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Thursday, June 16,2011

How to plan what you plant

Getting started gardening is easier than you think

By Cory O'Brien

It can be an overwhelming proposition for a novice grower to start gardening in Boulder. In a city full of transplants whose idea of gardening is putting a few seeds in the ground and letting nature take its course, the frequent droughts, low humidity and extreme weather changes can prove to be a daunting challenge. But Ramona Clark, executive director for Growing Gardens, a Boulder-based community gardens organization, offers up some good advice for burgeoning green thumbs that could probably translate into other parts of their lives as well — just dive right in.

“I tell first-time gardeners to try everything and try a lot of it,” Clark says. “The things that don’t do well will be saved by the fact that you have a bunch of plants that will do well.”

Clark says there are also practical advantages to growing a full, varied garden. In addition to offering greater opportunities for success, a full garden provides natural cover for plants. It also makes weeding much easier, as there are fewer bare spaces in a full garden. Plus, Clark reminds us, gardeners can always thin down their patch if the plants start to get a little unruly.

For those of us not quite ready to make a full garden commitment, Clark recommends veggies that have large seeds as the easiest to start growing. Squash, cucumbers and other gourds make for easy-to-grow, tasty vegetables that are perfect for first-timers.

Additionally, squash does well in the low humidity of Colorado, as it mitigates the potential for bacteria and fungal diseases to form on the plant. Squash and cucumbers are susceptible to frost damage, so it’s a good idea to wait until after the danger of night frost has passed to begin growing. Both are relatively quick growers, especially in hot weather, so a well-timed sowing of the seeds should be able to avoid both spring and autumn frosts, even with the unpredictable Colorado weather.

While it is true that patience is a virtue, parents who are gardening with children and those of us who demand instant gratification in our lives might want to plant seeds with faster sprouting times. Beans are perfect for children, as they have large seeds that are easy to handle, and they begin sprouting within a few days. In addition to that magical fruit, basil is also a quick-grower that is ideal for children or lazy men who want to impress their girlfriends with their earthiness without getting their hands dirty. Basil does well both potted and in the garden, thrives in the summer and is an easy grow due to the fact that the seeds don’t have to be thinned.

Sprouts start showing in a couple of days, making basil a great low-maintenance, quick-reward plant perfect for those looking to get their feet wet in the gardening world.

Ultimately, the key to a successful garden lies not in the plants you choose but how you treat them. Clark warns against over- or under-watering your plants, stresses the importance of good soil and reminds us all not to get discouraged if a harvest doesn’t reap exactly what you sowed.

“Gardening is a life-long learning experience,” Clark says. “It’s best to just go out there and try everything you can just to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
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