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9 tips for gardening beginners – a former plant murderer

I used to kill plants quite a bit. I would joke that plants in nurseries cowered in fear when I walked by, hoping they wouldn’t be chosen to come home with me. When I first became interested, I wanted a lush, beautiful garden. I was able to do it, and you can, too. These tips will help novice gardeners stack the deck in your favor and make it a faster journey to a beautiful backyard.

1. Don’t worry if you aren’t great with houseplants. I think it’s easier to start gardening with plants that are in larger pots and outside, or just planted in the soil. Plants just weren’t meant to live indoors, and our climate makes it hard for them to survive, particularly since indoor plants are usually from shady, humid environments. Containers can also cause problems for plants.

2.Start with native plants, or at minimum drought-tolerant plants. Again, just because you kill houseplants doesn’t mean you won’t have success with other plants. It is easier in our climate to grow native and drought-tolerant species. You can always move on to exotic plants like roses or irises after you’ve got some gardening experience.

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3.Before you plant, make certain your irrigation system has been set up. This is essential in our area. One day of neglecting to water your plants can result in a yard full o’ dead sticks. If you’re new to gardening, you won’t necessarily have those ingrained habits of checking on your new friends daily, and you may not be able to accurately recognize water-stressed plants. It’s easiest to set up an irrigation system so you are less likely to lose plants to lack of water.

4. Check your soil before you plant. You might have great soil. There’s only one way to find out: check out this graphical guide to doing a quick, free at-home soil test. Don’t forget to check how well your soil drains, too. Poor drainage and low nutrition are two of most common reasons for dead plants. There are many ways you can improve your soil. You can improve soil by adding organic matter like compost or manure to it and watering it often to encourage its incorporation. You can also add plants to improve soil conditions. These plants can slowly improve the soil by shedding soil organic matter, breaking down compacted earth, shading it, and helping retain water. This task is accomplished by many of our native mesquite, Palo verde, and other plants.

5. Observe your yard every day, even if it’s for a few minutes at a time. It’s great if you can get out there a few times per day. Notice where the sun falls and where there’s shade, if you have any critters coming through, and the like. You’ll be surprised at how much information you can pick up just from sitting down for a few minutes and looking around with some attention. There are many microclimates that can exist in a garden. These microclimates will help you make informed decisions that will ensure your success.

6. While you’re observing your yard, make a habit of checking your plants every day. Not only does that let you unwind in your garden, it’s also an opportunity to start learning about your plants. You’ll notice when your plants have happy, well-watered plants. Or if they are getting too much sun or poor nutrition. You also have a chance to observe whether they are in the right place — are they getting too much sun or wind? Too little? Are they getting enough space? Don’t be afraid to move plants that aren’t doing well.

7.Find out more about gardening in the region. The best information will be provided by other gardeners, particularly the Pima County Master Gardens. They have great resources such as their Many useful online lectures can be found at no costThey meet several times per month to discuss a variety gardening topics. If they don’t have an answer to your dilemma, they will help you find one. They are trained to provide precise, science-based answers. You can also find books on local gardening and speak to people at native plant nurseries. Desert SurvivorsAnd Spadefoot Nursery. Register now for the Tucson Garden Guide!

8. Visit successful gardens. These could be your neighbours’ or friends’ gardens, or local organizations. Tohono Chul, Mission Garden, and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Learn how to plant your garden, learn what works, discover which garden designs work for you, and get ideas for planting.

9. Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself. Gardening is not something you can master. There will be mistakes. Some costly and some large. You might mistakenly plant something or lose a lot of plants to an irrigation failure. You might hate the shrub you have planted and need to water it at great expense. Even lifelong ultra green-thumb gardeners have these issues, so you’re not alone. These are part of the learning process.

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