Home How-To: Gardening 101
24 May 2013

Home How-To: Gardening 101

Apparently gardening runs in my family; this is my grandparents front yard

By Ashley Simpson, Marketing Coordinator

Moving to a new home sometimes means new challenges, such as what to do with a front and back yard. If you don’t have a green thumb, do not fear! You can create a beautiful garden to build on for years and hone your gardening skills to perfection. If you are unsure, start out small with a flower bed. You can always expand next season if you are happy with the results. This week’s blog outlines almost everything you need to know about starting a garden.

First things first, decide the space where you want your garden. Consider the amount of light it will receive (a south-facing back yard is great for lots of sun!) and make sure it’s out of the way of kids and pets. You could use an existing flower bed or create one of your own.

When selecting the type of plants you want in your garden, you must consider your vision for the space. Do you want a few rows of vegetables or a bountiful overflowing flower bed? An important tidbit when thinking about this is knowing the difference between annuals and perennials. Annual plants have one growing season. That means they will only survive the year you plant them. Planting annuals can get expensive, so choose wisely. Vegetables are annuals, so you plant new ones each spring. Perennials return every year. They are generally lower maintenance. Perennials look amazing as a backdrop to a few annual plants. For example, a peony is green the whole season, even after its oversized flowers have come and gone. Also, perennials are more cost-effective, assuming you take good care of them; they will last many seasons. Perennials are versatile in the sense you can use them in places other than your garden. They can be used for ground cover, replacing mulch, gravel or dirt.

Now that you know what you want your garden to look like, time to select what you want. The first option is pre-sprouted plants. This is what you find at the local gardening store, farmer’s market or plant shop. The work of sprouting the seeds has been already done for you, so you have a bit of an advantage. There is still a lot to know, most importantly is how to read the Plant tag. Check out this handy image for common terms and what they mean:

Plant Marker

The second choice is growing your plants from seeds. This takes more time and attention, but can yield a wider variety of unique results. It also gives you that great feeling of accomplishing something from start to finish (as long as they don’t die or get eaten by the neighbour’s cat). Annuals and vegetables are easier to grown from seeds than perennials, so you may want to take that into consideration. Starting your plants from seeds is not as daunting as it sounds. Nowadays, you can buy a hundred different starter kits. The main points you need to consider, whether using a kit or just your brainpower, are:

  • Light – make sure they are near a light source or a window sill.
  • Water – seedlings are delicate, so be very careful when watering them. Too much water and they could succumb to damping off, but not enough water and they will shrivel up in thirst.
  • Soil – The type of soil in your yard may vary. With some research, you can find plants more suited to your soil type, or how to make your soil a better home for your plans. Also, if you compost at home, this is a great natural nutrient-rich additive for your soil.
  • Fertilizer – fertilize once a week after the second set of leaves – true leaves – arrives. Start at a half strength balanced fertilizer and work up to full strength over a few weeks time.
  • Timing – seed packets will list a recommended sowing (planting your seeds) date that’s usually four to six weeks before the last frost date (May 23 for Calgary), but be careful not to sow too early. You can still start this weekend!

Once your plants are sprouted or home from the garden store, it’s time to plant. Remember from grade school, plants need food (soil and fertilizer), water, and sunlight. There are many varieties of fertilizer to choose from out there. Fertilizer is generally labelled with three sets of numbers with the letters N – P – K. This stands for the amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Nitrogen affects plant growth, so higher levels of nitrogen means faster growth. Phosphorous helps with the root system and flowering of the plant. Lastly, potassium works like your immune system, fighting off disease, drought, and cold temperatures, while also helping with root development. My family stand-by fertilizer is Miracle Grow for general gardening purposes, but different types are more suited for different conditions. If you have trouble with the fertilizer jargon, talk to someone in the garden center, and they will be able to make a recommendation.

Now grow...I mean go. Start gardening! I can’t wait to see some beautiful gardens popping up throughout our communities in the southeast, and throughout the city. Send us your pictures on Facebook!

- Ashley