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Steps to good gardening

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Starting a garden is one of the most rewarding things one can do. Whether you’re planting fragrant florals or starting a vegetable garden, anyone can benefit from getting their hands a little dirty. The Raining Season is a good time to begin growing and digging, although planning can take place before the Dry Season is over. Gardeners spend most of the Dry Season watering, weeding, and watching young plants grow. The beginning of the Raining Season is a good time to plant trees, shrubs, bulbs, and some perennials. Here’s how to begin a garden that’s productive through every season
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1. Get an Idea
Is this going to be a vegetable garden? An herb garden? A flower garden? If you choose to grow flowers, do you want annuals, which you must replant each year but which give color most of the year? Or do you prefer perennials, which have a shorter bloom time but come back year after year? You can mix any of the above—after all, it’s your garden. Just one bit of advice: Start small. ‘Tis better to succeed just a little, than to fail grandly”.

2. Pick a Place
Almost all vegetables and most flowers need about six hours of full sun each day. Spend a day in your chosen spot and watch how the sun moves across the space. It might receive more sun than you think. But don’t despair if your lot is largely sunless; many plants tolerate shade.

Put the garden where you can’t ignore its pleas for attention—outside the back door, by the window you stare out when you wake up. Place it close enough to a water spigot that you won’t have to drag the hose to the hinterlands

3. Clear the Ground
Get rid of the sod covering the area you plan to plant. If you want quick results, you can dig it out, but it’s easier to smother it with newspaper. A layer of five sheets is usually thick enough; double that if your lawn is Bermuda grass or St. Augustine grass. Spread a 3-inch layer of compost (or combination of potting soil and topsoil) on the newspaper and wait. It’ll take about four months for the compost and paper to decompose.

4. Improve the Soil
Invariably, soil needs a boost. The solution is simple: organic matter. Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost, decayed leaves, dry grass clippings, or old manure. If you dig soil (see Step 5), till the organic matter into the soil. If you decide not to dig or are working with an established bed you can’t dig, leave the organic matter on the surface and it will work its way into the soil in a few months.

5. Dig or Don’t
Digging loosens the soil so roots can penetrate more easily. But digging when the soil is too wet or too dry can ruin its structure. Dig only when the soil is moist enough to form a loose ball in your fist, but dry enough to fall apart when you drop it. Use a spade or spading fork to gently turn the top 8 to 12 inches of soil, mixing in the organic matter from Step
4. In vegetable gardens and beds of annual flowers, turn the soil only once a year in the beginning of the Raining Season before you plant.

6. Pick Your Plants
Some people pore over catalogs for months; some people head to the garden center and buy what wows them. Either method works if you choose plants adapted to your climate, your soil, and the amount of sunlight in your garden. You can even surf the Internet for plants to purchase. Here are a few easy-to-grow plants for beginners:

Annual: cosmos, marigolds, impatiens, geraniums, Calendula, sunflowers, and zinnias

Perennials: sage, black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, phlox, pansies, and daylilies
Vegetables: lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers

7. Put Them in the Ground
Some plants, such as pansies and kale, tolerate cold, so you can plant them in cold climate. Tomatoes and most annual flowers, on the other hand, are touchy about cold. End of the Dry or early Wet Season are good times to plant perennial flowers.

Some plants, such as lettuce and sunflowers, are easy to grow from seed. You can sow them directly in the garden. Be sure to read the seed packet for information about when to plant, how deep to plant, and how far apart to plant the seeds. If you’re an adventurous beginner, you can get a head start ahead of the season planting seeds indoors. You can buy containers or flats designed especially for seeds, as well as seed-starting soil mixes (available at garden centers). Follow seed-packet instructions, and place the containers on a sunny windowsill or under artificial lights if you don’t have window space. Be sure to keep the seeds and seedlings moist but not wet (or they may rot).

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8. Water
Seedlings should never dry out, so water daily while they are small. Taper off as the plants get larger. New transplants also need frequent watering—every other day or so—until their roots become established. After that, how often you need to water depends on your soil, how humid your climate is, and how often it rains.

9. Mulch
To help keep weeds out and water in, cover the soil with a couple of inches of mulch. All sorts of mulch are available, from pine needles to cocoa hulls to bark chips. For a vegetable garden or bed of annuals, choose a mulch that decomposes in a few months. For perennials, use a longer-lasting mulch, such as bark chips.

10. Keep it Up
Your garden is on its way. Keep watering when needed, and pull weeds before they get big. Fertilize with a dry fertilizer about halfway through the season. If you use a liquid fertilizer, fertilize every month or so. And remember to stop and smell the—well, whatever you grow.

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