More and more people are now getting into home gardening. Last year, the National Gardening Association reported that 35 percent of households in America are growing their own food, resulting in a 17 percent increase in home gardeners—the highest in the U.S. in more than a decade. Aside from the financial benefits that self-sufficiency brings, home gardening can also improve your physical and mental health.
If you want to start home gardening, but have certain dilemmas such as space constraints or are simply at a loss on how to begin, fret not. Tap the power of your inner green thumb. Here, I will walk you through some simple home gardening tips to get you on the right path for the very first time.
Photo courtesy Jinho Jung/Flickr
Carefully Choose What to Plant
Whether you’re planting a vegetable, herb or flower garden for the first time, be specific when planning your home garden design. Envision how you want your home garden to look, but set realistic goals. Start small instead of aiming for a grand garden that belongs in a palace. You can always add more plants to it later on. Decide if you’re starting from scratch with seeds or using transplants. You may want to first prepare your plants indoors if you’re growing them from seeds. Consider well the time that you can devote to this whole home gardening endeavor.
Factor in the Season and Your Climate
It’s best to work with nature as plants need their ideal temperature and lighting conditions. For example, if you live in a place where it almost always rains, opt for plants that thrive in the shade. To get started, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guide to know the plants that you can grow in your area, as well as the best time of the year to plant.
Photo courtesy Sean Freese/Flickr
Consider Your Space
Take a good look at your premises to maximize what you have. If you have a backyard, you can plant directly on the ground or you can build raised garden beds. If you live in a condo or an apartment, you can still grow some greens or blooms. According to DMCI Leasing, an online condo rental site, there are still ways to put up a garden in your condo or home. You can use a trellis, a terrarium, an aquarium or simply reuse containers. Wall gardening is also a good option when it comes to planting in vertical-living spaces. In any case, put your plants where there is enough light and humidity, and where you can easily tend to them.
Prepare the Soil
If you’re using a backyard, till the soil and remove stones, weeds and other things that can hinder your plant’s development. You may want to have your soil tested by the agricultural extension office in your area. You can also just buy soil from stores, especially if you don’t have a yard to get it from.
Photo courtesy Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Campaign/Flickr
Enhance the Soil
Make your soil as healthy and nourishing as possible for your plants. Old leaves, grass clippings and manure make great organic matter for rich soil. Mix in generous amounts of it—a thick layer of about 3 inches—into your soil.
Know What’s Harmful to Your Plants
Throughout the course of your home gardening, you will encounter a variety of organisms that will either harm your plants or help them grow. Take the necessary steps based on your circumstances. For instance, while weeds are almost a constant trouble to every plant, some plants may be more prone to aphids. On the other hand, if something aids in the growth of your home garden, such as earthworms, let them stay.
Photo courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr
Properly Plant Seedlings or Transplants
If you’re starting from seeds, make sure to prepare your seedlings carefully first before you set them into place in your backyard. This can be done by growing them under controlled conditions and by carefully following the directions on the seeds’ package. Once your seedlings are big enough, transfer them to the spot where they can fully develop. Meanwhile, if you’re buying young plants instead of seeds, ask for specific instructions and tips from the store where you bought the plants.
Watch the Water
Seeds require plenty of water as they germinate. Same thing goes for seedlings that you transplanted to your home garden, as their roots are still finding their way into the new soil. With this, don’t forget the optimal levels of water your plants need to survive. This is another reason why it’s important to put your plants in an easily accessible place.
Photo courtesy rfduck/Flickr
Put Down Mulch
Keep soil temperature, water levels and earthworm activity in check, and keep annoying weeds out with this layer of protection for your home garden—mulch. You can choose organic mulches such as shredded old leaves, cocoa hulls and grass clippings or inorganic mulches such as stones and plastic. Cover the soil with about 2 inches of the mulch of your choice and leave space for the stems.
Just Keep Going
Preparing the soil and setting your plants in place is only half the battle. Conscientiously look after your vegetables, herbs or flowers. Never let them wilt due to lack of water and nourishment. If you must use fertilizer, follow directions to the letter. But if you decide to grow your home garden the organic way, prepare to have plenty of compost. Take proactive steps to protect your home garden from weeds, pests and animals. You may have to build fences regarding the last one.
Beginners may feel overwhelmed with the array of plants and articles on gardening. Remember that these ways to initially start a home garden so you can be right on track. Remember, start small. After all, you’re nurturing nature here. Once you see your plants grow and produce food or flowers, you will be reaping the fruits of your labor along with the satisfaction of sustaining life.
Aby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. She also writes a blog, About Possibilities. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.
Making wildlife feel welcome in your garden is a sure way to encourage them to return time and time again. There are different things that you can do to attract certain species, but one thing that never changes with all types of wildlife is the fact that they are all attracted to the most basic essentials of survival. This includes water, shelter and food. Incorporating each of these into your garden design is likely to attract more varieties of wildlife, birds and beneficial insects.
1. Make a Pond
Ponds provide a great water source for all kinds of wild animals. Depending on the size of your garden, your pond should have access to as much sunlight as possible. Ponds tend to attract amphibians, such as toads, frogs and newts, but it can also attract dragonflies and insects. Make sure that the edges of your pond are shallow enough to allow easy access for smaller creatures, yet deep enough for them to swim around in. To provide a water source for birds to bathe in, add a sloping bath to your garden and keep the water clean to attract robins, swallows, house martins and more.
2. Become a Food Source
Animals are in constant search for food; it’s a basic survival instinct. When you make your garden a place where all sorts of species can access food, it will become a very popular resting and feeding place. Invest in some bird-friendly food—sunflower heart from Wild Bird Foods are perfect to attract feathered guests to your garden. They also enjoy oats and mealworms mixed with fruit and berries. You can sprinkle sunflower hearts on the ground or store them in a bird feeder for easier access. For larger animals, nuts and berries seem to be a popular choice. Squirrels especially love nuts, whilst rabbits will come and nibble on your lettuce if you let them.
3. Fertilize Naturally
Compost your garden waste to make healthy soil, create good mulch and form a great shelter for small creatures. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, leaving a pile of dead wood in the garden provides an “ever-rarer habitat to a range of specialist wildlife that is growing increasingly uncommon in the countryside.” They state that unpainted wood is more suitable and that large, natural logs tend to work best. You can keep them out of sight if you prefer, or out in the open.
4. Add Hedges and Fruit-Bearing Plants
Birds and smaller animals adore hedges and leafy plants. Birds often make their nests inside hedges, safe from predators and harsh winds. By growing plants and hedges that supply berries, nuts and hips, you will be providing all kinds of wildlife with a valuable source of food during times when they need it most.
5. Log Piles
Similar to methods of composting and dead wood piles in the garden, a log pile is the perfect shelter for hedgehogs. According to the Telegraph, the shelter can be made from a suitable box or a simple log pile. If you choose to go for a box, line it with newspapers and fill it with dry bedding. Hedgehogs are fond of dog food, cat food, cooked vegetables and dried fruit.
Gardening doesn’t always mix with pet ownership. You can spend several hours painstakingly planting bulbs, only to have your dog playfully trample through them the next day. Or maybe it’s hard to keep indoor plants healthy because your cat likes to bat at and munch on the leaves, especially when you’re not looking.
The tips below can be helpful in maintaining plants indoors or out, without making your furry companions feel frustratingly limited.
Photo by LibreShot.com.
Keep an Eye on Your Pet
Before allowing your pet to play outside, make sure to set boundaries so he/she knows the location of your planting areas. You can also reinforce the idea with a vocal command that warns the animal not to get too close.
You also have a responsibility to keep a close eye on your pet to make sure your plants stay intact. If you catch your pet destroying an area where you’ve planted something, keep in mind that it’s not typically out of malice. Your animal is probably just bored. If you notice the telltale signs of boredom, squash them by encouraging your pet to play somewhere else, or schedule in more human-pet playtime.
Deter Cats from Potted Plants
Potted plants with lightweight leaves that dangle in the air are extremely fun toys for felines. Luckily, you can naturally keep pets away by using natural ingredients like lemon juice and white vinegar.
Be aware that the latter ingredient isn’t good for plant leaves, so you’ll only need to treat the base of the pot. However, a mix of lemon juice and water is safe for the leaves. Neither of these solutions are pleasant for cats, plus they’re easy and cheap to make at home. Mix them in spray bottles, so it’s easier to have control over the application process.
Create a Visual Barrier
Sometimes it’s not necessary to build a high fence to keep your pet from entering your garden. A visual indicator of boundary is enough in many cases. A low picket fence might do the trick, and you can paint it in a cheerful color that coordinates with the hues of blooming flowers.
Use Fertilizer Carefully
Although fertilizer works wonders for keeping plants healthy, it can also be harmful to a dog’s digestive tract. Be sure to follow packaging instructions about how much to use, and how long to let it sit before letting your dog near it. Also, watch your canine for any sign of stomach upset. Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect any issues.
Keep Pets Contained in an Outdoor Space
Pets may feel compelled to play in the garden if they feel they’re missing out on the action. Make a compromise by allowing your animal to have free rein of a certain outdoor area, such as a porch or deck.
A baby gate can be a useful tool for keeping them in the area without making them feel smothered, because they can see out of the barrier’s natural openings. In the case of a dog, be sure to give the pet several chew toys and other healthy diversions, so it won’t feel tempted to gnaw on your patio furnishings or decking instead.
Hopefully these tips will prove that it’s possible to have beautiful plants and be a pet owner, too. Although striking that balance may take some work, your efforts will pay off when you’re able to enjoy your pet and the visual splendor of lush leaves and brilliant blooms all year long.
Do you have any other tricks for keeping your pet out of your shrubs or houseplants? Tell us about them in the comments section below!
Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.
Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump start on your garden. Maybe you have a big pile of small seedling containers for just such a job tucked away somewhere in your basement. But if you don’t, or if you’ve finally run out, this is an easy way to save yourself a trip to the store and to cut down on your consumption of new plastics.
If you’re a soda drinker, start saving your plastic one and two liter bottles. If you’re not, ask your friends to save them. Try to collect darker plastic if you can, as sunlight filtering through clear plastic can discourage root growth. Remove the label from your bottle. Then, using a knife you don’t care much about, stab a hole into the side of the bottle, about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. Jam the knife point into the hole and cut all the way around the bottle, so you have two halves.
Set aside the top half. You’ll want it later, but not for a few weeks.
The bottom half of the bottle will serve as your seedling container. Before planting, you’ll need to add drainage holes. If you have a drill with a spade bit, that’s fabulous. Drill three holes into the bulges on the bottom. If you don’t, you can simply hammer a nail through the plastic a few times or very, very carefully jab a few holes with the point of your knife.
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.
Next, smooth the jagged plastic edges with a lighter. Slicing through plastic with a kitchen knife doesn’t make for clean work, but just a second of contact with a flame is all it takes to melt that roughness into something more easily handled. Give a quick blast of fire to the top edge and all the holes.
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.
Now you’re ready for dirt. Fill the container almost to the top with potting soil. Give it a few taps against a hard surface to knock the soil down into all those crannies. Make a divot in the middle of the soil and plant your seeds. Set your container in a warm, damp place and wait for your seeds to sprout!
Once your seedlings are ready for transplant, carefully use a pair of scissors to make a single cut straight down from the top. Firmly grab one side of the cut with your hands and pull the plastic away, as far as you can, without disturbing the roots.
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.
Turn the container upside down, cup the dirt around the seedling with one hand and gently squeeze the container with the other—your seedling and its root ball should fall away into your cupped hand. Transplant your seedling wherever you like and put your used container in the recycling—it was going to wind up there anyway before you gave it this second life!
If you’ve set your seedling outside when the nights are still chilly, it’s time to figure out where you put that top half you set aside a few weeks ago. Once you’ve found it, slide it gently over your seedling, oriented just as it was when it was a bottle. Nestle the edges of the cut bottom opening into the dirt to stabilize it. Congratulations, you’ve just made a perfect, breathable, mini greenhouse!
Liz Baessler is a New England-based freelance writer who loves to travel, cook, and watch things grow. You can follow her gardening adventures or hire her to write for you.
What springs to mind when you think of the word “orchard?” Probably acres and acres of fruit trees and crisp, fall days of climbing ladders into tall trees to harvest. Well, sure—that’s one way that fruit trees exist. But what if I told you that you could walk right to your own backyard and grab a nice, juicy apple right off of a tree that’s no taller than you are? And it’s any variety you can imagine—from hard to find to heirloom—not just the handful of dwarf varieties available at most nurseries. Would you tell me that it’s not possible?
The good news is that it is possible—with the right technique and care. It requires aggressive pruning when the tree is young, and in the opposite season we’ve all been taught to do it in. I first became aware of this method after I read the book Grow A Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. I highly recommend giving it a read, but I’d like to introduce you to the method here in order to show you what’s possible.
Choosing Trees for Your Mini Orchard
The first step in planning any orchard is to select the type of fruit, or fruits, you’d like to grow, as well as the specific variety. When gardening in small spaces, most people tend to gravitate toward the dwarf or mini-dwarf varietals, or even columnar trees. But you don’t need to limit yourself in this way. You can choose any heirloom or old-time variety that strikes your fancy, and you can keep it small. Since you’re going to train your tree to a small stature by pruning, you can choose any one that you like, provided it’s suited to your area and growing conditions.
You do, however, want to pay attention to rootstock. Most nursery stock is grafted—which means a fruiting trunk is attached to a particular rootstock. This allows a tree to have characteristics that are the best of both worlds—the desired fruit, but also a hearty, healthy rootstock to ensure the tree has the best foundation possible. The different characteristics of rootstock are varied and can be nuanced, but don’t drive yourself crazy for six months researching all the different types. Any good nursery catalog or nursery worker can give you the rundown on the basic differences, but what you really need to know is simple: Is this rootstock suited to my soil and growing conditions (for example, drought-tolerant in areas where water is at a premium)? Also, be sure that you order a bare-root tree from the nursery in late spring. A very young bare-root tree is going to cope with the aggressive pruning much more effectively than an older, planted tree would.
Selecting a Site
Once you’ve chosen your trees, it’s time to choose the location for them. The considerations here are fairly standard and not drastically different from other types of gardening.
• Does the site get full sun, of at least six hours each day?
• Is there ready access to water?
• Is the site accessible?
• If you have to trek to the edge of your property to get at the trees, do you have the discipline to check on them if you have to walk out of your way to do so?
I personally like my edible garden areas to be close to the kitchen. It makes it easier to cook with and eat everything. As they say—out of sight, out of mind.
Planting Your Fruit Trees
When you’re ready to plant, spacing your site is the next consideration. Ralph outlines several useful configurations in her book, and what you select will depend on your site—are you looking for more of a hedgerow, or do you have a squared off area to work with? The main point with spacing trees that are to be kept small is that you don’t need 30 feet—or even 10—in between each tree. You can get away with 2-1/2 to 3 feet, trunk to trunk, if you’re so inclined, because you’re pruning for small size, and can prune all of the trees in tandem—almost as if they were one tree.
The First Prune
The first cut is always the hardest. You’re essentially going to behead the tree. This can be difficult if you’re dealing with a bare-root whip that’s already 4 to 5 feet tall. You’re probably going to cringe at reducing it to a 2-foot stump, but you must. You want to make a “heading cut” of the main trunk down to about 2 feet, or knee height. You’ll do this right above branches if there are any, or branch/leaf buds if there aren’t any formed yet. The tree will grow back, I promise. This cut forms a scaffold (the main branches that make up the tree) at a low height, meaning that the vertical growing potential of the tree is limited—which is just want is needed in a small space.
Contrary to everything you’ve ever been told about pruning, you’re not going to make this cut in the dead of winter when the tree is dormant. You’re going to make it in the late spring, right after it’s planted. Thereafter, you’re going to prune out unwanted branches in the summer season, because that’s when you can train the tree to restrict its growth. And yes, you’re going to make those cuts even if there’s fruit on the tree. The remaining fruit will be better for it as well, because the tree will direct all of its energy into the fruits still on the tree.
Mini Orchard: First Year Care
After your tree is planted and beheaded, and you’ve got the main branches pruned, care is pretty straightforward. Make sure you have a good mulch on the tree (though not right up to the trunk; give it an inch of two of space) to ensure good water retention. You shouldn’t need to routinely water the trees, unless you’re in adversely dry conditions. And you really shouldn’t need to fertilize it, unless you’re trying to correct sub-optimal soil conditions. And that’s it. The beauty of the small tree is that you could see an edible crop of fruit within the third year, which is relatively fast.
So if you never thought you’d have room for a few fruit trees, take a walk around your yard and think again. If you can commit 15 minutes a few times every summer to pruning some branches (without getting on a ladder!), you can have all of the fresh fruit you could want—plus, you can grow varieties you can’t get in the supermarket.
Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.
Before you get started, brush up on good seed starting habits. You’ll want to mix your potting soil with sand for the best drainage. Seeds need to stay moist as they germinate and grow. You can even make your own potting soil to save money and control ingredients. Adding aquarium gravel on top of the soil, before you sow the seeds, will also help with drainage and protect against seed-killing fungi. For seeds started indoors, transfer sprouted seedlings to their own pot to reach maturity before moving them to your garden.
Try growing these seven easy flower and vegetable varieties from seed.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
For a burst of color in your garden, try Silene, a flower also known as “sweet William catchfly.”
Silene is one of the easiest perennials to grow from seed, making it a great choice for beginning gardeners. It should be started indoors about 2 months before the last frost.
Plant silene seeds in flats using high-quality potting soil and provide regular water. Sometime between 2 weeks and 1 month you can expect to see your seedlings burst forth from the soil.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Marigolds have a long blooming period that lasts from spring well into fall.
These annuals can be started indoors or outdoors. If you start them outside, wait until the soil is warm. If you want to begin inside, plant your marigold seeds 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost. Water marigolds at the bottom of the plant and avoid fertilizing them.
Marigolds are quick to grow. The first blooms should reveal themselves just a few weeks after planting.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Since cosmos don’t do well as transplants, you’re unlikely to see them offered at your local nursery. That’s why they make a great plant to start from seed.
Wait until temperatures are warm enough to plant the cosmos seeds directly into your garden. In only 5-10 days you’ll see the first buds above the soil. Soon you’ll have pretty flowers that will bloom until the first fall frost.
Photo from Home Guides by SFGate.
This popular summer food is one of the most bountiful vegetables. You don’t even need to plant that many seeds since you can expect one vine to produce 16 or more flowers. Zucchini seeds can be started either inside or out. If you start them inside, plant the seeds about 2 weeks before the last frost.
It will take about 4-8 days for these annuals to sprout. Harvesting begins after 2 months.
Photo by Susan Berry, courtesy GRIT.
Beets are a hardy annual and easy to plant from seed since they can survive cold temperatures and even light frost. You can plant the seeds directly in your garden in the spring or fall. Soak the seeds for a day before planting. Then keep them moist in the ground and your seedlings will sprout within 3-5 days. Full harvest occurs about 2 months later.
Photo courtesy Laughing Duck Gardens.
This annual vegetable has a fast harvest, approximately 20-30 days after planting. It can also be grown and harvested throughout the year. Just be sure to time your planting for 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost or the first fall frost.
Radish seeds should be started outside. Within a week you’ll be able to see the first seedlings.
Photo courtesy Farmer's Almanac.
Often overlooked as a less flavorful and not-so-glamorous vegetable, lettuce can actually be quite tasty and nutritious. This is the best reason to grow it from seed—once you’ve had lettuce fresh from the garden, you won’t want to buy it from the grocery store again.
Lettuce seeds can be sown indoors or out, depending on when you want to harvest them. For the earliest harvest, plant seeds inside about a month before the last spring frost. Once it’s warm enough to work in the garden, lettuce seeds can be transplanted in the garden. They should sprout above the soil in 1-2 weeks.
Lettuce is an annual, but there are so many varieties to choose from that you’ll have fun trying a different kind every year. For all my veggies, I like to get non-GMO, organic seeds.
Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.
Is springtime finally here? It seems to be—the first, tiny lime-green leaves are appearing on the trees and the tulips and daffodils have started to spring forth in all their glory. Gardeners everywhere are just itching to get their hands in some dirt.
The first step is to take stock of what’s at hand—paw through the seed stash, uncover the compost pile and assess how many containers are available for the menagerie of plants that will very shortly need homes.
If, like me, your garden plans are always more ambitious than the existing infrastructure, you’re probably scrambling for some more pots and planters right about now. But no reason to despair—you can certainly fill in your kit without a lot of effort, or breaking the bank.
Photo via Pinterest
Metal food cans are probably one of my favorite DIY garden containers. I like the slightly larger, 29 ounce size. The ones I usually have on hand are from pureed pumpkin—we eat a lot of pumpkin at our house! If you have them sitting on a saucer of some kind, use a screw driver or an awl to punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage. If they won’t sit on a saucer, you’ll want to put in a layer of pea gravel or other drainage material so your plants don’t get wet feet. You can leave the metal plain if you like the look, or you can easily dress it up by spray painting it a bright color. You can also very easily turn metal cans into hanging planters by punching a hole near the top rim on either side and threading a piece of twine or wire through it—very versatile!
Fabric Grow Bags
No, you don’t need to be a seamstress to pull these off. You can make a simple flat grow bag by making a trough of out some landscape fabric or burlap. Even a heavy canvas would work for these. Simply take a length of fabric and lay it flat in the space where you’d like your planter to stay (as they’re a bit awkward to move after being filled with soil). Fill the length of the fabric with potting soil right down the center—leaving a few inches at the short ends, and only so much that the fabric can be pulled up to meet on the top in the center, essentially making a tube of dirt. Using twine, loosely lace the fabric together in a zig-zag pattern, from side to side. Use an awl or screwdriver to poke holes in the fabric if needed. Don’t pull the lacing tightly—you want to see gaps of dirt, as these are where the plants will go. Once the lacing is complete, tuck the short ends under the bag, and plant your seedlings in the gaps.
Photo via Pinterest
Reusable Shopping Bags
A lot of people have more reusable shopping bags than they know what to do with, and they are a great stand-in for off-the-shelf grow bags. Just fill a bag with potting soil and that’s it! These are particularly good for growing potatoes as you can just reach into the soil to harvest without having to dig up the entire plant.
Flour & Sugar Bags
At our house, we buy flour and sugar in bulk—25 pounds bags—because we bake all the time, and it’s more affordable. The paper bags that flour and sugar come in are a very heavy-weight paper, and are perfect for a single-season grow bag. Even the smaller 5 pound bags can be used in the same way. At the end of the growing season, the entire set up can be tossed into the compost bin without too much trouble. It’s a great solution for something that would otherwise be thrown away.
And it’s just not just bags, take a walk around the house too. Most of us have a lot of glassware and kitchen stuff just sitting around—why not plant something in it? I collect milk glass, so that’s my glassware of choice—African violets in compote dishes are lovely. But it can be anything you love and have on hand—tea cups, vintage baking pans (long-length loaf pans make great windowsill planters), jadeite, your collection of Pyrex measuring cups, wooden tea boxes—the sky is the limit. If it will hold some soil, it’s fair game in my house. And why not give new life to our collectibles and family heirlooms by giving them a utilitarian, yet beautiful job to do?
So, take a quick walk around the house and gather supplies. In an afternoon you’ll have an entirely new set of DIY garden containers for anything you’d like to grow. They'll reflect your personal style and tastes, and you won’t break the bank doing it!
Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.