Creative Commons Photo by epSos .de

Creative Commons Photo by epSos .de

Fall is already upon us, but I don’t recognize it.

In Octobers past, I would have my garden prepared for new plantings after spending weekend hours on tilling, amending, mulching, trimming, and dividing. This year, the unusually long period of heat has kept me away from the garden except for minor garden maintenance.

My garden does not really need more plants, but this realization doesn’t stop me from visiting our local nurseries during weekends where I’m prone to stare at plants like tourists eyeing Bottega Louie’s delightfully curated arrangements of macarons, eclairs, and other treats. Like their faces, mine lights up mesmerized with the rows of plant containers luring me into yet another “sweet” purchase.

Creative Commons photo by Jennifer Chong

Creative Commons photo by Jennifer Chong

I consider myself a good gardener, but I have made many mistakes over the years. If there is a book about gardening missteps, don’t be surprised if I wrote it (I did not). Here are five lessons I’ve learned during my time preparing, tending, and nurturing my garden:

Creative Commons Images: Natfot

A gardener’s best friend and the bellwether of good soil, the earthworm. Creative Commons Images: Natfot

  1. The importance of good soil. When I first began gardening, I pulled away in disgust whenever I saw worms in my soil. I now cherish these squiggly creatures. Their very presence are signs of healthy soil, and their absence is an indicator of little or no organic residues in the soil. If you don’t see them in your garden soil, it’s time to aerate, compost, mulch, and add other good practices into your routine.
  2. Plant what is appropriate for your garden. I often fight the urge to buy plant species that I consider “special” but know won’t work for my climate zone or garden conditions. Trust me, you won’t run out of appropriate species for your garden. When you plant is also important. Plants, particularly crops, don’t do well if you plant them in the wrong season. If you plant too late for example, you may expose certain species to pests and diseases which can spread to other parts of your garden. Do some advance research on the cultural requirements of different species; the information is readily available.
  3. Water properly. I water my garden by hand. With my maturing native garden, I don’t have to water as frequently as I would for a newly planted or non-native garden. In our current drought condition, I simply cannot be lazy about this chore. A sage in my garden serves as my touchstone when I am busy with other things. Water deeply and regularly to get water down to the roots. The water should soak 6 to 8 inches. Mulching also really works. Don’t skip this step.
  4. Trim Plants. I used to avoid trimming back my plants because they filled a space in my garden nicely. Plants need space, air and light. Trimming allows them to get enough of the resources they need to grow properly. Plants also have their trimming season.
  5. Invest in garden gloves. When I first started gardening, I did not use gloves because I wanted to feel the earth and the plants. I have grown wiser after many infected cuts and painful pricks from thorns and needles. Find gloves that fit your hands and buy several for different tasks. Used gloves get stiff, cracked, or get gross with regular use. I replace mine often and feel better about my own health.

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