Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Doing It Right The First Time!
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Just about everyone already knows that when you're going to do something—whether it be in the home, the garden, workplace or hobby shop—it's far better to take your time and do it right in the first place.
Trouble is, human nature is always in such an all-fired hurry to get things done...now! To illustrate the point, I've seen some absolutely stunning pieces of hand-crafted furniture that were almost totally ruined by a "quick 'n dirty" job of finishing; zipped-through repairs or modifications in the home which all but fell apart in no time at all; homes built in a rush to beat the approach of snow and winter darkness which failed to stand the test of time; and gardens so choked with weeds after only one season, that the would-be gardeners simply throw up their hands and turn their backs on what might have been a horticultural fairy-land.
Once in a while, someone will ask what they should do first as they contemplate creating a new vegetable or flower garden. My heart almost leaps for joy at the occasion because I know these sensible gardeners are going to be not only successful...but satisfied as well.
More often than not, however, out comes the rototiller...no plan, no preemptive weed control, and especially no thought to soil condition or nutrition. The result is almost always the same: pitifully poor plants, extensive weeds, and imbalance of colors, heights, textures and individual environmental requirements of the plants forced to live (and die) in these "let's get it done quick" garden plots.
How wonderful the planned gardening experience can be! How satisfying it is to stand at the window and gaze out upon a mature garden adorned with grace and thriving in the presence of nutrition, without a veritable jungle of tangled weeds and pesky bugs and diseases!
Here are a few tips to help insure that your gardening experience is thoroughly satisfying and rewarding:
Plan ahead! Take the time to first think about what you're contemplating...then put it down on paper. Sketch it out in the best detail you can. Don't worry if it doesn't look professional...it's not going to shown on national TV! Plan everything in advance—viewing angle, heights, colors, textures, fragrances, light exposure, water availability, drainage and, most importantly, your own likes and dislikes. The wisest gardener of all plans his garden a full year in advance. It takes time to do it right the first time. Believe me, it's infinitely more acceptable (and easier) than trying to patch up tragic mistakes later! Now, put your plan into action.
Transfer it from paper to garden. Use stakes and string, or a flexible garden hose to mark out the limits of your new garden. Make it something other than the plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk of a square or rectangle. How delightfully appealing and pleasant are gentle curves and graceful contours! How harsh and unattractive are the dead-sharp corners of an unimaginative square block parked in the middle of the front lawn like a lone flower in a vast desert!
Get the grass and weeds out! Not with a rototiller! Chopping up sod or turf either by hand or machine is probably the worst possible thing to do at this point. You should know that the roots and runners of turf grasses and weeds have the ability to regenerate a new plant from nearly each and every one of the tiniest fragments resulting from having been sliced up by a rototiller. What a weed patch that will create next year!
Unquestionably, it is best to remove sod or turf before tilling. Do that by "peeling" away about two-inches of the surface and "skimming" the grass off and into a wheelbarrow. Get it all! Don't leave a scrap behind. If the spot had dandelions, search out every bit of root larger than a pencil lead (dandelion roots can penetrate a foot or more into the soil and can create a new plant at practically any point along its length).
Add a lot of organic material. Most Northern New England soils are desperately poor, moderately- to powerfully-acidic and low in humus. This "organic matter" is essential to soil and plant health. And it takes much more than a couple of shovelfuls or a single little bagful of the kind you'll find at a super-store! Spread at least four inches of compost, well-rotted manure, or some other form of composted plant material on the surface, along with appropriate amounts of lime (or wood ashes), and then spade it in just as deeply as you can—mixing it thoroughly.
Here's a tip: As the end of each gardening season approaches, managers of those giant super-stores—like the ones pushing and shoving their huge, impersonal box-like presence into ever-smaller communities all across the country—begin to grow anxious to get rid of all those 40-pound bags of compost or manure... before the plastic rips or breaks down and the stuff spreads all over the parking lot. 50% off at that time of the year is not unusual.....so watch and wait for your opportunity. Here in Maine, we have this wonderful chain of discount stores called Mardens—and $1.99 for a $3.99 bag of compost isn't bad!
Now you can use the rototiller! Actually, I prefer to turn and mix with a full-size spade. A good sharp shovel will cut to a depth of 11 or 12 inches. The home or small farm rototiller won't dig any deeper than maybe 4 or 5 inches. When that's done, smooth it out with a rake, sprinkle with water so it's moistened down a couple of inches, and walk away from it for two or three weeks. A fair number of weed seedlings will surely sprout during that time. Lightly cultivate a second time, destroying all the new seedlings, re-moisten again and wait another two or three weeks. Repeat. Keep it up until late fall or until no further seedlings appear. Then plant a winter cover-crop of yellow clover or winter rye to store nutrients and protect this newly-revitalized soil until spring. Finally, Spring. Just as soon as you're able to work the soil next spring, lightly cultivate, add your spring fertilizer, and install the healthiest, hardiest plants you can find into your thoroughly-prepared, weed-free, and healthy new garden spot. Enjoy!
|Find your State and County Cooperative Extension Office||Which Maine Hardiness Zone Do I Live In? (.pdf)|
© 10/2007 Hill Gardens of Maine; 107 Route 3, Palermo, Maine 04354. All Rights Reserved. Updated: 08/07/11