Start by choosing the appropriate plants for the climate of your region. Most plants available for sale have labels indicating the zones where they will flourish. To determine which plant hardiness zone you live in, visit Agriculture Canada’s interactive map. By choosing the right plants for your climate, fewer will die in extreme winter cold or summer heat. The plants most likely to do well in your garden are indigenous plants.
Around your home, you may have several different lighting conditions ranging from full sun to partial shade to full shade. For example, plants under a north-facing wall will need to be shade-loving plants in order to survive. To figure out which plants to choose, take a walk around your neighbourhood and note the best plants for different conditions or inquire at your local garden store.
When seeding your lawn, look for species that have low water requirements to save you countless hours and litres of water over the years. When it comes to preventing weeds, the best defence is a healthy lawn. This is especially important since many municipalities have introduced restrictions on a wide range of herbicides. Allow your grass to grow relatively long (8cm or 3 inches high). If your lawn has weeds, it may be an indication of unhealthy soil that needs correcting. For example, clover flourishes in soil with low nutrients and poor drainage.
With the ‘eat local’ movement and concerns about the economy, more and more people are discovering the joys of growing fruits and vegetables. Your foray into edibles can be as small as a few potato plants added to a flowerbed or as large as a sprawling garden plot in the backyard.
These are some general tips to establish healthy plants and soil:
- Stabilize soil structure with cold-hardy plants that will remain in place for years.
- Turn over your soil only in the spring and fall to minimize the destruction of beneficial organisms.
- Check with your municipality for a free or low-cost backyard compost unit.
- Add well-composted material to your garden before planting.
- Fertilize with nutrients from natural sources such as bone, blood and kelp meals, alfalfa pellets and fish emulsion.
- Add organic material (leaves, peat moss, pine needles) to the soil to improve texture and help retain moisture.
- Have your soil pH tested. If it is too acid, add agricultural lime; if too alkaline, add 250ml of Epsom salts per nine square metres in the spring.
Once your fruits and vegetables have sprouted, you can reduce weeds and watering requirements by adding mulch. Hay, lawn clippings, wood chips, or even newspaper can be an effective way to block weeds and prevent water evaporation.
The best time of day to water is early in the morning, especially for plants that are susceptible to fungus growth. Avoid watering mid-day since much of the water will simply evaporate. Also, replace fine mist sprinklers with soaker hoses. You can save money by converting an old, leaky hose into a soaker hose. Use an ice pick or nails to punch holes along the hose then lay it around your plants. Rather then frequent, light applications of water, apply water deeply once per week to encourage healthy root growth. In a hot snap, deep roots and moisture well below the surface will help your plants survive.
If you are new to gardening, your initial investment need not be substantial. With some inexpensive packets of seeds and a few simple tools: a shovel, a hoe, a spade and a watering hose, you have all you need to get started. Choose a location in your yard that receives at least six hours per day of sunlight in the summer.
Once you have dug up your garden plot, add soil amendments such as peat moss, manure and compost. It is a good idea to test the soil’s pH with a kit from a garden store or at a testing lab. This will help you determine which soil amendments you should add and which plants you should choose. Although most do well in neutral soil with a slight touch of acidity (6.5 on the acidity scale), some plants prefer acidic conditions (e.g., blueberries, potatoes and strawberries).
Keep in mind that a new garden is a learning experience. Likely, you will discover that some plants thrive, while others struggle. Each year, you can experiment with different plants. Try growing some unusual items such as radicchio, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, leeks, and so much more available at specialty garden stores. If you can, choose non-hybrid, organic seeds to protect the fertility of our plants food sources since many hybrids will not produce fertile seeds for future crops.
Save money for next season by gathering seeds at harvest time. Many flower seeds are ready to gather when the head is dry. To gather viable vegetable seeds, allow one vegetable to grow on a healthy plant until maximum maturity then remove the largest seeds and allow them to dry. Once the seeds are dry, store them in an airtight container with a few grains of rice to absorb moisture. Store the containers in a cool, dark location. For tulips and other flowering bulbs, the bulb mass multiples during the summer; separate and replant some for flowers in other parts of your garden. Strawberries will send out shoots that develop into new plants. Once a new shoot has developed roots and the connecting shoot dries, you can transplant the new plant if needed.