9 Lessons from a Newbie Gardener

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuI have been getting really interested in gardening in the past two or three years, and this spring, I really dove head first into the gardening obsession (I think it's more than a hobby for a lot of people) for the first time.

As a total newbie gardener, I have SO MUCH to learn. I am reading as much as I can and picking the brains of other local gardeners who know their stuff. But much of what I am learning is just a matter of trial and error on my part - hands-on learning with my own plants and dirt in my own garden.

As summer gets into full swing and my spring efforts start to show their colors, I've realized that I've already learned quite a few things about how to make flowers and edibles grow (or not grow) just by seeing how things have gone for me.

I decided I'd share a little round-up of what my garden has taught me so far this spring (some of it the hard way!).

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuStop With All the Watering!
I can't tell you how many baby flower plants I killed in May by overwatering. I have a tendency to want to "do something" in the garden all the time, and watering (and watering...and watering...and watering...) seemed like a good thing to do...because plants need water, right? Wrong. They really DON'T need all that water. They will drown. Or they will rot.

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Katie GranjuKatie GranjuIt's the Dirt, Stupid
I have 8 different garden beds up and running now, and the difference between how plants are doing in the ones where I took the time to really till and prep the soil before planting and the two where I was lazy and just sort of dug and planted are stark. It's easy to get lazy about prepping the soil, but this laziness will come back to you later in unsprouted seeds, dead plants, and wasted dollars. Take your time prepping the dirt and you will have better results later on.

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuGerbera Daisies Are Tricky
I loooooove Gerbera Daisies of all types, so in April and early May, when the greenhouse-grown plants already in bloom started showing up in local nurseries and stores, I got a little carried away. I bet I spent $100 in one month on Gerbera Daisy plants alone, including some really fancy giant varieties. Well, most of them died. I overwatered them and put them in spots that just weren't right for them...Who knows? But now the ones that made it are starting to give me the occasional, less-than-healthy bloom. I've learned to keep water OFF their leaves and to make sure they get a good mix of sun and shade each day.

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuSome Annuals May Actually Be Perennial
When I first started choosing flowering plants for my garden, I was dismayed to see how many plants I coveted were listed as annuals. I didn't want ANY annuals at first, so I ignored anything that was listed as one at the nursery. But then as I talked to other local gardeners, and visited a few gardens, I found out that in our Knoxville area, many plants such as Gebera Daisies and Purslane will actually come back year after year if you just mulch well in the late fall so the roots don't freeze. This photo is of one of my two Bee Balm plants. Some nurseries list them as annuals, but here in Tennessee they should thrive as perennials.

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Katie GranjuKatie GranjuPay Attention to the Sun
When you buy seeds or a young plant to add to your garden, the nursery will recommend how much sunlight the plant requires. But unless you are really clear on how much sunlight each of your garden beds ACTUALLY gets, this info won't do you much good. I assumed that the bed in this photo got far more sun each day than it actually does, and thus, planted some things that didn't do so well. In fact, now that I have actually observed each of my garden beds carefully for the past two months, I know that this bed gets dappled sun in morning and afternoon, and at midday, one half gets pretty good full sun while one half is quite shady and cool. If I'd realized this when I first started choosing and adding plants, I would have had far fewer failures.

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuSometimes You Just Have to Surrender to Mother Nature
I have a gorgeous and thriving fig tree, and each year it's a battle between me and the birds to determine who will get to the ripe figs faster. This year, the tree has grown at least two feet and is LOADED with ripening figs. I decided that this would be the year that I would defeat the birds. With the help of my neighbor, we tricked the fig tree out with all kinds of little hanging mirrors and bells, intended to freak out the birds so much that they would stay away from my figs. Instead, as you can see from the photo, the birds decided that this fig tree with flair was THE happening place to be. These babies are doing very well on the diet of worms and regurgitated half-ripe figs that their conscientious mama brings them multiple times each day.

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuPlant Deep Enough
This little climbing plant is a purple flowering clematis that I've brought back from a near-death experience. When I bought the plant at the nursery in the first week of May, it was healthy and in full flower. However, I got lazy and did not dig a deep enough hole to plant it (you are generally supposed to plant at least one and one half times as deep as the existing roots of a plant are long). It died, or so I thought. It was completely withered to absolutely nothing. Just a dead looking ball of root. But it was an expensive plant, so I decided to try and save it. I read up on clematis and learned they require cool roots, buried deep and mulched well. So I started over in the same spot and did it right this time. I figured I had nothing to lose. Lo and behold, three weeks later, the plant has come back like Lazarus and is slowly creeping up the trellis I've provided. I have now replanted some other plants that were ailing with more attention to making sure I've planted deep enough and am hoping for similarly miraculous results.

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Katie GranjuKatie GranjuYou Cannot Kill Mint (and I Consider That a Good Thing)
Some people consider mint plants to be invasive because they will spread. Given my bumbling gardening skills thus far, I love the way mint will forgive my many mistakes and just grow and grow. It's one of the few non-flowering plants that I really love. I grew up with a big stand of mint just outside the back door of our farmhouse kitchen, so the smell of mint plants takes me back to childhood, meaning I like it even more. This stand of mint was already in this part of our yard before it was ever transformed into an actual garden. Who knows how old it is, or who planted it (our house is 102 years old). Now I've transplanted bits of this stand of mint to all my other beds, and it does great everywhere (except under super direct sun). Mint is one of my go-to plants.

Katie GranjuKatie GranjuLabel Your Plants
What is this plant? I have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE. I know I bought it and planted it some time in the past 8 weeks because it's in a spot where I started with a totally fresh slate - all new plants. But I somehow failed to label it with a little plant stake like I try to do with all of my new seeds and plants, so now I have forgotten what it is. Anybody know? I assume it will flower at some point, since I only planted flowering plants in this particular bed, and maybe then it will be more clear. But for now it's a total mystery unless one of y'all recognizes it.

- By Katie Granju
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