A few years ago, I attended a class taught by Marta Waddell, a Master Gardener in Arizona. I’ve referred to my class notes repeatedly and decided they were good enough to pass along to you! This master gardener advice is priceless.
It’s never too early to begin dreaming about next season’s garden. Whether spring is approaching or you’re in the thick of weeding and harvesting right now, you’ll want these tips.
You should also take my quick, 11-question Gardening Self-Assessment to learn more about your specific growing areas and challenges your garden faces. Get this free printable assessment here.
Now let’s look at Marta’s master gardener advice:
- Practice eating what’s in season locally. This will get your family used to eating seasonal produce, and, therefore, what you can grow in your own garden.
- Learn what herbs might help your family’s health issues and start an herb garden specifically for that purpose.
- If you’re worried about too much shade in your garden area, plant dwarf trees rather than full-size trees. An attractive dwarf tree with practical use, like a lemon tree, would be perfect.
- All heirloom plants are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirloom.
- Try more than one variety of each vegetable to see what gives you the best results.
- Calorie crops, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, use much less space than grains. More details about growing higher-calorie crops can be found in this article.
- For survival, study what the poorest farmers in third world countries grow: Sorghum, peanuts, and chickpeas are three such crops.
- A good book for those living in harsh desert climates is Extreme Gardening by David Owens.
- High-quality tools are a must and so is maintaining them. Keep a bucket filled with sand and a bit of motor oil mixed in to clean off dirty gardening tools.
- Solarize your garden area to get rid of weeds a few weeks before planting season. Clear out weeds or scalp mow your garden beds. Moisten the ground well, and cover with a large sheet of clear plastic. Weight the plastic down around the edges with rocks or bricks. Weed seeds will germinate, but the heat will kill them. Leave the plastic sheet on for 6-8 weeks. This will reduce the rate of weed seed germination by 60-80%.
- A wire mesh trash can is good for sifting compost. Some benefits of sifting your compost include: aerating the compost, removing lumps and clumps, and separating desirable from undesirable materials
- Test the germination rate of your seeds yourself. Place ten seeds on a wet cloth. Cover and wait ten days. If eight seeds have sprouted, your germination rate is 80%. If only 5 have sprouted, the rate is 50%, and so on. You can still use seeds with a lower germination percentage, but you’ll want to consider sowing more heavily in order to reap the yield you want.
- Store seeds in the refrigerator in an airtight container. “Frost-free” will draw moisture from seeds. Here’s more information about how to save seeds — it’s not as simple as you might think.
- It isn’t legal to save seeds that have been patented.
- Heat and moisture are enemies of seeds. The seeds may sprout, but they won’t grow anything. Stored properly, some seeds can last 5-10 years, but most will last just 2-3 years. Younger seeds will grow better.
- Mail-order companies are best when it comes to buying seeds because they store their seeds in optimal conditions.
- Just because a nursery is selling certain plants does not mean that particular variety grows well in your area. They are selling what they know people will buy. Do your own research to determine the best varieties for your area.
- Never work the soil when it is wet or very dry. Working wet soil compacts it making it harder for water and air to permeate; roots struggle also. Very dry soil harms roots by extracting moisture from them. In both cases, the soil structure is damaged.
- Have your soil tested so you’ll know what additives it needs.
- Recycling your kitchen waste by adding it to a compost pile is great but won’t necessarily result in balanced soil. See #19.
- Transplant when it’s either a cloudy day or at dusk. This shields plants from direct sunlight and gives them a chance to settle in.
- Plan your garden so you’re planting for a staggered harvest. Otherwise, you may be harvesting tons of zucchini, for example, during a single week and then have to wait several more weeks for another zucchini harvest.
- Don’t water at night, and be sure to water the soil, not the leaves.
- Consider using gray water or water from rain barrels. If you live in a drought-prone area and need to conserve water, drip hoses are good for raised beds and will help make sure the soil and roots aren’t getting too much water too fast.
- A couple of tablespoons of oil or a teaspoon of soap in a rain barrel will prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.
- The best pest control is the eyes and hands of the gardener. Use soapy water to get rid of many types of pests. (Don’t use a soap that contains citrus oils/ingredients.) Planting marigolds in the vegetable garden is another way to deter pests.
- Marta recommends the following books: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman; The Edible Ornamental Garden by John E. Bryan; and Gardening When it Counts by Steve Solomon.
Interested in becoming a Master Gardener?
If the idea of becoming a master gardener intrigues you, visit the American Horticultural Society to find a program near you.
Your next garden can be your best-ever when you have a solid understanding of all the pieces that come together to make any garden a success. Combine Marta’s master gardener advice with my free, printable Gardening Self-Assessment and you’ll have the insights and tools to make your next garden your best garden!
Want even more gardening know-how? Don’t miss my “27 MORE Tips From a Master Gardener“!