For first time gardeners- the bare basics

If you are planning a garden for the first time, walk around your yard, noting which areas get some sun now, and where it will be sunniest in summer for at least 6 hrs per day.  After you have found a good spot, stake it off.  If it is super sunny, you will grow about anything there except for leafy crops like lettuce and spinach in the heat of summer.  If it is mostly shady, don’t set your heart on growing watermelons and corn.  Instead content yourself with fancy salad greens and other part shade-tolerant fruits and vegetables like carrots and strawberries.   Next, find out what USDA climate zone you live in for approximate first and last frost dates.  You can find these at  http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/   Pick up a Sunset Garden Book at the home center.  This is an excellent reference book, and Sunset planting zones are much more specific and predictive of  success or failure with a certain plant than USDA zones.  Most seed packets will tell you to plant in spring after final frost, but I’ve found it isn’t that strict.  One overnight low of 32 won’t kill most seeds in the soil, whereas a cold, rainy week will rot cucumber seeds in the soil.  Don’t get too serious about it all, as gardening is endless trial and error, pushing the limits of what you can grow under all sorts of conditions.  If you are going for the healthiest, prettiest plants, soil preparation cannot be underestimated.  Be sure to see my page on soil prep.

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