At The Home Depot, we want everyone to enjoy digging in the dirt, and we’re ready to offer you the gardening advice to make your thumb as green as you’d like. Here we take a quick look at the basic ingredients of gardening: Light, soil, mulch, water and fertilizer.
Light is important
Most gardens fall into two categories – sun or shade. Sun loving plants generally need a minimum of 8 hours of sun a day, while shade loving plants will be happy with just a minimum of reflected, ambient light. Sun or shade, the location should also be easily accessible to properly tend, maintain, and enjoy. Plant tags will tell you if the plant is sun or shade – and often tags will be more specific and tell you ‘partial sun’ or ‘half day shade’ – whenever you see a tag like that you should be more careful with the planting location. Look at the role that house exposure plays, with planting against east facing walls generally being cooler and more gentle that west facing or southwest exposures that get the full impact from hot afternoon light. Planting tubs on a sunny deck or patio will have the double effect of sun reflecting back off the deck surface – so use more ‘sun’ plants in patio and deck plantings unless you truly know that it is a shady location.
Work that soil
With only rare exceptions, all gardens benefit from nutrient rich, well-draining soil. As soon as the soil is workable in your region, begin by digging deeply, turning the soil and remove weeds and other debris. Add copious amounts of organic material like peat, compost, composted manures, even fireplace ashes, and turn them in to the soil. With patio and deck plantings we like to use a ‘fluffy’ peat based potting mix (hint – if it hurts your back picking up the bag of soil – it is too heavy for a patio pot – look for the lightweight ‘fluffy’ soils). Patio and deck pots need to be watered often, so we like a soil that has good air porosity (fancy way to say fluffy) as well as peat based to hold enough water for the plants. Roots are funny – they need air as much as water – and a heavy, compacted soil with little air tends not to be a good place for great gardens. We really like adding organic matter to soil – it adds air, it adds nutrients and it improves the water holding ability of most soils.
Mulch the garden
After the plants are in, apply a good 2”-3” layer of ‘organic mulch’ over the garden. Use any of a number of good organic substances like compost, cocoa shells, straw, finely shredded bark, peat moss, composted manure etc. Mulch not only makes a neat presentation but also discourages weeds, retains moisture, and over time breaks down to add to the health of the soil. If you do not have organic mulch you can add a layer of plastic mulch or weed cloth (rolls of black poly film) used to keep the weeds down. Some types of plastic mulch are now made with biodegradable plastic. Some folks use old newspapers for a short-lived mulch that help keep more water in the soil immediately after planting.
Water according to the plant’s needs and be consistent about it. Most garden plants need to be watered frequently when they are small (and have small root systems). Once a plant is established in the garden (and has deep roots), it can go much longer between watering. Irregular watering stresses the plants and leaves them vulnerable to diseases, pests, and overall poor health and performance. A hint: when you do water – make sure you water ‘deeply’ – that is do not just spritz the plants with a little water on the leaves – but get the soil under a plant good and wet – think about adding a ‘few inches’ of water. If you water deeply you will help drive the roots down deep into the soil as well. When you water deeply you can water less often than those who spritz.
It’s good to add a balanced time released fertilizer when originally preparing the bed to get things off to a good start. A few supplemental feedings with liquid plant food throughout the growing season will ensure healthy, robust and productive plants. There are many types and brands of fertilizer – here are a few that you can use:
- Water-soluble or liquid feed: These types of fertilizers you would add to a gallon of water and then water onto the plants. These types on new plantings as they make the food immediately available to the young plants. VIGORO and Miracle-Gro both have very good water-soluble products. Read the directions – but typically, you mix a tablespoon of food into a gallon of water – then apply every two weeks.
- Granular or dry fertilizer – These are the types you sprinkle around the roots or put into the hole prior to planting. These types slowly fed the plants – also a good thing. These are great with patio planters that get watered a lot as well as with petunias as they are heavy feeders. Many good gardeners use both water soluble and granular as long as you cut back on the recommended application rates.
- Organic feeds – These types can be either liquid or granular, but are organic based. Organic feds are slower to work but are a good use of waste products from other industries. Many gardening experts like liquid fish emulsion or dry manures.
You can use several different plant foods throughout the year – feeding at heavier rates in spring and summer. You can also add a dry fed to all of our plantings then get the plants started using a supplemental liquid food. The real secret is to make sure you fed the plants consistently.
Take a look at more of our Gardening 101 posts here on The Apron Blog.
Check out our Home Depot Forums, too, for gardening advice. Get your gardening questions answered by Home Depot gardening experts. We’d also love to hear your gardening stories–triumphs, tragedies and clever ideas.
You can also always speak to one of our Certified Nursery Consultants at your local Home Depot Store. He or she will be happy to give you gardening advice, point you to the right product or offer ideas how to make your garden a place of pride.