Fall garden

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     Fall is an excellent time to put in a new garden, but now is the time to get the plans done.  The better a garden is planned, the better the chances for success.  A little time now may save you a lot of time in the future.
     Of course, the first decision is the site for the garden.  You can garden almost anywhere, but the chosen site will dictate the plants that you will choose for your garden.  The most obvious factor when choosing a garden spot is the amount of sunlight the site will receive.  You may do this by making observations at various times through the day or you may use a light meter that will track the amount of sunlight received.  There are plants for nearly every possible light exposure, but make sure you will be happy with the choices.  It is not possible to grow fancy roses in full shade!  Make your choices now to avoid disappointment later.
     Size and shape will be the next considerations.  Of course, the available space will be a limiting factor here.  I like to keep individual beds to a size that allows me to maintain the bed without having to actually step into them.  With my reach, that limits the width of a bed to around four feet, if it will be accessible from both sides.  If a larger bed is being planned, take time now to devise a plan for pathways within the bed to allow for future maintenance.  In a large bed, you may even want to consider a seating area and begin looking around for the type of seats that will be compatible with the type of planting being planned.  In general, beds with straight lines and sharp angles are more formal, while curved, irregular beds are more relaxed.  You will want to make the bed match the house and other aspects of the existing landscape.  Use boards, pipe or other items to outline an angular bed.  A garden hose or a long extension cord may be used to outline a bed with curves.
     The next step is to prepare the bed.  If there is grass or other vegetation growing now, that will need to be removed.  I do not like to use herbicides, but I leave that choice to you.  You may pull and dig to get rid of the existing vegetation.  If it is in an open area, you may solarize the area, which will also help kill weed seeds that may be in the area.  This is done by wetting the area and then covering it, usually using a sheet of heavy plastic.  The moisture will encourage seed germination, but the resulting plants will not be able to get much additional moisture to grow and the intense heat that builds up under the plastic will kill most of the remaining seeds and plants.  Leave the plastic in place for at least three weeks for the best results.
     A soil test will let you know what nutrients the soil may need to support the plants you wish to grow.  Take soil from a few spots within the bed and mix it in a container.  Your local Cooperative Extension Service will likely be able to give you information on a testing lab in your area.  You may buy a kit to do some testing yourself, but such home tests do not give a complete reckoning of the existing soil.  Once you know what you have, you may begin amending the soil to create a good growing medium.  I always recommend using compost to build up the soil, but you may purchase topsoil and other materials to create a growing area.  Do not add much soil over the roots of existing trees.  You may damage the trees and lead to their death.
     A garden is a sensory experience, and a well-planned garden will engage all of the senses.  Next week, we will take a look at planning garden beds that will create different feelings and will reflect your personality. 


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