Special to the OBSERVER
Spring really is here, even though we have experienced some below average temperatures for most of March. If you are planning on growing flowers or vegetables this year, now is the time to plan your garden. Whether you are planting seeds or buying transplants, it is a good practice to look ahead at what space you have for your flowers and what your family will actually consume in vegetables. Select vegetables that your family commonly eats so you can avoid waste, but don't be afraid to try a few new things to keep your garden exciting and new. It is always advisable to keep the size of your garden within the realm of your care; smaller gardens may be beneficial to new gardeners or small households because of the ease of maintenance and costs. If you have great success and want to expand next year, that is preferable to starting out huge and giving up half way through the growing season.
Before starting seeds or buying transplants, take some time to map out your existing gardens to make best use of your space and to visualize how the garden is going to look. Look at your plant growth habits, taller plants should be planted so they do not block the sunlight from lower plants. Plants also can spread horizontally, take this into account so one plant doesn't crowd out another by the end of the growing season. Place perennial plants, such as rhubarb and asparagus, together along one side of the garden to avoid moving them or working around them year after year.
If you are starting a new garden this year, or looking to move your existing garden, it is good practice to evaluate potential sites for necessary elements that makes a garden productive. The site needs to be relatively sunny, receiving at least 6 hours of direct sun daily (more is better). It is best to have a moderately level site that is well drained and free of any standing water. This means your soil should be loamy, not clay or sand only, but a combination of both. Too much clay means wet roots and potentially your plant roots will rot, too much sand will not hold the water and your plants will be wilting all the time. The garden should be located far enough away from trees to allow for sunlight and to reduce competition for water and nutrients. Good air circulation will help prevent disease and produce stronger plants, however, too strong of winds can damage your plants.
Sometimes these elements are not all readily available in your useable space and this is where a raised bed could be established in a traditional gardens place. Raised beds can be used; this can be as elaborate as buying wood materials to build raised beds or just mounding soil above the height of the normal soil horizon to create a raised bed without walls. This will help with soil drainage and will also allow you to place it where it is protected from strong winds, but has the best light.
Regardless of what you are planting, take the time now to plan and you will enjoy your garden so much more.
Colleen Cavagna, Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator