Why You’re No Good At Gardening (But Can Be)

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Wheelbarrow gardening after the first frost

The online world’s full of a few kinds of gardeners, but two seem most vocal: The kind who could make anything grow in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the kind who can’t even make things grow in their living room. Today we’re talking about the latter.

Some people are plant-killers. Savage, cruel murderers of little green things.

Don’t worry, we’re not judging you. We want to help you. We want to save our little green friends. So listen up. Here’s a few ways you’ve gone horribly awry.

Tired or crappy soil

Crappy soil is actually a good thing. My stepmom’ll tell you all about her dread of moving to Chicago many, many years ago. Born and reared in the American South, she hated to leave behind her long, hot growing season for the windy MidWest Chicago climate.

She moved to a newly-built subdivision, planted a garden, and was gobsmacked when she had the tastiest, biggest yield ever. Baffled that she could have such results, she investigated. Turns out all the land had been farmland since the days of yore, and her patch had been the pig-farm. All that porcine poop. Bacon waste.

Like I said. Crappy soil.

Photo: OakleyOriginals

Photo: OakleyOriginals

The alternative is that you’ve got soil you’ve recycled and used and used and used, sapping all the nutrients out. Whether you’re talking indoors or outdoors, enriched soil makes a whole world of difference. French farmers in Brittany swear by chopping up algae to decompose on their fields, resulting in arguably the world’s best onions. My local farmer’s market guy depends on mushroom manure to fortify his tomato planters. Even farmers in the medieval age knew to rotate their crops to allow land to replenish between growing years.

Talk to your local gardening pro to see what’s best to use in your area, or in your containers. Trust me, crappy soil, or fishy, is some of the best money you can pay when you’re looking to grow things.

Improper light

You know those little labels that come on plants? They’re there to help you. When they say “indirect light,” they mean it. The plants don’t want to be in direct sun. Think of them as the ginger Irish folk of the plant world. Direct sunlight makes them cry out in horror “I’m melting!” as they get burned and toasty and go whimpering into the night.

Take tropical plants, for instance. These are wonderful indoors, but a lot of people go “Tropical plant! That’ll be wonderful in my window!” But no. They hate direct sunlight. Think of tropical jungles — giant trees providing canopy and shade to the entire jungle floor, where your little plants thrive in the moist, dark underworld. So, no, not in your window. That’s why it goes from vibrant dark green and fades into a sickly yellow — over-exposure.

A place for us (well, your plants)

And if you’ve got a tree-lined shady yard, you won’t be growing any tomatoes, either. But you might have great luck with potatoes, lettuces, and all kinds of other shade-friendly foods.

If you’re buying an indoor plant, pay heed to what it actually likes and put it in an appropriate place. If you’re wanting to play Farmer Jones outside, then research what kinds of plants and foods are best suited to the light available on your land. Break crops up so you plant them in different spots on your property to capitalize on morning/evening light, full or partial shade, as the sun crosses the sky.

Plants are like people — they want to be treated as the unique individuals they are. The more research you do, the better your success.

To water or not to water

Just like with light, all kinds of plants respond in all kinds of ways to watering. If you were to water a cactus as much as you water a tomato plant, you’d kill it.

Plants like tropicals are drought-hardy, so they’ll last out a whole long time of neglect and can frequently go weeks between watering, making them perfect for people who travel a lot. But they thrive if watered every time they’ve dried out.

watering can night watering

Some people believe you should never water at night. And there’s a lot of truth to not watering your garden during the hottest part of the day — it can shock some species. There are plenty of plants want water all over them, whereas tomato plants again are special and want to be watered only at the soil-level because water on the leaves can create mildew that seriously hampers growth.

So I can’t give you a blanket “this is how you water plants,” and you can’t have a one-watering-technique-fits-all approach unless you only have one kind of plant around. You need to know what you’re planting, and what it likes. It’s really that simple.

It’s called schooling, yo

Learn about what you’re growing. I know it feels like a lot of work, but make a few notes, stick to the research at the beginning. If you have enhanced soil, good seed or plants, the right light for the right product, the proper watering amounts at the right intervals, and the weather works out in your favor besides, there’s no reason you shouldn’t at least have some success.

A really fantastic resource for any gardener or green-thumb-wannabe is the online Farmer’s Almanac. If you don’t want to be Googling until the sun comes up, it’s a great resource because it has specifics to all the growing regions in North America, and they do a great job of replying to all the questions posted on their articles.

Meet Mother Nature with Google

In the end, when it’s outdoor gardening, we’re always somewhat at the mercy of Mother Nature. There’s a reason the 4,000 or so years of farming culture has often drawn upon prayer and sacrifice to the gods and cosmos. Unlike them, we have Google and social media. When in doubt, ask friends, family, local gardening pros, and online communities how to tackle your green-thumb conundrums. You got this!

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.