Gardening basics for beginners

Spring gardening tips to help you plan and plant the prettiest flowers and foliage

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It’s easy to envision a yard plucked straight from a magazine, while you daydream about all the outdoor entertaining you’ll do this year. But where do you begin? Marjorie Harris the editor-at-large of Gardening Life and author of How to Make a Garden, says the big mistake most novice gardeners make is to take on too much space at one time. So tackle your garden step by step with these instructions.

Garden basics step #1: Pre-garden

Beautiful gardening is an artform, so you need to start with a clean canvas. Cleaning your garden includes everything from removing debris, to weeding, to creating defined edges around every section. Harris says clutter will only confuse the eye, and with a fresh space you’ll be able to create a clear (and realistic) picture.

Next, create a colour palette you enjoy the most. This will make choosing plants more efficient, and it will also help you plan small chunks of space individually and end up with an overall coordinating space. Harris recommends taking cues from your interior decoration; if you enjoy cool tones or earth tones you’ll want your garden to reflect that.

Before hitting your local nursery, spend some time just looking at your garden. Harris calls this “creative staring”, and it will help you know the space like the back of your hand and create garden goals in the future.

Garden basics step #2: Plant shopping

Shopping is always the fun part of any project, but before you spend all your money you’ll want to create a budget. Decide what your spending limit will be and then divide your budget into sections for clearing, replacement soil, stonework, hardware (fences, decks, patios etc.), lighting, containers and plants says Harris. “For the first year, I suggest you allot 60 percent of your total budget for trees (at least two) and shrubs; and 40 percent for perennials, annuals and bulbs,” she says.

Perennials are plants that return every year, and annuals last just one year. Usually, a garden has a mixture of both to add variety each season. Plus, there are many non-profit organizations dedicated to improving urban gardens that you can take advantage of. For instance, LEAF is a Toronto-based organization that provides site consultation and tree planting for between $80 and $200.

Harris also suggests looking for plants that are native to your area. Not only will they attract beneficial bugs to your garden, but they flourish easily in their native habitat. To find which plants are native to your region, check out Evergreen.ca.

Garden basics step #3: Spend time in your garden

Finding time to garden does not mean a serious commitment. Harris suggests spending at least three hours in your garden a week, either on the weekend or spaced out into 20-minute chunks a day (it counts towards your cardio, by the way), whether you’re weeding, pruning or watering. It’s a good idea to do regular deep watering of your garden just before the sun rises (if you’re an early riser, or have programmable sprinklers) or just after it sets so the water doesn’t evaporate before benefiting your plants. A good rule of thumb is to plant one large leafy plant, which Harris calls a good “indicator plant”. Once its leaves begin to droop it’s time to water your garden.

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