants will drown after a heavy rainfall.


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