Thursday, April 17, 2014

Where do I begin? Gardening 101

With this beautiful weather, you may find yourself gazing out the window at your garden or patio thinking “Where do I begin!”. Gardening can be a relaxing and therapeutic hobby for anyone and a great way to get out and get some Vitamin D, but it can be frustrating if you don't know where to start. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need years of experience to become a good gardener, but there are some important basics that will help you pick the right plants for your specific garden, as well as help them thrive. This week we decided to give you Gardening 101 to get you started in your own garden!

The success of your plants all starts with your soil.  At West Coast Gardens we carry different types of soil for different plants (perennial soil, sea soil, hanging basket/planter soil, top soil, manure, etc.).  If you have questions, please ask our helpful staff as they will be able to tell you from experience what works well for different situations.  One other thing to consider is the pH level of your soil. All plants require a different pH levels, so being aware of your soil type will help you select plants that will thrive the best in your garden.  You can also use soil additives to change the pH to match the level required by the plants you are hoping to have in your garden.  The different pH levels are as follows:

Neutral soil: When the pH is 7 the soil is neither acidic nor alkaline.
Acidic soil:  When the soil pH is 0 to 7 the soil is acidic.  The lower the number the more acidic the soil.
Alkaline soil:  When the soil pH is 7 to 14 the soil is alkaline.  The higher the number the more alkaline the soil. 

One of the more important thing when browsing through the garden center or planning out your own garden is the light condition.  Plants enjoy and require a certain amount of sun or heat, just like us!  Make sure your plants thrive by planting them in the appropriate amount of light they require (Check the plants label to ensure your plant is going to get enough sunlight or shade). Below are the terms you will see on the label (these terms are also true when selecting or planting container gardens and hanging baskets)

Full Sun: Requires 8 hours of direct sunlight a day and can stand up to the hot, middle of the day sun between 9am and 3pm.
Part Sun: 4 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day.  You will want to avoid the hot afternoon sun with these plants.
Shade: Less than 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. These plants  tolerate direct sun in early morning before 9am and/or late afternoon after 6pm, so definitely avoid the hot afternoon sun.  They may require a lot of light, but not the heat of the sun.

Take a look at some of these gardening terms that will be helpful to know when shopping for plants for your garden:

Deciduous, herbaceous, & evergreen: These three terms refer to what a plant does in winter. Evergreen plants will hold on to their leaves in the winter, deciduous plants will drop their leaves in the winter, and herbaceous plants are what we call soft-stemmed, meaning they die to the ground in winter and come back the following spring.

Annuals, biennials, & perennials: Plants are grouped according to how long they will survive.  Annuals will complete their whole life cycle in one year, biennials will live two years, and perennials will live three years or more years. Grasses are included in the perennials group

Trees, shrubs, and vines: Trees and shrubs are plants that will form wood. Vines can be either herbaceous or woody.  These three varieties tend to grow quite large so note the mature size of it before purchasing.

Now that you have the basic vocabulary lets get started.  It is so easy when gardening to have an idea in mind of what you want your garden to look like, but when you show up at the garden center it is so easy to be swayed by all the beauty and colour.  You might find your self picking plants hoping to find space for them later!  Have no fear, this is normal and okay!  The important things to consider are how much light it will need (see above), how much water it will need once it has been established, and how large it will get for your specific space.  Like we mentioned in the perennial section, it is important to check the tag for the mature size of your plant.  The last thing you want is to buy a plant that will outgrow your specific area, or not grow large enough.  When picking out our plants, look for plants that appear healthy and have lots of new growth, not too overgrown in their pots

Our top tips for when you get to the planting stage, which surprisingly make a huge difference in the health of your plants (particularly trees and shrubs-be sure to ask our tree/shrub ladies for more tips and tricks when purchasing one!) are as follows. First remove the plant from the container and break up the root ball gently with your hands to encourage the roots to grow into the soil and not into a ball.  Dig a planting hole approximately as deep as the size of the container your plants came in and about double the width.  Place the plant in the hole and re-fill with the original soil.  IMPORTANT: Make sure that the stem/trunk of your plant is NOT below the current level of the soil.  This is important because if too much soil piles up around the trunk it will have a higher chance of the plant dying.  Press gently to remove air pockets and then water it fully. Proper watering techniques and fertilizers are extremely important for the success of your plants, so be sure to stop in and ask for watering tips if you are having trouble and for the best fertilizer for your area.  Stay tuned for a future blog on recommended fertilizers and watering techniques.

Also important to consider to help your plants thrive is Deadheading and pinching back. Deadheading plants is as simple as removing the withered blooms, therefore encouraging new buds to form.  For plants with thicker stems you might need to get out the scissors or pruning shears. If you are uncertain please call us or stop in for some tips from our experts.  A good technique for creating bushy plants, herbs, and vegetables is to pinch back the top of the plant before it flowers.  This redirects the plant’s energy into creating new shoots rather than growing tall and leggy, making them fuller and easier to manage.  

This is just a taste to get you started.  We are here to help you become the best gardener you can be, so don’t be afraid to ask.  We all started somewhere and have experiences and recommendations to share!  Also stay tuned to our blog for future tips and tricks including fertilizing tips and watering 101

We look forward to seeing you in store!

West Coast Gardens