Saturday, February 18, 2017

3 Simple Tips to a Successful Garden this Year

February might be brown and cold here in Pennsylvania, but colorful seed packets are arriving in the mail and I'm beginning to dream about gardening.

There is a danger in dreams. I've watched gardeners turn over soil and plant seeds in May with hopeful optimism. But too often those same gardeners throw up their hands in despair three months later as the August weeds put the death-choke on their plants.

Sometimes that gardener has been me.

What can I do to help insure a successful garden this year? 

This past year I watched two beginning gardens. Both were located on a road that I travel often. I don't know if this was the gardeners first garden, but in both cases, they started with a bare stretch of lawn and turned it into a lush garden. From driving past on the road, I couldn't tell how much they harvested from their garden, but both gardens were obviously cared for throughout the season.

Here are a few of my observations of these two gardens and the tips I've gleaned from my own gardening experiences.

1. Dream within Reality

Neither of these gardens were large. I might be a poor judge of distance, but I'd guess the one as a 10 by 20 foot plot. The other garden consisted of four raised beds maybe 3 by 6 feet. They did not turn their entire yard into a garden. They didn't plant a market garden. I have seen many beginning gardeners fail because of planning too large of a garden.

A wise gardener will plan realistically, which is more difficult than it seems in the spring. It is easy to forget the reality of August, when the weeds, heat, and bugs conspire against the most hardy gardener.

Last year I purposely planted a smaller garden. I knew I would have a six-month-old baby in August and I decided that it wasn't the year to break records.

I didn't regret that decision.

While the two gardens I observed last year were small, they appeared to be well-maintained, which will give courage to plant a garden next year, and maybe, with a little experience under dirty fingernails, the gardener can successfully extend its size.

Planning a smaller garden will also help make sure you are planting wisely. Why plant zucchini if you hate it? Or ten tomato plants if all you want is a few cherry tomatoes for your salad? Evaluate what you already eat and don't pretend you will suddenly acquire a love for eggplant.

2. Have a Plan, And Do It

Both gardeners that I watched last spring obviously had a plan. They didn't walk out to their yard one day, dig a hole, push some green bean seeds in the ground, and hope they would grow.

One of the gardens actually began the year before. One Saturday in late summer Ed and I drove by this yard where a man was busy at work with a shovel and wheelbarrow. It appeared as if he was removing the sod. We made guesses about what he was doing. Planting a tree? Building a shed? But after a few weeks it appeared that the project was abandoned. A neat rectangle section of sod had been removed but there were no further signs of progress.

A few weeks later Ed mentioned that it appeared that they were layering grass clippings and leaves on this section of bare earth. Throughout the fall, more leaves and more grass clippings were added and we guessed that this spot was meant for a future garden. Sure enough, in the spring, this new garden was planted. Those months of adding mulch and a winter for it to decompose would have made a wonderful rich planting bed in the spring. The summer appearance of the garden proved the gardener was rewarded for his efforts in planning a whole season before planting his garden.

The other gardener I watched last year prepared four raised beds. They were simple wooden beds, narrow enough to reach into the middle easily. Again, the work of preparing this garden was resulted in lovely growing conditions.

3. Sit and Enjoy

I've long been a proponent of "walk your garden." In other words, spend regular time in your garden, both to enjoy it and recognize problems while they are still small.

But maybe I should change that to "sit in your garden." The gardener with the raised beds placed a bench beside the garden. They also planted perennials, maybe herbs, nearby. The garden was directly beside the house and certainly added beauty to the home's landscape.

The other garden didn't have a bench beside it, but I often saw a small child's riding toy in the yard and a large deck was nearby. My impression was that these were people who spent time outdoors.

If you plant a garden, find ways to enjoy it. Take your coffee outside and listen to the robins at dawn. Or carry out a lawn chair and watch the bats come out to eat the mosquitos at sunset.

There are many ways to provide food for your family. A garden is not a necessity for most of us. So keep it manageable, plan well for your success, so you can sit and enjoy it in August.

If you find ways to enjoy your garden, you are more likely to have positive memories to make you spend your brown February days planning the success of your next garden.

What are your tips to a successful garden? Or am I the only one who is dreaming of gardening?

For more garden info, check out our garden page.


  1. I agree that one should start small, and add on as time goes by. Every year that a garden is tended, it will be easier to maintain, as most of the heavy weeding is done.

    And sitting is something that took me YEARS to learn to do---and it's wonderful to just watch what goes on in there...

  2. Thank you for these tips Gina. I'm a beginner gardener so I hope to plant some simple easy to grow food. I know I want tomatoes and maybe snap peas. We have a small space that would be perfect for planting. My husband would like some mini pumpkins in the fall. We planted some many years ago at our old house in CA. Now that we are in AZ and actually have space I want to try my green thumb again. I'm looking forward to other reader tips.

  3. You are not the only one thinking of the garden. I have received my seeds I ordered and have planned out where they will go when it's time. I have five 8x5 raised beds which is plenty big enough for my family of three. Now I just have to be patient and wait until planting time here in Michigan.

  4. I think these are great tips for beginning gardeners. One other one you could have made you mentioned. Mulch or ground cover kept in place is a key to keeping weeds under control and increasing fertility.
    On another note I too am looking forward to this years garden and planted my peas here in central TN last week... Maybe lettuce and spinach this next week. Phebe

  5. Hello Mrs. Gina,

    You are not the only one with gardening on her mind. I too have been contemplating our garden.
    Your suggestions are wonderful and exactly the method I practiced when I began gardening more than a decade ago. As the years progressed and I became a more proficient gardener and more skilled in preserving our bounty, I expanded my garden plots a little at a time. Now days I tend two good sized plots that produce enough produce to feed our family for one year. I love your suggestion about "dreaming realistically", because if I worked outside our home, I would not have the required time to grow as large a garden as I currently do.
    Thanks for always sharing such practical and useful advise with your readers.


  6. I find that having the garden in an area that you can easily see from the house (near a window or an area you pass by on the way to the car, etc) is the best way to keep track of whats going on in the garden. It's easy to get busy and not realize how fast the weeds are growing...but if I see it frequently, then I am more motivated to work in it.

  7. Nope, you're not the only one dreaming of gardening. I'm planning on opening up the green house next month. The seeds have been ordered and have come in, so all is on track for this year... just need the weather to cooperate.


I love to hear from you.


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