Planning and budgeting for your home garden takes time, but it doesn't take a wealth of experience to get started. One of the beautiful things about gardening is that anybody can do it, and they can do it at relatively small expense.
1) Draw a map of your garden. Think about what plants best suit your climate and what fruits and vegetables you would like to use for home cooking and what flowers you desire for floral arrangements in your yard. Simple is best, and use a pencil. An "X" for a tree is perfectly acceptable, along with a rectangle or circle to represent a garden or patch.
2) Let nature work with you. Having homemade systems to store and deliver water to your plants can be a cinch to set up and will need only minor maintenance. How do you collect rainwater and distribute it to your plants? Look for slopes in your yard. Set a rubber barrel or rain barrel at the top of the hill, and collect rainwater as it falls. Use drip tubing attached to a small hole or spigot in the barrel, and run it down the hill through the garden, using gravity to distribute the water.
3) Prepare your gardens for success. Begin looking at your water supply and ways to irrigate. Some gardens you might water yourself with watering cans, and you may be tempted to purchase an expensive irrigation system for your garden. Look instead for plastic garden hose attachments, preferably ones that rotate and that come with timers built-in. Look at what soil types you will need and start rotating soil using a simple garden claw tool, avoiding expensive toy machines.
4) Know the climate trends for all seasons. It used be that Good Friday was the standby day to plant potatoes. Now, May 1st is the safe bet to plant most vegetables. Midwestern farmers now know that trends are delayed, and freezes are happening later each year in some cases. View forecasts online; being aware enough to not unknowingly gamble with planting times is enough to save you money.
5) Factor time into the equation. Are you a fresh novice with a few hours a week, or do you plan on spending significant time each day tending to your lawn? In some rare cases, hiring a professional gardener who has a multitude of time and ideas can save money over the long-term, especially if you have multiple gardens on several acres or a small farm. Remember that your garden will become crowded over time as plants grow. Choose plants you are proud to tend.
More Bang for Your Buck
6) Money for nothing... Diversifying your produce is similar to hedging your bets in the stock market. Balance out your gardens so that you have a combination of low-maintenance plants that grow and produce quickly in the short-term as well as plants that take longer to grow but live relatively long lives, eventually producing more than the fast-growing plants. Know that starting with healthy plants that are fresh from garden centers or suppliers is going to boost your plant's productivity and your harvest, and that bright, vigorous plants displaying blossoms are winners.
7) ...And your seeds for free! Did you know gathering seeds from annuals and perennials is easy and will start a cycle of perpetual seed accumulation for your garden? Just select a flowering plant that bears fruit or a seed head and do not harvest the plant. The reason you want to start with annuals or perennials is that the initial investment in seeds (a plant in public, a friend who farms, store or catalog) does cost money or time or both. Waiting for a biennial to flower takes double the time, and biennials might not even make it through the winter or yield seeds.
8) When to gather? Wait until the fruit or seed bearing portion is beyond ripe or just about to fall to the ground. Pick the fruit, and remove the seeds, but take care to dry the seeds thoroughly before storing in small envelopes. Store these seeds in a safe, cool and dry environment. Always test the seeds when you break them out the next year. Try germinating a few to verify you will get a crop. If your soil has been tilled and aerated, plant your seeds and watch a self-perpetuating garden work for you.
9) Splice of life. Take stem cuttings of your favorite plants to start a new plant. Basically, take a gardener's knife and cut the plant just above where the plant comes out of the ground, an inch or two above that. Wrap the cutting in a moist towel to preserve it. Find the next bud or node up from the bottom of your stem cutting, and trim to just below this point. Remove any flowers, but let a few leaves remain. Plot the cutting into a small amount of soil to root; some choose to dip the bottom stem into a growth hormone to boost growth potential. When you see new growth, transplant outside or turn into a potted plant.
10) What plants to use for cuttings. Plant varieties well-known to succeed in duplication include Blueberries, Cherries, Roses, Ivy, Morning Glory, Viola, Pomegranates, Plums, Ginkgo Bilboa, etc. All of these plants are great for novice splicers, because they are all softwood stem cuts, or cuts you can do to your plants in the spring before growth occurs and are by far the easiest to transplant and duplicate. Hardwood cuttings are taken at the end of any growing season for a mature plant and take longer. These plants and trees include: Redwood, Mulberry, Willow, Raspberries, Figs, Kiwi and Poplar, among many others.
Setting Transplants up for Success
11) Bed transplants indoors. Whether you treat an area of your home as an arboretum, nursery or greenhouse, realize you can achieve dramatic results without all the hassle. By "bedding" the plants, gardeners start the germination process, let the plants take root in small plastic or fibrous containers and hold them under a lamp or under conditioned sunlight. The trick to finding lighting is less about an expensive bulb and more about using longer, cylindrical light setups using any bulb that provides coverage for your plants. You don't need to purchase a special lamp. For instance, at home, we have a wooden setup that could easily be fashioned using a sawhorse, a few planks to set the plants on, and a rigging for the lights, which should run just a few inches above the plants.
12) Reduce shock by toughening your plants slowly. When you purchase a new plant that is bedded in soil and needs to be transplanted, or if your plants are finally ready for the outside elements, remember they aren't quite ready. You should stagger their exposure to outside weather forces, even wind, by placing them in a garden facing the south or protected against a wall. Begin almost as if you were starting an exercise or diet program with them. Start with 30 minutes of exposure and gradually increase until they are outside several hours and surviving, usually about one to two weeks. You will see a steady survival rate if you give them time to adjust.
13) Prepare your soil. Make sure that your garden space for flowers, trees, or vegetables is clear of competition. Remove any weeds and retill the soil if necessary. What does it mean to aerate the soil you will be using for transplants? By adding outside air, oxygen and other compounds to the soil, you increase nutrient absorption and overall soil health. This can be done using a garden claw (available on Amazon or Walgreen's on the cheap), or simply by using the back of a three-pronged gardener's spade and rotating the claw.
14) Don't let pests invade. Many times, you will be facing insects that destroy your crops more than inclement weather. You can use safe pesticides, but spraying chemicals always seems to be a gamble with the health of your plants and your personal safety. Using diazenon to dust the soil is a common technique to rid your garden of pests. Remember also that pests may well include animals such as rats, raccoons, rabbits and especially deer, so protect your plants with chicken wire if you expect them to produce.
15) Coddle your plants. Try to transplant on a cloudy day with relatively little wind and stable temperatures. Water your plant often, but don't flood your plant. Keep protecting your baby plants from wind and rain by enclosing them on three or even all four sides by using halved gallon jugs of milk, cleaned and overturned into the soil. or use any scrap cardboard boxes that don't remove the plant's ability to gather sunlight. Even a slight breeze can be devastating for a plant in a compromising location!
Preparing for Winter
16) Extend the season. Finding clear plastic bottles or saving 2-liter soda bottles will extend the lives of your plants as well as be transparent enough to still allow sunlight. Make sure to clean the bottles and remove any labels that could block sunlight, especially that sticky, white glue behind the label. Then, cut off the bottom or snip with scissors, stack, and store. When you are ready to transplant, anchor the bottles by pressing firmly on the top of the bottle until the bottle is about one inch deep into the soil. It should be said that when growth potential exceeds the size of the bottle, find a bigger cap or simply remove the plastic bottle.
17) Cover your rows. This should be another free challenge using only salvage or resourcefulness. First, design your frame using wire mesh, chicken wire, bent bamboo or otherwise, to fit over the rows of plants, and anchor the frame slightly into the ground. Try to always save scrap plastic and use it for your row covers, but also check with local retailers for bags shipped over large appliances to protect them while shipping. If you get ahold of a few of those you can cut it like wrapping paper or trim it to cover your rows in one piece. Remember, any covering that withstands wind is great for protecting against frost. This covering should be done in the fall.
18) Exploit knowledgeable experts. Try forecasting and compare it to what a local meteorologist says. Contact your state's weather service to determine whether an early frost is imminent in late fall. Being prepared keeps you one step ahead of factors you can't control, and could save the lives of your plants. Also, look for master gardener clubs or seminars at a local learning annex or community college. These classes or meetings sometimes have a fee, but the knowledge you learn will be invaluable.
19) Toughen your plants... again. The good news is, mother nature will do most of the gradual toughening for you. The bad news is, you get to spend more time with your plants, learning how to protect them. Instead of giving them more water, as you did with early transplants, cut back on watering in the fall as the temperatures drop. Your plants take cues, artificial or not. Getting your plant to a state of dormancy before the first frost is your goal. Take away light cues as soon as it starts getting cold.
20) Saving Weaker Perennials. If you love perennials such as begonias or other flowers, you can transplant them indoors. Dig them up, shake them off, and trim the roots. If you have several or many flowers, you may pot them individually for the season or transplant like plants into larger soil accommodations as a group. Once indoors, keep these transplanted perennials in a cool place with plenty of light, and don't over water the pants. Only when the soil appears dry should you water again.
Easy Ways to Recycle
21) Trash can be treasure. You don't have to make your yard appear like a junkyard, but you can reuse many organic materials from your own garden or items from around the house to boost your gardening potential. Mostly this is a task born of time and creativity. Rifling through old Ziploc bags and Tupperware is great, but certain things will strike you as pastoral and fitting out of nowhere, and often these inspirations make the best additions. Old wagon wheels, for example, can provide a great centerpiece to a garden gate, or it can be placed in the soil to provide a free wedging system for a multitude of small herbs.
22) The Don'ts of Recycling. Don't use household items or otherwise that could have traces of preservatives or toxins. When using rain barrels to irrigate your garden, don't employ barrels that were once used to store hazardous materials or any type of poison. Even an old oil barrel will destroy your garden if used as an irrigation base. Similarly, refrain from using old tires to grow plants, because they are made using petroleum products. If you are using grass clippings to fertilize or mulch, make sure it is a 2nd or 3rd generation mowing since you last used weed chemicals or pesticides on your lawn. This ensures that the clippings are healthy and ready to help your plant, not hurt it uninentionally.
23) Create a bird bath. Cultivate life in your garden by creating a makeshift bird bath. The simplest way to fashion a bird bath is to reuse your old garbage can lid, preferrably metal. You can attach it to a frame that provides some height for the bath, or you can simply fill it with water and set on the ground. Try to camouflage the area from predators such as cats. Use tall plants to your advantage here. Also, birds are attracted to painted bird baths an prefer small rocks to land upon and sit stably. Another way to get your bird bath off the ground is to rig two ropes from a deck or tree and feed or tie the rope through the metal or stone surface you choose.
24) Use your other plants as borders for your garden. Skip purchasing wood or wire for fencing to demarcate your gardens or yard. If you don't have significant time to plant hedges and maintain them, look to plants you already have for natural borders. Some fruits and bushes mimic hedging, such as blueberry patches, grapevines and hawthornes. I know personally that grapevines make beautiful borders, as long as they aren't in an area where you can't get to the other side of the vine to pick the other half of the grapes.
25) Save Campbell's soup cans you might otherwise toss. Make this a lifestyle change. For some reason, soup cans are the perfect size to house and protect potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and corn, among many other plants. Soup cans can be used to start new plants when filled with soil, and also to collect rain around your garden when arranged effectively. Best of all, an unlabeled and remarked soup can act as a rainfall gauge, an important tool when deciding the future course of your gardening needs.
This guide will get you started, but it is up to you to pursue your future in gardening. Your first year is all about learning trends and being as attentive as you can to your first generation. Soon after the first few years, you will see that you have transformed your plot of land into a garden of life, one that can potentially sustain itself for years to come with proper care. Best of luck!