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In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

Essential Summer Maintenance for a Healthy Garden

I just came in from doing a bit of garden maintenance. I gather a bucket and my garden snips and walk around my large privacy fenced patio to visit all the container plants, herbs and vines in my patio garden. If vegetables are ready to be picked, I place them on my garden bench.

lush container garden

Some would hesitate to cut the beautiful flowers, I know. But if they are growing leggy, I take the snippers to them. Some might call it brutal, watching the pretty flowers fall to the cement. But I know it is important to keep the plants trimmed in order to have healthy growth.

Once you trim back the leggy portions of your plants, they will grow back in a different form. The energy that goes all the way down that leggy stem is put to better use. The plant will become fuller and more rounded.

large containers with foliage

Then I hose down the cement to get rid of the plant debris that fell victim to my snippers. I stand back and gaze at my beautiful garden, at the various galvanized, terra cotta and plastic containers full of lush plants. I even plant sedum in big pieces of driftwood.

My patio garden gives me months of gorgeous blooms, fresh vegetables and herbs, and vines winding up the fence.

vining container along fence

Then I wash out the bird baths and refill them with fresh water. This should be done on a daily basis. I am rewarded with lots of birds visiting me, singing me awake each morning. It is a glorious sound that I never grow tired of.

Such is my heaven on earth right behind my one level apartment. My garden changes with the seasons. The annuals give me a lot of bang for my buck, but fade away at the end of summer. The perennials edge back up through the soil in my containers every spring after a long winter’s sleep.

containers of greens and flowers

It is essential to a healthy garden to do regular maintenance. But remember, you can gather those flower stems and put them in a jar of water in your kitchen and enjoy them that way. Then you won’t feel so bad about taking the snippers to your plants while keeping your garden healthy and robust.

Photos by Brenda Pruitt

Must-See Gardens Across the US: The Southeast

This is Part 1 of a 5-part series. 

Instead of pulling over to see the world’s 3rd biggest ball of yarn during your vacation, try something a little more worthwhile. This could be your only vacation of the year, so “fill your eyes with wonder” as the travel bloggers say and visit some unforgettable places. All over the U.S., there are publicly and privately funded, breathtaking gardens that can redefine your definition of horticulture. From pristine botanical memorials to fascinating plant sculptures, you will find your imagination running wild with your own backyard botanical ideas.

Plus, these gardens are prime for great pictures that are guaranteed to make your Instagram pop and may even inspire you to start a succulent garden, raised garden, or ‘living’ sculpture garden of your own! So, if you are journeying through the southeastern U.S., carve out some time to visit one or more of these amazing garden experiences.

Georgia

1. Atlanta Botanical Gardens

 Additional Provisions: concerts, auctions, adult classes, and private rentals.

Located in Atlanta’s Midtown next to the very active Piedmont park, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens brings some vibrant plant art to the hustle and bustle of a big city. The garden offers a kids’ area, rock gardens, a conservatory, a canopy walk, and a famous plant sculpture exhibition. These “living” sculptures can get up to 26 feet tall, taking the shape of mermaids, peacocks, camels, and other exciting creatures.

Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Image: Eric Sonstroem [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens

 Additional Provisions: private events, workshops

Take some time during your tour of Georgia to visit this educational garden. Located 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia, these gardens reside at the Historic Bamboo Farm which is part of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. Get ready to see a beautiful collection of palm varietals and get lost in their 4-acre Bamboo maze. 

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Image: Michael Rivera [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Florida

1. Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg

 Additional Provisions: weddings, workshops, guided tours

Located in scenic St. Petersburg next to the Tampa Bay, this garden is over 100 years old and boasts a collection of more than 50,000 plants. It includes beautiful pathways adorned with waterfalls and demonstration areas, offering a holistic botanical experience. They are also known for their workshops where you can learn about planting techniques or new horticultural research. For example, in the summer of 2018, they will host a rain garden and barrel workshop which teaches gardeners about collecting rain and distributing it within their gardens.

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Image: Peter Tosh from Wikimedia Commons

2. Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot

 Additional Provisions: food demonstrations, outdoor kitchens, dining, events, tours, workshops

Held annually during in springtime, Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival is the most expensive on this list, but arguably provides the greatest amount of botanical wonder and more. From learning how-to, to outdoor garden concerts, to eating food picked directly from their gardens, it is one of the most renowned botanical experiences there is. Along with living sculptures featuring Anna and Elsa from Frozen and Bambi with his woodland critters, they feature a beautiful raised bed gardening exhibit. (Learn what raised bed gardening is here) Featured within them are plants from over 11 countries, and educational placards adorn each explaining how to take care of them and how the raised beds assist in their transition to a tropical climate.

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Image: Jennifer Lynn [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Alabama

1. Huntsville Botanical Garden

 Additional Provisions: weddings, workshops, guided tours

If you want to walk a beautiful nature trail, enjoy specialty gardens, experience the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house, and feel the tranquility of an aquatic garden, then make your way to  the Huntsville Botanical Garden in Alabama. They are a non-profit garden dedicated to providing experiences that will delight adults and children. One of their most notable offerings is the Demonstration Vegetable Garden where visitors can learn about the practical styles of gardening such as row-gardening and square foot-gardening

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Image: Scott (originally posted to Flickr as 105) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

2. Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens Birmingham

 Additional Provisions: weddings, events, art museum

Formerly a plantation, the Arlington Antebellum Home and Garden is now a beautiful 6-acre landscaped garden. It is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and features a restored garden room along with decorative art. The gardens highlight sharp lines and the beauty of landscaping, and the history behind the property is felt by every visitor. 

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Image: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

North Carolina

1. Biltmore House and Gardens

 Additional Provisions: outdoor adventures, food and wine, architecture, tours, events

As highlighted on their official website, the Biltmore House and Gardens located in North Carolina suggests that you make this a 3-day visit instead of just stopping by. Their gardens have featured in Travel + Leisure’s Top Ten Botanical Gardens of the World, and the Biltmore property itself is a historical legacy. Among the sights included are: a Tennis Lawn, Shrub Garden, conservatory, Spring Garden, Azalea Garden, and Bass Pond. Once you are done observing their horticultural space, you can relax with a Rose Petal facial in the Biltmore Spa. 

Biltmore_estate_garden
Image: No machine-readable author provided. Tom assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

2. The Elizabethan Gardens

Additional Provisions: weddings, events, tours, workshops

This 10.5 acre public garden, located in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, features 500 different plants and flowers cared for by five dedicated professional horticulturalists. They change the displays seasonally to reflect the natural beauty of every season, and visitors can also view the Queen’s Rose Garden in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. Another site to behold is the live oak - estimated to have lived since 1585. The Elizabethan Gardens are most well known for their Camellia collection which is comprised of over 80 Camellia varietals. Everyone can enjoy the pristine beauty of these gardens, and avid horticulturalists can especially enjoy the hybrid Lilies.

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Image: Captain-tucker [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

So, if travelling the southeast U.S. definitely add these amazing stops to your itinerary for some added tranquility and exploration.

Also, keep your eyes open for part 2 of this 5-part series as we explore the rest of the must-see gardens across the U.S.!

Never Feed These Foods to Your Dog

We all strive to be healthier and happier and as a dog mom, this holds true for my pets, too. But in our quest for better health, is it possible we might be feeding our pets “healthy” foods that can actually harm them? I mean, I know some people that only feed their dogs human food, from raw fish and eggs to fresh green beans and berries. They claim it’s better for the animal. But is it really?

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Your Dog

The short answer is yes—and no. Many of the foods we like to slide off our plates and share with our furry loved ones are good for them. Green beans and berries, carrots, and cucumbers are wonderful for dogs. Not only do they supply essential vitamins and minerals but crunching on carrots is good for a dog’s teeth. Cucumbers freshen their breath. Really! Plus, most dogs seem to enjoy them. Probably more than your kids.

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But there are some fruits and vegetables that are not good for your dog, and it’s an important distinction for us to learn.

Foods That Shouldn’t Be Fed to Pets

While onions and spinach are commonly grown vegetables, they should not be given to your dog or cat. Onions, leeks, garlic, and chives are part of a family of plants called Allium which is poisonous to most pets, especially cats. In fact,  eating onions can cause toxicity and life-threatening anemia in your pet. Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea may also occur.

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Dogs can eat spinach, but according to the AKC, it’s very high in oxalic acid, which blocks the body’s ability to absorb calcium and can lead to kidney damage. Granted, your dog would probably have to eat a very large amount of spinach to have this problem, but it might be best to go with another vegetable.

Others on the list to avoid include avocado, cherries, grapes, and mushrooms. The pit, skin and leaves of the avocado contain persin, a toxin that can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. While the flesh of an avocado has less of the persin, it’s still enough to cause them distress. Cherries are an obvious no-no due to the choking-hazard caused by their pits, but cherry plants also contain cyanide which is no good for any of us. Grapes are a more commonly known culprit, including raisins. They have proved to be extremely toxic for all breeds and can lead to acute kidney failure.

Mushrooms are a mixed bag of caution when it comes to your pet. Or you, for that matter. Generally speaking, the white button variety of mushrooms we find at our local supermarkets can be okay for consumption, but the more exotic species can lead to trouble. Admittedly, only 50-100 of the more than 50,000 species of mushrooms in the world have been proven to be toxic, but I find it’s better to avoid all fungi. I mean, do you really want to guess what kind of mushroom your dog is sniffing and nibbling at on those trail hikes you both adore? No way.

Cautionary Plants and Flowers for Your Pets

While we enjoy being outside in the sunshine, tending our garden and enjoying a healthy lifestyle, we should be aware of the dangers lurking within the beautiful petals and leaves of the landscape. Potato and tomato plants are members of the Solanaceae family and are among some of the most common home garden plants. However, while the fruits and roots of these plants are delicious to eat, their leaves are not. In fact, the stems and leaves can cause gastrointestinal upset in us and our pets, due to toxic substance called solanine. I doubt your pet will eat enough of the plant for it to have deadly consequences but ingesting the leaves can cause them serious distress. This warning also applies to other plants in this family, including eggplant, peppers, and petunias.

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A flower to definitely watch out for is the lily. All parts of the flower are toxic, including the pollen, and can be deadly for your pets. Cats are particularly vulnerable, because consuming the slightest amount can cause kidney failure. In fact, should the pollen catch in their fur and the animal grooms itself, it could be enough to kill them. Yikes! Take heed: It’s best to “know before you grow.” A little research before you begin planting will go a long way in protecting your precious loved ones. Your pets, of course!


Award-winning author and blogger D.S. Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children. It was volunteering in her children’s Montessori school garden that gave rise to her new series Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, stories bursting with the real-life experiences of young gardeners. Children see the world from a totally different perspective than adults and Venetta knows their adventures will surely inspire a new generation to get outside and get digging.

How to Give Your Yard an Eco-Friendly Makeover

yard landscape
Photo via Unsplash

Lately, since eco-friendliness has infiltrated every aspect of our lives—interior design, in particular—it is important to remember that “green” starts outside, and that first we have to pay attention to our yards. Keeping your backyard green is not only about the bright colors or the lush lawn, but also about the way we take care of it, our choice of plants, and other things we use to enhance the appearance of our outdoor space. If you are ready to take on a more eco-conscious approach to landscaping, these tips should help you out.

green grass
Photo via Unsplash

Choose Ground Cover Over Grass

Grassed lawns require frequent mowing, watering and often even using herbicides or pesticides. Ground covers, on the other hand, embrace the ground, join with it, and are low-maintenance. If your lawn is completely exposed to sun, consider going with clover because it stays green even during long droughts and it feels soft and cushiony under the feet. As for the shady areas of your yard, you can use moss because it grows well and stays fresh even when not exposed to sun.

variety of potted plants on porch
Photo via Unsplash

Plant Native Plants

We would all like to have some nice, exotic plants in our backyards. But unless you are living in a climate that supports such plants, you will have to use a lot of pesticides and herbicides to help them grow. Native plants are not so demanding in terms of maintenance because they are accustomed to the local climate. Plus, they can be very beneficial for the environment because they attract butterflies and birds.

Use Organic Mulch

Organic mulch, such as leaves, pine, bark, and wood chips, can retain moisture and regulate the soil temperature, which contributes to plants’ growth and health. It also adds nutrients to the soil and reduces the footprint of the lawn. If you have a grass lawn, this is also useful because it can cut down water usage for up to 50 percent, reducing the need for maintenance.

sturdy outdoor furniture
Photo via Unsplash

Find Appropriate Furniture

If you want to make your yard truly green, opt for quality garden furniture because poor-quality furniture pieces have a much shorter lifespan, which means you’ll have to replace them often. Wood and aluminum are great choices, but they are not very weather-resistant. Consider using high-performance synthetic wicker and coated aluminum which are rust- and UV-resistant. These pieces also look great, so you won’t have to compromise on stylishness. Furniture made of recycled materials or repurposed furniture is also eco-friendly, you just need to make sure it is outdoor-friendly.

Energy-Efficient Lighting

Night lights are a great choice for yards, especially if you like to spend your evenings outdoors. However, they use up a lot of electricity which doesn’t make them very green. Because of that, you should choose solar-powered lights. These lights come in a number of styles and they don’t require extension cords and wires.

wood decking with leaves
Photo via Unsplash

A Deck That Lasts for Ages

No one likes to look at a worn-out deck, which is why homeowners often decide to replace it with a new one. However, new decking requires more trees to be cut down, which is not in accordance with the green approach we are aspiring to. Because of that, you should choose a decking material that ages well, such as clear redwood. Poured concrete is another great solution if you want an eco-friendly, durable deck.

water on plant leaves
Photo via Unsplash

Rationalize the Water Use

Watering the plants accounts for a large part of the household’s total water consumption. Here are a few tips that will help you reduce your water use:

• Group the plants based on their watering requirements.
• Use sprinklers with a controller that changes the watering schedule based on the weather.
• Set up a rainwater harvesting system and use that water for watering plants.

There is no green like natural green. Use these tips to turn your yard into an eco-friendly oasis you will actually enjoy spending time in.

Cure What Ails You: Start A Medicinal Garden

Prescription medicines can be powerful allies in your quest for a long life, but did you know that there is a wealth of healing to be found in your garden? From the aloe that soothes your burns to the capsaicin in peppers that clears your sinuses, you can grow a host of remedies at your fingertips.

Inflammation

One of the most common health afflictions is inflammation; in our joints, our cardiovascular system, even our organs. Inflammation begins as a complex biological response to cell damage, or infection, but can be harmful when it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation can occur everywhere in the body, and plenty of research indicates that it is a common trigger for, and contributor to, multiple chronic diseases. For example, excess inflammation in your system can damage blood vessel linings (in atherosclerosis), pancreatic tissue (in diabetes), and joint tissue (in arthritis).

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The good news? There are foods that can help reduce inflammation in the body and can be grown in your vegetable garden. Think dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard, kale, and broccoli. Root vegetables like beets, garlic, and onions are also good choices. All are considered natural anti-inflammatories. For those fitness types, brew a cup of lemon verbena tea before your next workout. Not only will it calm the nerves and lessen anxiety, but it has been shown in a study by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition to reduce joint pain and aching, reducing recovery times for joint-related injuries. Plus, its specific mix of compounds can reduce your hunger cravings and increase your body’s fat-burning ability, helping you shed those unwanted pounds you’re trying to work off!

Stomach Troubles

Many of us experience stomach woes, immediately causing us to reach for the anti-nausea medicine. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care for the taste of most indigestion medicines. Too chalky, too yucky. If you’re like me and would rather forgo the medicine cabinet when your belly aches, turn to your herb garden instead. A nibble of basil will work wonders to appease your upset, as will ginger.

mel_cabbage_juice_ingredients

If you’re battling a stomach ulcer, try cabbage juice. Studies have shown that cabbage juice has dietary factors that produce rapid healing results in patients with peptic ulcers versus those treated by standard therapy, not to mention it tastes great!

Mental and Emotional

Ever need a mental boost after a long day (or long night)? Look no further than rosemary. Simply brush your hands through its leaves and inhale. Neurons will immediately perk up and start firing on all cylinders. Even better, rosemary prevents forgetfulness. Important for that special date you don’t want to miss. And while you’re there, don’t forget to discreetly chew that sprig of parsley on your plate. Parsley is nature’s breath freshener!

mel_rosemary_closeup

As we roll into summer, consider planting pumpkins in your garden. Not only will they please the kids during Halloween, they’ll make for scrumptious pumpkin pie, and their seeds provide ample magnesium—important for your bone and muscle health. Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan which helps ease insomnia. Your body converts tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin, the “relaxing-time-to-go-to-sleep” hormones, thereby making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. The scent of your lavender sachet will enhance this process, but did you know that it’s also a great flea repellent? Now even your pet can benefit from your medicinal garden! And sleep well, too.

Now that you know the secret ingredients to cure what ails you, go ahead and pass the medicine aisle on your next trip to the store and head straight to your home garden, instead. Gardening is a life lived well.

6 Garden Myths: Which Are False and Which Are True?

It can be said that gardening is both a science and an art. There are hard facts and research that cannot be ignored like the perfect fertilizer ingredients per plant, plant spacing, temperature ranges, and soil PH balance. But there’s also “gardening with love” and traditional gardening practices that come from passing down generational knowledge. These gardening myths, or commonly accepted practices/knowledge, might be correlated with results that they didn’t cause. But it’s hard to stop because your garden is thriving, and you don’t want to alter your process.

Regardless, some of these myths aren’t necessary and your garden might do even better without them. The following are six gardening myths you need to know more about.

garden being watered
Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Organic Pesticides are Safe Around People

Organic gardening is ideal, but simply because a bag or bottle says organic does not mean it is safe. Sure, it’s often safer for the environment, easier on plants, and not artificially created, but naturally occurring substances can still be extremely toxic. Rotenone, for example, is a 3-in-1 organic substance working as a pesticide, insecticide, and piscicide. It’s also so toxic to humans and animals that it is banned in several countries.

The point is, organic pesticides are often preferred but organic doesn’t necessarily mean safe—it can still be toxic. So treat organic pesticides with the same care as you would non-organic pesticides.

Don’t Water Your Garden at Mid-Day

Watering your gardening at mid-day is often cited as dangerous because any water droplets which land on plant leaves magnify the sun and cause leaves to burn. Although we see the burns on leaves, magnification isn’t the culprit. The evidence lies in mid-day rain showers that coat plants in water, but they don’t develop burn spots when the sun reappears. Burn spots are actually caused by minerals and salt in the water which do react with the leaves coupled with the sun’s presence.

So, check your water’s purity and water mid-day if you want to. To avoid any chance of leaf-burn due to water impurity or mineral collection on plant leaves, a ground level garden watering system will deliver water to the plants’ base instead of the leaves.

Fertilizer Revives Plants in Poor Health

Additional fertilizer can actually kill plants rather than help if not needed. When a garden is looking wilted and drab, some of us think, “more fertilizer will help because fertilizer is food.” Fertilizer is an additive that can increases plant vitality and growth, but an abundance can be damaging to your garden. If your garden is sickly, your first point of inspection should be any imbalances of sunlight or water. Also, inspect the garden for signs of an invasive pests.

Before adding more fertilizer, look for the underlying causes of your garden’s declining health. Insects, extreme temperatures, excess/lack of water or sunlight, etc. These are the main causes of declining health and can be resolved without more fertilizer.

tomatoes on the vine
Photo by Lewis Wilson on Unsplash

Adding Sugar Sweetens Tomatoes During Growth

Sugar (sweetness in tomatoes) is created through photosynthesis and is not something absorbed through the soil. This practice came from the idea that plants reflect what they absorb in the soil, so sweeter plants can be created with sugared soil. While minerals and moisture are absorbed by roots, they are necessary components for a plant’s growth—not a flavor enhancer.

If you want sweeter tomatoes, choose the right varietal (leafier heirlooms often produce a more flavorful fruit), grow in warm temperatures, ensure your plant gets at least 8 hours of sun, and keep watering at a minimum without causing detriment to the plant.

15 Minutes of Water Daily for a Garden to Flourish

Watering your garden for 15 minutes everyday will almost assuredly drown your plants and doesn’t take into account the method of water: drip lines can run for hours to sufficiently water, and a Garden Grid ™ watering system can run for a few minutes. Watering isn’t based on time; it’s based on what your garden needs. Truly, it’s that easy. Instead of erroneously watering with a vague amount, use an irrigation system that waters plants at soil level throughout the garden. As a good rule of thumb (or finger in this instance), check the soil moisture daily by pushing your fingers into the soil an inch or so down. If the soil is moist an inch or lower, then your garden is usually hydrated enough. If not, turn on the irrigation system and re-hydrate the soil. The best time of day to check your soil moisture is in the morning.

Gardens can go a few days without water depending on the weather, climate and what you’re growing, so check your garden before watering.

Beer Traps Protect Against Slugs

This one is actually true! To end with a gardening myth that works, slugs do love beer (well, technically the yeast present in it). If you have slug-troubles, fill some containers with beer you’re not afraid to sacrifice and place them around your garden. On their way to ruin your garden, slugs can’t help but stop for a drink. Slugs prefer lighter (lower alcohol) beer, but refill the containers when it rains. They won’t go for watery libations.

 

3 Reasons Most Gardens Fail (and How to Avoid It!)

Now that you’ve decided to set out on this adventure called gardening, let me give you a few words of advice. First, remember that plants grow all by themselves in nature. They really don’t need you. You need them. The reason I bring this up is because whenever I ask someone if they’d like to start a garden, their first response is usually the same. “Oh, I’d love to have a garden, but I have a brown thumb.”

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Like I said, plants really don’t need you to grow. Proof-positive: This tomato plant popped up in my garden without my help! So relax. Green thumb not required for this endeavor. The second response usually runs along the line of “I have no time.” Well, I’m here to tell you that gardens don’t require a lot of YOUR time. They simply require water and sunlight. Remember, plants can grow all by themselves. Do you see a pattern, here?

Your biggest decision when it comes to maintaining a garden is location. Should you grow your plants outside in the soil, in containers on the patio, or in hydroponic towers? Would you prefer a sprawling garden across your lawn, or perhaps one more vertical in nature? Answer these questions, and then you can begin to address the pitfalls.

Live Your Garden

What do I mean by “live your garden?” Simple. Incorporate the pleasure of gardening into your everyday lifestyle. Consider me. I’m a morning person. I love my coffee and I love the sounds of birds chirping away as sunlight breaks over the horizon. To me, there’s nothing more relaxing then a stroll through my garden, coffee in hand, as I gaze over the beautiful beds of green. While I’m there, I might pinch a tomato sucker, pull a spotted leaf from a potato plant, or pluck a pesky little caterpillar from a stem, should I spot one.

Nothing arduous, nothing time-consuming. Simply a pleasant stroll through my garden where tasks are easily managed. No sweat, no stress. No putting off the grueling garden chores that have piled up and await me. Instead, I “live my garden” by visiting every day. Even the occasional weed is no trouble when it’s only one, here and there. You see, a garden is no-fuss when it becomes an enjoyable part of your schedule. Not a bad place for meditation, either!

Grow What You’ll Eat

When your garden hits full splendor, you’ll adore every minute spent among the fruits and leaves while you’re living your garden—unless they’re rotting on the vine. Yuck. Not the place you want to be. There’s no bigger turn-off than the sight of gaping holes in your fruit beset with worms or buzzing flies. Granted, harvest is usually the time everyone wants to be in the garden. But if no one wants to harvest what’s in season?

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Fruit will rot. Broccoli will bolt. Weeds will accumulate. You get the picture and it’s not pretty. It’s a quick way to ruin the thrill of gardening, if you ask me, so be prudent during the seed selection process. Choose to grow only what you or your family will eat. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to grow zucchini. It’s super easy! But can you eat it all? Do you have the space to freeze it? If not, you’ll quickly find your friends and neighbors rolling up their car windows and closing their curtains when they see you approach. “No more zucchini, please. We can’t eat another bite!”

Get Down and Dirty

“It’s all about the soil.” You’ve probably heard this before, perhaps even been advised to have your soil tested for pH and the like. I don’t know about you, but chemistry isn’t my strong suit. Test my soil? Amend it for the proper balance of pH and nutrients? Sounds a bit too complicated. I just wanted to garden, not become a scientific expert on dirt.

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Good news! You don’t have to be an expert on soil. You simply need to know that healthy soil means healthy plants. What defines healthy soil? Organic matter, or what I call, compost. Yep. Basically, it’s plant and animal matter in varying stages of decomposition and let me tell you, my compost pile is amazing when it comes to growing plants. Why, all I do is toss in a few vegetable scraps, seeds attached, and poof. Germination. Abundant green growth. And I don’t even have to water! Great soil retains water and feeds the plants. Win-win. Don’t have a compost pile? No worries. Until you do, you can purchase any combination of organic compost, mushroom compost, composted cow and worm manure, peat moss and your plants will thank you.

 Now that it’s spring, go ahead and start that garden you’ve always wanted. This time, you will succeed.