Go Forth And Garden!

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It can be quite an overwhelming process to start working in an established garden or to start one.

Spring is the most joyous season for me because it means I can enjoy sunny days while having my hands in the soil of a garden. One of the first things I do is look for what plants (herbaceous perennials) are poking their way up through the ground from their winter rest. Then I start thinking about what other plants I would like to add, divide, or move to other areas of the garden where they might be better suited.

One of the most important things that I’ve learned is how it is important to incorporate native plants, ones that naturally grow on their own in this geographic area. Native plants support the ecological area and provide benefits for wildlife, bees and other insects. An excellent online resource is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s publication Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed, available at www.nativeplantcenter.net. I strongly encourage every gardener to look at this site. It has explanations for how each plant, shrub or tree can benefit the local environment and which are best suited for specific types of landscapes.

My first suggestion for first-time gardeners is to get your soil tested so that you will know what it contains and so you can choose plants that have a preference for its type.

My second suggestion is to identify what is already growing in your yard and decide whether it looks healthy or not. If a plant looks bad, you can decide whether to provide the care it needs, or you can remove it entirely if it is too diseased to salvage. If you don’t know what it is, plant apps can help you identify what it is. Another way of identifying an unknown plant is to take photos of its different parts (leaves, stem, flowers) so that staff at a nursery can identify it. Detailed and close-up photos will better enable nursery staff to correctly identify it for you. I have to stress that photos are more helpful than any description you can provide for identification.

There is another resource for gardeners with questions regarding identification, problems or concerns about a plant, shrub or tree. The University of Maryland Extension Office allows people to address horticultural concerns, including identification of plants, at www.extension.umd.edu/ask-extension. The site contains many suggestions on how to take photos.

One of the most important things to know before you invest in any plant is to know what kind of light it needs so you can site it according to its needs. To save money, finding out what direction the sun moves over the areas in which you want to plant and for how long it shines on an area, whether it is morning sun, which is not as strong, or afternoon light. This knowledge will save you a lot of heartache and cash before you buy anything because you can figure out what plants’ light requirements are suitable for your area.

If you want immediate pops of color for your landscape and then annuals, plants that live only one growing season are a good bet to place in the ground. Annuals usually grow quickly and produce either a lot of foliage or flowers before they die at the end of the season. One product that I like to use is Bio-tone by Espoma. I use it when I’m planting annuals or perennials, since it helps the plants to create stronger and healthier root systems so that plants can more effectively take in moisture and soil nutrients.

As spring flowers like daffodils fade, I start to deadhead or pinch off the dying blooms where the now brownish/tan papery covering of the originals bloom. This helps the plant from expending energy to create more seeds and instead send that energy that it would use back down to the bulb where it will help it bloom again next year. Daffodils and tulips leave unsightly leaves while they die off, but do not cut off this foliage. It is vital that the plant be able to go through photosynthesis so it can give the bulb more energy to rebloom. Some people like to tie up this foliage to make the planted area neater, but that’s also a no-no since that too interferes with the photosynthesis process.

Now is the time that I’ve begun to fertilize my peonies with bonemeal. Simply scratch some in around the base of the plant where the shoots are forming, but do it gently since they have shallow roots. Water around the plant where you have fertilized. Be careful not to get any fertilizer on the plant leaves or blossoms since it can burn them.

Most shrubs like to be fertilized once in the spring and then again in the fall.

Azalea and rhododendrons particularly like to be fertilized so that it can help them bloom more fully and strengthen the plant.

If you haven’t already, roses need to be cut back and then fertilized, the same way as the peonies, Scratch some into the surface and water afterward. Roses prefer to be fertilized each month to produce more blooms and strengthen the plant.

Gardening is one of the best things I can do to improve my mood, while beautifying my surroundings. I hope it can do the same for others.

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