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Starting a new garden can be an exciting time, especially if you have just moved to a new home and suddenly have room for one. Choosing a garden spot can get a little overwhelming when you aren’t sure what needs to be done first. Following this guide to choosing a garden spot will walk you through the most important tasks.
One of the most important tasks in your quest to begin gardening is choosing a suitable garden spot. You will need to choose a location with plenty of sunshine, good soil, easy access to water, and some protection from the elements.
Your gardening success depends on choosing the best possible location for your garden. Learning what features make a good gardening spot is important. Follow this guide for selecting a garden spot where your fruits and veggies will thrive.
Essential Criteria For Choosing The Best Gardening Spot
Choose a sunny location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. More is even better for sun-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and melons. Others, like lettuce and salad greens, can survive on a bit less sun but aiming for at least six hours of sun is best.
Determining how much sun the area receives can be a little tricky, especially if you are planning the garden in the fall or winter. Not only does the path of the sun change during the seasons, trees and bushes leaf out and can block the sun.
Observe the area carefully for several days to determine just how much sunlight your garden will get. Take into consideration nearby buildings, trees, and other structures that may plunge your garden into the shadows in mid-summer.
The site of your new garden spot should be level with no obvious dips or depressions. Ideally, a garden is slightly turtle-backed and is raised slightly in the center with gentle slopes to the sides. This prevents water from sitting in the garden after heavy rains. By choosing a level area for your garden, you can build it up so that it is raised slightly in the center when you till and amend the soil.
Gardening areas that slope excessively cause the water to run off the garden too quickly and may even take your seeds or plants with it. Depressed or low areas collect water, and your garden may remain too wet after rain or may take a long time to dry out in the spring when the snow and ice melt.
Garden veggies perform best in fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. The chances of your native soil providing everything they need are unlikely unless you already live in an enchanted garden.
Look for soil that drains well and does not have standing water in the area in the spring. Water should drain through the soil easily after heavy rains.
However, soil that is too gravelly and rocky may not hold enough water for your vegetables to thrive. In this case, you will need to amend the soil heavily with compost or well-rotted manure to create workable soil.
When choosing a garden spot, it is important to consider the orientation of both the garden and rows of vegetables you intend to plant.
Many gardeners prefer a garden spot that faces south because it will receive sunlight all day as the sun crosses the sky from east to west. But a south-facing garden isn’t the only option. An eastern-facing garden will be bathed in the first rays of the morning sun and continue to be in the sun for most of the day, too.
How you orient the rows of veggies in the garden also makes a significant difference in how much sun your plants will receive. While many gardeners prefer to orient the rows of vegetables north to south to capture as much sun as possible, it can cause issues with taller plants shading smaller ones.
Protection from the Elements
It may sound odd to think you need to protect your garden from nature, but nature can be both friend and foe when it comes to gardening. Gentle rains, sunny days, and light breezes can help your garden thrive. But heavy winds, flooding, and mudslides are sure to spell disaster.
If your region experiences hot, dry winds during the summer, choose a location that has a windbreak such as trees, shrubs, or buildings to shield your garden from the prevailing winds. This is the time to make plans to install a fence to protect your plants from drying winds if natural windbreaks are not available.
Likewise, if your region is prone to flooding or mudslides, select a garden spot that is not in line with these natural disasters.
Access to Water
Vegetable gardens typically need 1 to 2 inches of water a week. In an ideal world, natural rainfall would bring all the water your garden plants need to thrive each week, but in reality, that is rarely true. You will likely need to water your garden weekly and more frequently during hot, dry spells. That means having easy access to a water source is crucial.
Choose a location for your garden spot that can be easily reached with a garden hose. Don’t give in to the temptation to choose a location where you will need to carry water in a bucket, as this can take considerable time and effort. You are less likely to water your garden adequately if a garden hose is not available.
Can a garden get too much sun?
Sometimes the sunlight in your garden can be too intense for your plants. Direct noonday sun can be brutal to many plants, especially in southern climates. This is particularly true if you are experiencing a heatwave for weeks at a time. Northern gardens fare better as the rays of the sun are gentler in northern regions.
If you live in a location with extreme heat, or where the afternoon rays of the sun are particularly intense, choosing a garden spot with some midday shade may be ideal. Gardens in the north rarely get too much sun even when exposed to the direct sun all day.
You can use shade clothes or make your own with cheesecloth to give your plants some shade during the hottest part of summer. A simple wooden teepee or lean-to covered with net screening will often do the trick. Other options for shading your veggies when the sun becomes overwhelming are light-colored umbrellas, white sheets, or even a basket covered with thin gauzy fabric.
Why is it important to choose the right location for your garden?
Choosing the right location for your garden will play a key role in how well your garden grows. All plants need sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow. Choosing the right location for your garden will make it easier for you to meet their needs.
What is the most important thing when choosing a garden spot?
Gardens thrive when the needs of the plants are met, but sometimes there isn’t an ideal location on your property. When this happens, you will need to adapt to the location available.
The most important thing you should consider is the amount of sun the area receives. For the most part, there is nothing you can do, short of cutting down trees on your property that shade the garden, to change the amount of sun your garden gets every day. Other factors, like poor soil or a sloping garden, can be corrected with some work from you.
How do you correct poor soil?
Amending the soil with organic matter and providing nutrients as necessary is relatively easy to do. Adding compost or well-rotted manure can improve the texture of the soil and introduce nutrients to the soil, too. Organic matter improves both sandy or gravelly soil and soil with high clay content.
A soil test will let you know the pH and nutrient levels in your soil. You can buy an inexpensive test kit at your local hardware store, but for best results consider using a soil testing service to test the soil for a new garden.
Your local cooperative extension likely offers soil testing for a nominal fee and will provide a written report detailing the condition of your soil and any corrective measures it needs. This information can be invaluable when growing a garden in a new location.
What do you do if your garden spot is sloped?
If the only location on your property for a garden is on a slope, you have several options.
- Build up the soil with garden loam. You can purchase screened garden loam by the yard at a landscape or garden supply company. The goal is to level the soil to prevent water from running down the rows.
- Make Terraces. A terraced garden isn’t difficult to make, and it is an effective way to prevent water from rainfall or spring runoff from carrying your soil away. Make garden beds in steps with a border between each level. You can use stones, wooden planks, or even fallen branches from trees to make the borders to the terraces.
- Use raised beds. Installing raised beds may require building up the soil to level the ground, but the foundation can be done with gravel. You can fill the beds with garden loam or potting mix.
- Plant rows perpendicular to the slope. If the slope is not severe, perpendicular rows may be all you need. Because the space between the rows runs against the slope of the garden, the water slows down as it passes each row, and you will experience less runoff after heavy rains.
How big does a garden spot need to be?
The size of the garden you will need depends on several factors. It is wise to consider them carefully before tilling up the soil and planning what you will plant.
How large your family is has a significant impact on how large a garden you should grow. An 800 square foot garden will typically feed a family of four. This includes canning and preserving fresh veggies for winter use too. If you only want fresh veggies in season and aren’t interested in preserving the surplus you could likely get by on 400 square feet.
Choice of Vegetables
Not all vegetables need the same amount of space. Consider the type of veggies you want to grow and plan accordingly. While you can grow enough peas for your family in a 10-foot row, with rows spaced 24 inches apart, it may require 25 feet with rows spaced 4 feet apart to grow tomatoes for your family. Likewise, vining veggies like cucumbers, melons, and squash take up a lot of space in the garden.
Here’s an estimate of how many plants you will need for some common garden veggies.
- Bush Beans — 45 plants
- Cucumbers — 2 to 4 vines
- Peas — 10 to 15-foot row
- Peppers — 8 to 10 plants
- Tomatoes — 4 to 6 plants
Time Available for Gardening
Gardening, especially if you are starting a new garden, takes a lot of time and energy. If you are working full-time and raising a family, finding the time to raise a large garden, too, may be a challenge. Although it is normal to want to grow all your family’s food, it is better to start slowly growing your family’s favorite veggies the first year and add new vegetables the following year.
If you are an experienced gardener that has simply moved to a new home and are starting a new garden, you may be able to manage a larger garden than a novice gardener. But don’t underestimate the time involved in getting a new garden bed in shape when deciding how big a garden you will plant.
Other Gardening Tips
Mulch Your Plants
Mulching your plants helps to conserve water and suppress weeds. You can use grass clippings, pine needles (sold as pine straw), hay, newspapers, or any other organic material you have on hand. Mulching your plants will save you time in the garden and your veggies will thank you, too.
Water in the Morning
The best time to water your plants is early in the morning before the heat of the day. This ensures your plants have the moisture they need to withstand the stress of the day. It is also a time when winds are low, and you will lose less water to evaporation or from being carried away by the wind.
If you can’t water your garden in the morning, do it in the late afternoon when it cools down for the day, but make sure your plants have time to dry off before the sun goes down. Wet foliage at night can lead to plant diseases.
Follow Spacing Recommendations
Spacing recommendations for plants are designed to give the plants room to grow without being overcrowded. While it may seem like you have plenty of room to plant them closer in the spring when your seedlings are small, plants grow quickly and take up a lot of space.
It is important to the health of your plants to follow both planting distance in the rows and the recommended space between rows. What looks like a lot of space in the spring can become overcrowded in a short time. Overcrowded plants are susceptible to diseases due to the lack of airflow. They also will not produce as well as veggies planted to the proper spacing.
Fertilize Your Plants Regularly
Plants need nutrients to grow. Whether you choose organic methods or aren’t opposed to commercial fertilizer doesn’t really matter, as long as you provide your veggies with essential nutrients. Some veggies, like tomatoes, are heavy feeders and will thrive when given a foliar feeder every 10 to 14 days. Others, like lettuce, radishes, and salad greens, are a little less fussy and can go weeks without additional fertilizer.
Take the time to research the vegetables you are growing and provide them with the fertilizer they need to grow.
Keep Weeds Under Control
Weeding the garden might seem like a tedious chore, but it is essential to the health of your plants. Not only can weeds rob your plants of the moisture and nutrients they need to thrive, but weeds can also introduce diseases, too. Develop a good weeding routine and stick to it if you want your garden to flourish.
Choosing the ideal location for your new garden spot is an important first step to starting a new garden. But once the site is chosen there is still work to be done. Learning the most important aspects of gardening, like how to provide your plants with proper light, well-draining soil, vital nutrients, and water are important too.