Successful gardening begins with intentional planting and planning

Published on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 by National Garden Bureau

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If you want to create a garden with beauty and balance, begin with planning, not digging.

To be sure you take advantage of all your growing areas, get a piece of paper and a pencil and make a rough “bird’s eye” sketch of your lot, including marking out where your house is. Indicate which areas are the sunny, partially sunny and shady areas. Be as detailed or as rough as you want. The idea is to identify all potential growing spots and then decide what to put where.

Once you have your sketch made, think about each area and where you would like to add the color and texture of plants. If 
you have a deck or patio, baskets or tubs of flowers can add a lot to its appearance. If there is a spot in your yard that you look at all the time from the kitchen window or that guests in your yard naturally tend to look at, brighten it up with flowers. And there is no rule that says you have to shove your garden back against the fence or property line – a garden spot in the middle of a yard can become a focal point and break up boring expanses of grass.

If you already have a focal point such as a fountain, a brick barbecue or even a tree, you can make it more attractive by planting flowers around it to draw even more attention to it. This idea also works for storage sheds or objects you may consider less than attractive. Chances are these aren’t going to go away, so dress them up and make them worthwhile to look at.

Key Planning Tips

Start small. If you decide to plant some new areas this year, start small so that you can test for success and appearance. You can always make it bigger next year.

Consider water usage. If you are planting an area far from a water source, figure out how you are going to get water there. If a long hose isn’t practical, you may have to carry water there, or plan on carrying the plants (assuming they are in containers) to the water source.

Try something new each year. If something in a seed catalog or the garden center captures your imagination, try it. Starting on a small scale and in a new spot, you can test the plant without a lot of expense or disappointment if it doesn’t please or doesn’t succeed.

Go for variety. Even within the confines of a color family you can achieve a pleasing mixture of different flower forms, heights and textures. While large displays of a single flower can be awesome, too much of a good thing can be boring.

Keep a “cookbook.” In a notebook, write down which classes and varieties you planted where. Often you can just tape a plant 
label to a page and write “front door,” or “patio tubs” next to it. At the end of the season you can write down how it performed and whether you want to plant those again, try them somewhere else, or try something new.

Choose a color theme. For a really sophisticated look, choose a family of colors for all your flowers. If you choose red, for example, you can select flowers in pink, rose and bright red. You will still be able to get a variety of flowers and plants, but the look will be more unified if you have an overall color theme.

Sun and shade. Most yards have a mix of full sun and some shade, so you should have plantings for both. If you are planning a vegetable garden it should get the prime sunny spot whenever possible. Even if the sun shines only on your deck or patio you can still grow vegetables. Many can be successfully grown in containers, letting you move the garden into the sun.

Many people get discouraged from being unable to introduce color into shady areas. However, prudent planning can get color just about anywhere. There are a number of colorful plants that will do well in all but the deepest shade. Impatiens are outstanding for brightening up shady spots, as are coleus and begonias. These also have the advantage of a wide variety of colors for your overall theme. If the shady area also has the problem of poor soil conditions, a raised garden bed or different sizes of pots and containers can overcome that problem without a lot of work. Baskets hung from tree limbs can draw attention to the beauty and position of the tree in the garden.

Key Areas

In addition to the yard areas where you are most likely to want an attractive display of flowers and plants, consider the impression your house makes on passersby and visitors. Baskets, pots or a small flowerbed near the front door can say, “welcome” and give your home a well-cared-for appearance. The driveway and garage area is another often overlooked opportunity for gardening. Lining the driveway with flowers or putting some baskets or pots in a few selected areas can make an otherwise utilitarian area come alive.

Getting Started

One of the ways to get your garden into bloom or fruit as early as possible is to start plants indoors. A good sunny location for the started plants is all you’ll need. If you don’t have a sunny spot, grow lights will do just as well. You can buy seed starter kits at most garden retailers, or do your own seed starting in containers as simple as egg cartons. Books on the subject can be found at your library and at garden retailers, and a wealth of information is available online. 

Within reason, the earlier you start, the more mature and established your plants will be when transplanted outdoors to the garden or to containers. If you start too early, your plants will become overgrown and you may have to cut them back and start with a funny-looking garden. Six weeks or so before the last frost date or normal planting time in your area is a good rule of thumb for starting indoors.

If you don’t have the time or confidence to start plants from seed, there are many flower and vegetables starts available for purchase at your local garden centers or retailers.

Depending on the weather and how soon you can get outdoors, it is a good idea to prepare your garden bed by digging it up, turning it over and adding amendments such as compost or fertilizer. Your local county extension agent can tell you how to have a soil test performed, or you can purchase your own soil test kit. Soil preparation is one of those areas that often gets ignored, yet is vitally important to your garden’s success.