The coronavirus pandemic has inspired more newcomers than ever to plant home gardens.
Whether it was because people found themselves with more time due to the state’s stay-home orders or they discovered the fragility of the food supply chain, local garden centers saw an uptick in the number of people interested in getting their hands dirty.
Here are seven tips for a successful garden:
1. Know your zone.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone map helps you determine which plants will do best in your yard based on the climate you live in. The Stark County area is in Zone 6a, which means that plants labeled for Zone 6 or higher should survive Ohio’s winter months. The zone map doesn’t account for circumstances such as droughts, rainfall, soil fertility and unusual weather patterns.
2. Learn your frost dates.
Knowing when the last frost will occur (known as the last average spring frost date) helps ensure that you don’t accidentally kill your plants by putting them in the ground too early. Most of the online frost calculators and maps indicate that Stark County’s average last frost occurs in mid to late May, but some say that we could be frost free by the end of April.
3. Seek the sun.
Select a location with at least six (but preferably eight) hours of sunlight per day, if possible. Most edible plants, including many vegetables, herbs and fruits, need full sun in order to thrive.
As long as no trees, buildings or fences are blocking them, gardens that face south typically will have sun all day, while those that face north will have no direct sun.
If your garden only sees the sun in the morning, buy plants that do well in part shade or part sun. Buy plants that grow in full shade if they will see fewer than three hours of sun.
4. Get the dirt on your dirt.
Understanding your soil’s type—sand, silt, clay, chalk, peat or loam—will help you decide which plants to buy and whether you will need to improve the soil by adding other materials to it.
To determine what type of soil you have, grab a handful of dirt and squeeze it. Sand soil feels gritty, silt feels similar to flour when dry, clay will stick together in a ball when wet, chalk feels stonier than the others, peat feels damp and spongy and loam is soft and moldable but not sticky. You also can search online for “garden mudshake” for a more elaborate, multi-day method of decoding your soil.
Loamy soil, which is a mixture of clay, sand and silt, is what you want for your garden but you probably won’t have it. Instead, you likely will need to add in other materials to improve your soil. Take a sample of your soil to a garden center that can help you determine what amendments are needed.
5. Know when to water.
The best way to tell if plants need watering is to push your finger an inch down into the soil (about one knuckle deep). If it’s dry, it’s time to water. If it feels cool and damp, don’t water.
When you do water, give it a good soak instead of watering lightly. Frequent, shallow watering will moisten only the top layer of the soil and will encourage the plant’s roots to redirect to the top instead of growing deeper.
Water in the cool parts of the day, such as the morning and evening, to avoid losing water through evaporation.
6. Feed plants regularly.
Flowers and many vegetables benefit from monthly fertilizing. Fertilizers add nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth, and phosphorous, which helps with root health.
Feed your garden by sprinkling the fertilizer over the dirt and scratching it into the soil with a rake or fork.
7. Add some mulch.
Mulch helps to hold in moisture by reducing evaporation. It also helps inhibit weed growth by blocking out the sun and moderates soil temperature.
After planting your garden, spread mulch so that it’s roughly 2 inches deep. Be sure to leave some room around the plant stems so they don’t rot.
Sources: Ohio State University Extension, Gardenista, EarthEasy, FamilyTime and U.S. Department of Agriculture