Build a Garden 101: July/ August Edition

 Are you a beginner? I still feel like one. The most experienced gardeners know creating a garden that requires minimal effort while producing vegetables and flowers is the dream. Mowing grass is a drag, build a garden. In this article, we will cover what you need to know to get started…in

Where to Start: Planning and Preparation

 It’s Hot. This week we’ll hit 100 in Arlington. It’s the perfect time to think about your garden. No, not really. The perfect time to start planning your garden is late winter or early fall but, who cares! If you have a wild hair to get to it now, let’s do it.

Before you dive into gardening, it's essential to have a plan.

Plan is one of those words that paralyzes me. Let’s talk Steps. Create a totally new garden bed. Morning or Night. Make time to play in the dirt before 11am or after 4pm or you will cook, get overwhelmed and quit. Coffee or Cocktail in hand. You can be planting in 1 day with the right supplies on hand. 
You will need. A Hose, “Dirt”, Starter Fertilizer, Cardboard, Plants or seeds, Garden Gloves. Bonus: wheelbarrow, raised bed materials or stone edgers

1. Start by identifying a your spot. Approximately 4’x8’ is a good size to start with. Pick a spot that you walk past already that is easy to get water to. A decent, lightweight hose that reaches your spot with good sprayer is life changing. Becoming a gardener is building a new routine, keep it easy.  A garden in the way, way back is easily procrastinated.

2. Track your Sunshine. How many hours of sun does your spot get? Use a work from home day to check how long you get sun. Full shade is tricky. And another Blog. Ideally you want 6+ hours of bright sun. Apps like Sun Surveyor can figure it out.

3. Buy Dirt. A 4’x 4’ bed will need 10 cubic feet of dirt. We like 50/50 compost and Topsoil. Raised Bed blends from big box stores work fine.
4. Cut grass or weeds low. Taller than mowed grass height is a pain. 
5. Now, let's talk about soil preparation. An easy and eco-friendly method is the 'no-till' approach. Lay down cardboard or thick layers of newspaper over the area to smother weeds. This technique eliminates the need for digging and minimizes weed growth.  A week of collecting Amazon boxes will do. The bigger the better. No Gaps! Overlap to cover any slivers of grass poking through. If using a raised bed or stone edging you will want cardboard to extend just past your borders. Once it’s laid out, wet the cardboard throughly.

6. Dump on the Dirt! Spread and cover the cardboard to a depth of at least 6”. Add fertilizer (Down to Earth Starter Mix) and spread it evenly into the top few inches 

7. Water your bed. Gently. Then water some more. Then do it again. Thoroughly wetting your new spot takes longer than you think. Aim for Damp all the way through when you poke a finger in. 
8. Plant! Seeds or Plants. 

Choosing the Right Plants

  In hardiness zone 7, Arlington, Virginia; We plant Lilies, Marigolds, Basil and Sunflowers weekly through August 21. Thanksgiving herbs get planted in early August. Gladiolus can be planted until late July.  Zinnias until August 1 and come in all the colors. When it comes to selecting flowers and Veg for your garden for summer planting Days to Maturity is the key. Zucchini, tomatoes, squash and peppers all have varieties that grow more quickly. San Marzano Tomatoes take 78 days to harvest; Sun Gold Cherry tomatoes only take 57 days. Size Matters! If you are planting late in the summer choose small fruit varieties. Lunchbox Peppers, Fairy Tail Eggplant, Butter Baby Squash will have a better shot at making food. Summer Squash and Zucchini will do well planted up to August 7. 
Seed vs. Plant. If you are planting in August the only summer seeds you should plant are Sunflowers. Stick to Transplants or get a start on Fall Vegetables and Flowers. 

Planting and Maintenance

Once you have prepared the soil and chosen your vegetables, it's time to start planting. Follow the instructions on the seed packets for the correct planting depth and spacing. Water the plants regularly, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. Keep an eye on water. New lil’ plants need at least an inch a week. When it’s hot and dry you may need to water more often.  Be sure water in hose is cool. Plants like Morning or evening watering. Water longer for happy babies. Finger Poke Water Test. If bed is dry at your second knuckle when you poke it. Water it. Keep watering until Soil is damp the full depth of a Pointer Finger 

To keep your garden low maintenance, consider using mulch. Arlington County has great Mulch delivery! Mulching helps retain moisture, suppresses weed growth, and improves soil health. Apply a layer of organic mulch around your plants to conserve water and prevent weed growth.

Identifying and Managing Weeds

Weeds are the worst. Regularly inspect your garden for any weed growth and get ‘em! Proper mulching and spacing between plants can help reduce weed growth. We always had weed new beds. New plants have delicate roots and tools can be aggressive. Happy Hour weeding before dinner is the best way to decompress after a long day. 

Pro Tip: To easily identify weeds from your vegetable plants, familiarize yourself with their appearance and growth patterns. This knowledge will help you distinguish between your plants and unwanted weeds. Download a plant ID app to identify the baddies. We use Picture This  ,soon you’ll recognize the repeat offenders. 

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

With proper planning, minimal effort, and regular maintenance Everyone can Grow Stuff! Harvest your vegetables when they are ripe and enjoy the satisfaction of growing your own food and flowers.

Cheers, HHF