If you want the perfect antidote to this years epic winter, plant something in the dirt and watch it grow. If this is your first season in the north country, or youre new to gardening, heres some advice from experts and longtime home gardeners to help you get started.
n Dont bite off more than you can chew.
Id keep it small and plant easy crops, says Susan J. Gwise, horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. For example: peas, green beans, beets, lettuce and spinach. There are lots of options on how to plant the gardenlong rows, squares or boxes. Id start by doing a 10-by-10 or 12-by-12 square.
If flowers are your goal, start with what grows well up here naturally. It will give you a great boost to have a successful garden right away. Id try things like Shasta daisies and purple coneflower, also known as echinacea, says Kelly E. Reinhardt, who has been working her gardens in Sackets Harbor for 12 years. You cant kill them and they reseed next to each other.
n Plan your garden, but dont overplan.
There is no right way to plant a garden. Ms. Reinhardt focuses on intuition in choosing what she plants. Im a little more freestyle, I just plant it in the ground, she says. She recommends considering the style and proportions of your home when planting flowers. Youve got a tall old house with 12-foot ceilings and then put in teeny tiny 6-inch flowers. It has to show up and be proportionate with your house. Flat things get lost.
Sun exposure is key, too. There are many flowers that can tolerate shade, says Ms. Gwise. But its hard to vegetable garden in the shade. Observe the sun pattern around your house to pick the best spot at least eight hours of sun a day.
Good air circulation will keep down pests, especially fungus. If air gets stagnant, you get a lot of disease buildup, warns Ms. Gwise.
Youll also want a water source close by, she says. If you have to run hoses out there all the time, or get buckets, it will get old fast.
Its also wise to keep track of your garden from year to year maybe with a diagram.
Jolene K. Rhodes of Rhodes Greenhouses in Henderson says thats because plants, especially veggies, need to be moved around. Never plant tomatoes in the same place you plant the year before. Its best just to rotate your vegetable garden.
n Beware the short growing season.
Choosing which seeds to plant can be tricky. Any seed you plant must be harvested within 100 days, says Ms. Gwise. Certain crops must be started early indoors or bought as seedlings like cucumber, zucchini, winter squash or they wont bear fruit by the end of the season in September.
Perennial flowers are staples, because they come back year after year. If youre buying them from seed, they dont blossom that first year. They have to grow and go through a winter first, says Mrs. Rhodes. If you buy blooming perennial plants theyve already gone through that. Theyll already be in bloom and you can see their color.
Buying local can help maximize your results, with both annuals and perennials. Big-box stores may have an attractive-looking price on flowers, she says. Locally grown plants may sound a little more expensive, but theyre bigger plants or have more blossoms, says Mrs. Rhodes. When you put them in the ground, theyre going to take off thats because theyve been here, theyre used to it, youre not shocking them.
n Make sure the soil is ready.
You want a warm, dry patch of earth to plant. Much of our soil in the north country is heavy with clay, making it retain moisture longer. Take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If you open the hand and it crumbles or you touch it and it falls apart easily, its OK to work it, says Ms. Gwise.
Also, be careful not to walk on or compact the soil of your garden when its wet. Youll push the oxygen right out of the soil. Plant roots need oxygen, says Ms. Gwise. She also suggests everyone do a pH test, which is free at local extension offices. Local pH levels tend to run between 6 and 7, which is a good range.
To keep your soil balanced, incorporate organic matter compost into your garden before planting or in the fall when you till or when the harvest is over. Its going to loosen up soil, add food for the critters in the soil to feed on, add a low level of nutrients and help fix any soil compaction, says Ms. Gwise. Aerated soil holds on to water and nutrients.
n Spend your money wisely.
The good news is you dont have to spend a lot of money to have a great garden. All you need is a shovel, a rake, a way to get water to the garden. Other than that, theres just the plants or the seeds, says Ms. Gwise.
Its also good to keep costs low at first, until you know its something you like.
Ms. Reinhardt adds a new perennial bed each year, building on her gardens incrementally. And Mrs. Rhodes suggests starting with some containers to try your hand at flowers: Dont try to have the garden that your grandmother had. Do a few patio planters at first.