Easy Steps to a New Garden

Creating and caring for a beautiful garden can be easy if you follow these simple procedures. These steps work for a flower or vegetable bed, a rose garden, or a mixed border.

  1. Make your plans on paper before you set foot in the garden. Plot the size and content of your garden using graph paper, with each square of grid representing 1 square foot of garden space. If your garden is too large or complex for a single sheet, use separate sheets for different beds and borders.
  2. Test the soil to determine its pH and nutritional status, or ask a gardening neighbor about conditions in the area. Add lime to neutralize acid soil, sulfur to neutralize alkaline soil.
  3. Determine how much sunlight your garden receives, and let this guide your choice of plants. Most flowering plants and vegetables require at least six hours of sun each day.
  4. Lay out new beds and borders with string stretched between stakes; use flexible garden hose to define curving edges.
  5. Condition soil that contains too much sand or clay by applying soil conditioner, leaf mold, compost, or other soil amendments. Spread it from 2 to 4 inches deep over the beds.
  6. Dig the planting site to a depth of at least 8 inches for most bedding plants or to the depth of the rootball for trees and shrubs, stirring in the soil amendments. Remove large stones and extraneous roots. Break up clods with the edge of a spade.
  7. Apply a fertilizer that is suitable for the types of plants you will be using.
  8. Rake the site level. Use the front and back of the rake to make a fine, crumbly surface.
  9. Plant seeds or transfer ready-grown plants from containers.
  10. Water seeds or transplants thoroughly at the time of planting. In the absence of rainfall, water daily until established (when they begin growing well) and weekly thereafter.
  11. Thin seedlings, leaving room for the strongest plants to develop to maturity. Most flowering annuals need to be spaced 6 to 12 inches apart; perennials may need more room. For vegetables, follow the directions on the seed packet. Use scissors to decapitate unwanted seedlings instead of pulling up roots, which can disturb neighboring plants.
  12. Weed regularly and place mulch around plants to help control the weeds. Organic mulches such as shredded pine bark and wood chips are the most attractive types for flower gardens. Straw, sawdust, and compost are often used for vegetable gardens.
  13. Control insects, pests, and diseases; check with experienced gardeners to learn which of these are most troublesome in the area and what controls are most effective. Flower gardens are less vulnerable than vegetable gardens, and shrubs less vulnerable yet, but slugs, snails, rodents, or deer may need special controls.
  14. Remove faded flowers from long-blooming plants to prevent seed formation, which can steal energy from flowering.
  15. Clean up the garden in fall. Remove annual flowers and vegetables and cut down dead flower stems of perennials, which can harbor harmful organisms over the winter. Divide overgrown clumps of perennial flowers.