When springtime has sprung you can practically smell the change of the season. The air smells perfumed by budding blossoms, and the sunshine beckons you to spend more time outdoors.
If you’ve ever felt like starting a garden, now is the time to do it. National Gardening Day is April 14, and it’s the time to plant the seeds for the garden of your dreams.
A Good Garden Takes Planning
Many people start a garden with mental pictures of lush flowers, vibrant vegetables and aromatic herbs bursting from the soil. What they may forget is that those results take a fair amount of planning and work. The seeds you plant today probably won’t turn into something special next week! But give it time, and you’ll reap the rewards.
How to Start a Garden in Eight Steps
- Decide What You Plan to Plant. Are you looking to spruce up your place with some pretty flowers, or are you more interested in growing your own herbs and veggies? Maybe it’s a little bit of both! Either way, think about what you want to plant. Use the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone interactive map to determine which planting zone you live in, and from there you can figure out which plants will do best in your area.
- Scope Out a Space. Where will your garden be? Do you have a place in your yard you can set aside for planting, or will you be using planters? Consider how much direct sunlight that area gets, or if there’s a slope that might cause water to collect. If you’re a gardening novice, you may want to start small this season and build upon your successes in future years.
- Prepare Your Planting Area. If you’re using yard space for your garden, clear out weeds and grass/sod. Level out any low spots or areas that may lead to flooding or over-watering. If you are using planters or raised beds, be sure to choose a size that will accommodate what you will be planting. Avoid overcrowding plants, since it makes it harder for them to thrive.
- Sample Your Soil. The USDA has a network of programs across the country called Cooperative Extension, usually affiliated with state land-grant universities. These offices can be a great asset for your garden, including the ability to test your soil and tell you what you need to do to nutrify it.
- Pick Your Plants. Now it’s time for the fun part! Head to your nearest garden store or nursery to pick out your plants! If you don’t want to start from seed and would like more immediate results, choose young plants (also called transplants.)
- Make it Rain! You will need to water your seedlings fairly often at first while they get rooted in the soil. After they’ve begun to grow, you can taper off and water at least once a week. How much and how often you water will depend on what you’re planting, the type of soil you have and your local weather conditions.
- Maintain with Mulch. A layer of mulch helps keep the soil underneath from drying out, and it can help keep weeds at bay. Bonus – as mulch decomposes it nourishes the soil.
- Take Care. After all that careful planning and planting, now it’s time to tend to your garden. In addition to watering it as needed, spend some time pulling out weeds, plucking out insects or other pests, and removing dead or diseased leaves. Before you know it, it’ll be time to harvest and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Side Benefits of Gardening
Gardening doesn’t just beautify your space and maybe give you something delicious to eat. There are more great benefits, too:
- It’s a great form of exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gardening is considered moderate intensity physical activity and helps contribute to the 150 minutes that older adults need per week.
- Being outside helps with vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is activated when sunlight hits the skin. The so-called “sunshine vitamin” is important for supporting the immune system and strong bones.
- Gardening can improve your mood. Some people consider gardening to be meditative, and that being outside in nature can have positive effects on your mood and overall well-being.