Think like a beginner gardener and don’t be afraid of asking questions for help and advice. Everyone needs it and gardeners love to share it.
Starting a garden is exciting! It’s easy to want to run out and buy everything all at once. But this can be compounding any problems that lie ahead. If you can’t say from experience what works in your garden, how will you know all those plants in your shopping trolley are going to work when you get them home? It’s best to start small, try a few plants first and see what survives. Some plants may die, but that helps you learn what suits your garden.
Community gardens are a great place for budding gardeners. Jane meets Isabel Robinson at a garden in St Kilda and she’s interested in growing her own food. Jane’s first piece of advice is to know your area and your soil. The community garden is near the sea and has very sandy soil so it needs additional nutrients in the form of compost each year, in late winter or early spring. It’s best if the soil is friable which means that it falls apart easily and has a crumbly texture. This provides space and oxygen for the roots to grow. If the soil is compacted, then fork it over, add compost, as this will help.
How much room do you need to plant? Think about the final size of your crop and read the instructions on the seed or plant label as these estimations of size are accurate. If you choose one large tree, then it will dominate. Weigh this up against planting lots of different smaller vegetables.
Think about seasonality. Sometimes planting lots of one vegetable, such as zucchini, results in lots of zucchinis all at once. Succession planting means sowing a small number of the same vegetable at intervals of a few weeks. That way you will have a longer, more continual supply.
How to bring in the bees? Jane suggests salvias as they are easy to grow and will bring in the birds and the bees. They need pruning once the flowers are finished but they are easy to prune, so that’s a good way to learn this technique.
How to decide where to plant something? Take a photo to show experienced gardeners or to take to your local nursery for advice. If it has a label, it will give the height and width, and often the conditions required, so take note of that.
Don’t overwater. Beginner gardeners often lavish attention on their gardens, killing their plants with kindness as they over-water and over-fertilise. Too much water can suffocate the roots, and lead to fungal infections. Research where the plant grows and what environment it likes; does it grow in the desert (cacti) or in a wetland (pond)? If your plants suddenly start to look crook, with yellow and brown leaves drooping and falling off, think about if you’re overdoing it with the water.
If you apply too much fertiliser, these nutrients simply wash away, unused by the plant. Really high amounts of fertiliser can also accumulate into toxicities. Different plants will have different needs, deciduous plants like a top up in spring (grapevines at site), natives don’t need much and annual veg want it every couple of weeks.
Dealing with dead plants. Every gardener loses plants. The trick is to learn from the experience. Jane’s biggest tip for beginner gardeners “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Every mistake means a lesson learned. And the more you learn, the better gardener you will become. So go out and enjoy it.”
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