Garden Talk - Taking stock of garden basics
What’s a gardener to do right now, other than simply enjoy the unexpectedly mild weather? Despite recent warm days, it is too late to plant trees, shrubs, or perennials as there likely isn’t time for good root systems to develop before winter. It has been too warm to make planting spring bulbs advisable as warm soil will promote premature growth.
Perhaps the best advice is to sit back, review the past season in your garden, and brush up on gardening basics. This will be especially wise if you know that your garden spaces have changed.
Anything that affects the amount of light that your garden spaces receive will have a decided impact on the success of particular plantings. Plants and seeds are sold with light specifications such as “full sun” or “partial shade,” so it is necessary to be familiar with these terms in order to make wise choices. Full sun means a minimum of six hours a day, while partial sun calls for four to six hours. Partial shade indicates a preference for 1-1/2 to four hours of daily sun, while full shade means less than 90 minutes a day. Timing should also be considered as some plants will welcome morning and evening light, but not perform well under full afternoon sun.
Plants that get far too much sun will typically dry out very quickly and may burn or yellow. Sun-lovers in too much shade will typically stretch toward the sun, becoming lanky with distorted leaf development.
Changing light received in your garden spaces is challenging. Unless you are willing to take drastic measures, such as removing shade trees or installing filtering devices such as pergolas, your best bet is to choose plants with existing light conditions in mind.
Soil type is another basic that will affect your choices. Many of us find clay soils in our garden spaces, and that means that ensuring good drainage is a challenge. Amending these heavy soils with organic material will be helpful. However, using pots and raised beds can allow gardeners to provide the ideal soil type for certain demanding plants.
Finally, soil pH is a necessary basic consideration. The great majority of plants will be fine with relatively neutral soil pH – that is, soil that is neither decidedly acidic nor definitely alkaline. However, there are some very desirable plants that demand the extreme. Without the right pH, their ability to access nutrients from the soil will be blocked. A classic example of an acid-loving plant is blueberries. In neutral soil, leaves will yellow and the plant’s health and stamina suffer. Most organic amendments will lower soil pH (that is, make it more acidic) as they decompose, but the process will take time.
The easiest path to gardening success is to know your light, soil type, and soil pH and to choose and place plants accordingly.