Here in our corner of the west, March brings the promise of spring. Chives are three inches tall, most mints are starting to push up, the ornamental oreganos are brighter, rockroses have buds just starting to form, and early blooming plants like Cleveland Sage are looking gray instead of almost dead.
Days are warming but nights are still too cold to plant. In colder parts of the country, April and May bring these kinds of days. This is usually when I get out and do some pruning and cleaning. If I wait too long, the plants will start to grow, and it will get harder to shear off dead flower stems and shape bushes that are now filling out. This is also a good time to clean weeds from the aisles of the garden and to think about mulching the bare spots. Still, the most exciting part of spring is the planting. For those of us who have gardened for most of our lives, there is always a new bed to plant, a new color scheme to try, a bare spot that presents its challenge each year.
Many folks will come to gardening as novices this spring. They will have lots of questions. They will read all the books, make lots of lists, maybe even draw up diagrams. They will vow to keep a journal of the weather and the plants they lovingly put in the ground. Some things will work great and others will be disappointing. Since I know how frustrating learning something new can be, I though I would make a few suggestions for those just starting out.
1. Soil should be the best you can make it. That said, unless you are trying to grow on asphalt or on top of hard pan, don't worry, just mulch. Mulch is organic matter (leaves, shredded newspaper, ground-up tree stems, compost, etc.) spread on TOP of the soil after planting. Mulch has to be thick; three-inches deep is the minimum. Leave about a two-inch circle of clear dirt around your new plants. Don't worry, it will settle and be ground level in no time. Every time there is a bare spot, throw some more mulch on it. I use a small-ground fir bark, but you can use whatever you have handy. Just no sewage sludge or bio solids. If you buy bags of mulch stuff, read the bag carefully.
2. Either choose plants that are winter hardy in your area or realize that you will be growing them as an annual (annuals don't return the next year). If you are looking to improve your landscape, then you want plants that will be there year after year (also known as perennials). If you are planting culinary or medicinal herbs then you can harvest and preserve them so it isn't as important that the plants survive the winter. Winter hardiness is referenced by zones. Zones simply tell you that a plant will survive your winter or it won't. You have a zone where you garden and each plant has a zone. You just match them up and voila!
3. Culinary herbs aren't all that pretty and they need a lot of attention, so plant them all together (preferably close to the kitchen) where they will get about six hours of sun each day. About the only exception to this is Rosemary, which, if you are in Zones 6 and up, can be used as a culinary landscape plant. The herbs you choose will depend, of course, on personal preference, but we put together a handy chart (see below) to help get your mind and salivary glands going. It is based on the average needs of a family of four.
4. New plants need lots of watching. When you get them, set them on the back porch for a few days and let them get used to their new surroundings. Make sure to water them if they feel dry to the touch. A water meter can help you know when to water. Sometimes plants look wet, but are only wet in the top inch or so of the pot. The roots are down further, so make sure they have the water. After you plant, water well and check often to make sure the root zone area of the plant, and not just the ground around it, is moist.
5. Fertilizer is important for all plant life, but the truth is that if you are mulching that will probably be all the fertilizer you need. The earthworms and bacteria will take care of the garden for you (of course, this assumes you do not poison them with chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides). If you are container growing then be sure to use a high quality potting soil and a slow-release organic fertilizer, like our Organic Gro Container Mix.
6. Have fun! All the planning and plotting can get kind of tedious. Just relax and let the plant do its thing. All it really needs is sun, water, fertilizer and you.