Late summer and early fall are probably the best times to start a garden. The ground is soft enough to till and fortify, the temperatures are descending, and the subsequent cold season allows sufficient time for the integration and breakdown of organic matter. 

If you've ever driven around York, PA, and admired the gardens of your fellow residents, you might be interested in starting one of your own. To that end, let's examine some top-notch gardening tips to help you get your hands dirty and your plants thriving.

Optimize Your Space

Urban Gardening in Raised Bed

Most people don't live on sprawling farmland, so they have to make do with the space they have. If your yard space is severely limited, you can still arrange an area for a garden by growing vertically. Rather than planting in rows, begin by dividing an area of your yard into square-foot segments. Then use supports such as stakes, trellises, cages, or nets so that your plants can climb up instead of spread.

Aside from the space-saving advantage, vertical growth allows your plants to resist ground-born hazards such as pests and diseases. Not only that, but you may find that a vertical garden is easier to water, maintain, and — if you're growing food — harvest. 

Image by Markus Spiske is licensed with Unsplash License

Focus on Value

To optimize your space further, focus on growing plants that can get you the most yield for the least cost. Some relatively easy-to-grow crops, particularly for a vertical garden, are beans, squash, and cucumbers. Consider growing leafy greens as well. Plants such as lettuce and spinach tend to involve less fuss because you're likely growing them for only a portion of their life cycle, so there's less opportunity for error.

Don't Skip on the Notes

If you'd like to maximize the growth of your garden, take and keep careful notes. As you start off, your gardening notes are going to be simple, mostly indicating where you've planted particular seeds and how well they're progressing. Then, as you maintain your garden over the years, take note of factors such as growth patterns. In this way, you can keep track of what you've done, how you've done it, and how successful your efforts have been. 

At the very least, your notes can keep you up to date about plant locations, which is essential for managing an effective crop rotation schedule.

Consider Seedlings

If you're totally new to gardening, or you've historically had trouble with certain plants, there's no shame at all in using seedlings. Seedlings are young plants grown from seed. Though they're a bit pricier than seeds themselves, they help you overcome the earliest hurdles associated with gardening, namely the proper planting and watering of seeds. Seedlings are already on their way toward flourishing, so mostly all you have to do is ensure a moist environment. 

Speaking of moisture ...

Be Careful With the Water

While all plants need water, their watering needs vary depending on various factors. Plant type is one such factor. Some plants simply require more water, in general, than others. Roses, for example, need frequent watering, while evergreen plants don't. Similarly, hearty herbs such as rosemary and thyme can withstand dryer conditions better than tender ones like basil and parsley.

The point in a plant's life cycle also determines how much water it requires. Beans, for example, may be thirstier when they start to flower, whereas squash demands more moisture when their flowers are in development. 

Consider the elements as well. Has it been hotter and windier than normal? Then your plants may need more water to keep them from drying out. 

Manage Weeds and Pests

Weeds and pests come with the territory of growing a garden. The broadest definition for both of these nuisances is "anything you don't want in your garden," as they either compete for resources or actively damage your plants.

To manage weeds, go with mulch, which refers to any material you can use to cover the ground. The ideal mulch for your garden may depend on its contents. For a flower garden, bark mulch would be appropriate. For a vegetable garden, consider something like straw. That being said, shredded leaves are helpful for weed control in either type.

When it comes to controlling pests, take a page out of the book of organic gardening. Rather than harsh pesticides, introduce beneficial insects into your plot. Critters such as ladybugs, spiders, and lacewings are natural predators of common garden pests, including aphids and mites. There are also particular plants you can place to repel pests. Alliums, for example, emit a smell that wards off harmful organisms.

Start Indoors

As time progresses and the weather changes, you'll have opportunities to grow different varieties of plants. For vegetable gardens, especially, you may find encounter greater success if you start certain crops indoors before the weather provides optimal conditions for their growth. 

Tomatoes are a popular candidate for this technique. Around six to eight weeks before the last forecast spring frost, sow your seeds in a container filled with moist soil and, if desired, a seed starter. Keep the container on a windowsill where it will receive plenty of sunlight, or use grow lights. After seedlings emerge, transplant them into larger containers as necessary. Finally, when the weather is warm enough, acclimate the plants to the outdoors before transplanting them into your garden.

Seek Expert Advice

Living in or around York, PA, you happen to have ready access to a terrific source of gardening know-how: Penn State Extension on Pleasant Valley Road. To help you prepare your garden, head to the Extension office to purchase a soil-testing kit, which contains the tools and instructions you need to gather a sample of the soil in your hard. After sending the sample to the university's Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory, you'll receive an analysis of the soil and customized recommendations to help your garden thrive. 

You can also call the Extension office at 717-840-7408 if you have any questions or concerns about your plants. Additionally, should you encounter challenges with specific plants, bring them to the office to get your problem diagnosed and receive advice for potential solutions.

Whether you're starting a garden for food, ornamentation, or just the sheer satisfaction of it, these tips can help you cultivate a plot to make you proud. If you have any advice for aspiring green thumbs, let us know. Reach out to us via our contact page to clue us into your secrets for a beautiful, lush garden.

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