Prepping and Preparing Your Garden
Part 1:  Siting
Written by: Patricia Stern

So, you have decided that you will finally realize your lifelong dream to grow that giant red tomato, that fabulous cut flower garden, that Tuscan chef-worthy herb garden, or that cool and alluring shade garden.  Now is the perfect time to dream and dream BIG! If not now, when?  If not you, who?  You CAN grow the flower, vegetable, herb or shade garden of your dreams and you can do it this year!  Get jazzed, it’s spring practically!

Start by filling in the blanks here.  “This year I want to grow (insert name of your most passionate plant desire) just like my (insert name of grandmother, neighbor, annoying sibling, etc whose garden you have always coveted) did.”  Your personal horticultural mission statement is where your gardening obsession begins.

Okay, you’re all in.  Now, how?  Most important, be optimistic and enthusiastic and dream big: the cost of failure is usually some sweat equity and a few plants or seeds.  That said, try and realistically assess how much time you want to devote to your garden; i.e. if you leave town for two months every summer you may want to plant things that produce late summer or early fall and maybe ask a neighbor to water if it doesn’t rain.

Next, take a long, slow walk around your yard.  For the sake of simplicity I am using “yard” to describe your outdoor growing area; for some this may be a balcony or garden apartment patio.  Do this at different times of day so you can assess the amount of shade or sun you have and whether your sun is morning, mid-day or late afternoon (after 2:00 pm).  Also consider the type of sun.  Is it strong and direct, or filtered through high tree limbs?  This can be tricky when the trees have not yet leafed out so you will have to either 1) try and remember how it looked last summer, 2) use your analytical skills to reason how it might look when the trees leaf out, or, 3) (worst case scenario), ask your spouse.  With the exception of shade gardens, a minimum of 6 hours of sun a day of mostly direct sunlight is what you want.  Morning through mid-afternoon sun is the ideal for most plants here in the hot South.  Vegetables love sun the most.

Here are some tips if you have multiple spots available (lucky you).  First, proximity to your normal traffic pattern will make you notice your garden daily and this is a key to success.  Remember it will be hot in summer.  Second, where is your water source?  If you have to unfurl a 100’ hose in August to reach your garden, you won’t.  If you have an irrigation system for your turf it is generally not too costly to get an irrigation company to sink an in-ground spigot next to your garden for hand-watering your plants, which is preferable to automated irrigation.  If you are gardening in pots (the bigger the better subject to your space constraints) on a balcony, consider how you will get water outside.  Pots need daily water in the hottest part of the summer.  Third, what is in the space now?  It is much easier to re-purpose an existing bed than to start with turf.  Sink a shovel into the bed and assess the color and fluffiness of the soil; red and hard equals bad (but can be fixed).  Brown and light is divine.  Most currently mulched areas will be in the middle and just need some amending.   And fourth, consider drainage, which we will, at great length, next edition when we discuss soil preparation.