6 Things You Need to Know Before Planting a Garden

6 Things You Need to Know Before Planting a Garden
by Sandra Dinkins-Wilson

Sooner or later, it seems most everyone wants to try his or her hand at creating a garden. By doing a little gardening, we can not only improve the looks and value of our homes, but our outlook as well. Before we can start, there are a few things we need to determine to make our efforts pay off. These items are discussed below in no particular order.
First, after deciding where you will place your garden, you should determine your soil type, soil pH, and what nutrients may need to be added. If your soil pH is outside the range of 6.0 to 7.0, you may find you need to sweeten or sour your soil with amendments. You may find that your soil is lacking in the proper amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and, secondarily, sulfur, calcium and magnesium. A good soil test, available through your county extension service office or a local nursery, will help you determine these things.
As well, you need to know what you soil type is. Is your soil sandy, loamy or heavy clay? Generally, you can always improve your soil by adding two to three inches organic matter to the top six to eight inches of soil. Organic matter can consist of compost, leaf mold, peat moss or well-aged manure. You may find other interesting types of organic matter in your local area.
You need to know your hardiness zone. This will help you decide what plants are best for your garden. Are you in the far north with a short cool summer or in the southern latitudes with a mild winter and long humid hot summers? Understand that given the microclimate of your gardening area, you might even lap over into the zone above you or below you when considering what plants to grow.
Along with your hardiness zone you will also need to know your last and first frost dates. These will guide you when planting as well as giving you an idea how long your garden and plants will thrive into the fall. For instance, if you plant some annuals, tender ones will not survive the first frost giving your garden a dead and dying look quickly. But hardy annuals will keep blooming and looking beautiful through the first few light frosts.
You need to determine just how much sunlight your garden will get and its orientation to the light. This goes to determine what types of plants will grow best in your chosen location. Many plants require a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.
In addition you need to know the layout of your gardening area. Where are the existing plants, buildings and other structures? These could affect the amount of sunlight that gets through, the wind they block, or even affect your design. You may find that you have a nook that provides a warmer microclimate and you are able to grow a few plants that don't normally grow in your hardiness zone.
Lastly, you need to determine your design. Gardening can allow you to express your artistic talents and you do this with your design. More information is available on design.