Having a garden sounds great! Or does it? If you’re thinking about starting a garden this spring, take a look at these myths about gardening. Here’s the truth about what you really need to garden.
How much space do you need for a garden? Don’t you need tons of land?
This is perhaps the most common gardening myth – that it requires tons of space. When it comes down to it, all you really need is a single pot of soil. But let’s say that when you ask about space for a garden, you mean a recognize plot of cultivated land. Even then, the answer is no, you don’t need lots of space. In just a 10’x10′ plot, you can grow several tomatoes plants, a few peppers, squash and/or zucchini, plus greens and herbs. In other words, plenty of summer vegetables. So in a very general sense, the myth that gardens require a lot of space is busted.
Having said that….the amount of space you need is more than just marks on a tape measure. Not all 10’x10′ plots are created equal in terms of soil quality or hours of sunlight. And, of course, the concept of how much space your garden needs depends on what YOU want out of a garden. Many people visualize their garden as a designated section of their yard. It certainly can be that, and if that’s what you prefer, then you’re garden can be as big or as small as your yard permits.
Keep in mind that your garden doesn’t have to be a single designated area and it doesn’t have to be an orderly plot. Your yard layout might mean the largest single plot you can cultivate is just a few square feet. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your garden dream. Cultivate that plot, of course, but look at other areas of your yard and see where you might be able to work in more plantings. Herbs are lovely as part of a perennial border or incorporated into a flower bed. Many cool season crops, like lettuce or cabbage, do well tucked into a shady corner.
And though this is controversial for some, remember that you generally aren’t required to grow grass in your backyard at all. If you want a lawn, by all means have one. Though consider using a drought tolerant grass that doesn’t require supplemental water and damaging fertilizers. But if you only have backyard grass from a sense of obligation, feel free to replace it with native plants, flowers and food producing plants.
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You can only garden in the summer
Summer is the most traditional time to garden, at least for food crops and flowers. In most zones, it’s the only time temperatures are warm enough with enough hours of sunlight for annuals, fruits and vegetables to grow. So for certain crops, yes, summer is the only time of year to garden. The exception to that would be people with greenhouses or other types of climate controlled growing structures.
In all but the coldest climates, however, it’s possible to grow some greens and vegetables, in the spring and fall, and even into winter. It’s a matter of knowing what will survive, or even thrive in cooler temperatures and planning accordingly. For a wonderful guide to growing food all year round, check out Nikki Jabbour’s book
Keep in mind that your garden can (and should!) include perennial plants, many of which will continue to have foliage or structure over the winter. While they will basically be dormant, they’ll add visual interest to your garden and yard and they can serve as habitat for birds and small creatures. In some cases, you can begin tending to these plants, including pruning, shaping and even transplanting, weeks before the soil warms up enough to do most other garden tasks. Always check a reliable source for the proper time to prune or transplant, of course.
A garden MUST have flowers or vegetables or be super tidy
There’s absolutely no “must” when it comes to your garden. Do you want to grow vegetables? Have at it! Not interested in cultivating food? That’s fine, just grow flowers or herbs or whatever makes you happy. Love the look of a very formal garden? Go for it! The point is, your garden is for YOU. Barring HOA or zoning concerns, grow what makes you happy. Lay your garden out to please yourself and meet your own needs.
One exception – I would gently urge you to do research on any perennials you want to plant. Some non-native perennials spread so rapidly that they are actually harmful to the ecosystem.
When you can, buy perennials from a nursery that specializes in pure strains of plants native to your area.
I would also ask you to read up on the harmful affects of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. While most of the choices you make in your garden should be to suit yourself, invasive plants and chemicals affect other people and the entire ecosystem. Make your own choices, but make sure they’re informed and considered.
Your local native plant society is a great resource. If you’re on Facebook, consider joining the Pollinator Friendly Garden group. It’s full of enthusiastic, knowledge gardeners from around the world.
A garden means free food.
In the most basic sense, this is sort of true. When you go to the garden and pick a tomato, you’re not paying for that particular tomato. But you probably paid for the tomato plant, or the seeds, and you might have spent some money establishing the planting area or buying other garden supplies or tools. It’s really easy to end up spending a tidy sum creating your “free food” garden.
Planting a garden can be a great way to reduce your grocery bill. But if that is your goal, you’ll need to prioritize that when you plan your garden.
It costs a lot of money to garden
Any hobby or activity can cost a lot of money. And if you have room in your budget, by all means invest in your garden or other things that bring you joy! But know that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a garden. It’s possible to grow seasonal vegetables, flowers and even many perennials from seeds. Seeds are quite inexpensive and a packet might last you a season or two, depending on how much you grow. So at the most basic level, you can buy a few packets of seeds and put them right into the ground or a container.
You’ll likely find the fruits of your labor are better if you make some strategic purchases, though. To garden frugally, prioritize things that will enrich your soil, save you time or increase your food yield. Also consider prioritizing gardening tools that are adaptive or ergonomic. They might cost more upfront, but they can save you from strain or discomfort.
When possible, grow plants from seeds or propagate plants from friends or neighbors. Stick with native perennials that don’t need supplemental water or fertilizer. To learn more about the importance of including native plants in your garden, check out Doug Tallamy’s excellent book
In order to garden you need to be young or able-bodied
Gardening can be very physical work, but it doesn’t have to be. Many people care for a garden despite infirmity or disability. Containers and raised beds can make tasks like planting and weeding easier and accessible. Accessible garden design, including wider paths and level surfaces, allow those who use wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility aids to get around safely and easily. Adaptive and ergonomic tools and equipment are designed to make garden work more manageable for those with disabilities or limitations.
This page has many resources to help people with physical limitations or other disabilities enjoy gardening.
Having a garden takes a ton of time.
There is definitely going to be a time investment if you want a garden. But it’s relatively easy to customize your garden to the amount of time you’re willing or able to spend on it. Generally, the majority of garden work is at the beginning of the planting season, especially if you have to create new beds or planting areas. But even that time can be carefully squeezed into your schedule. The rest of the season, your garden will need regular harvesting, some weeding and perhaps supplemental water or fertilizer. Of these, only the harvesting can’t be neglected or automated.
If you’d rather not spend time picking produce and weeding, you can always plan a perennial herb and flower garden. While it will likely still require some seasonal maintenance in the spring and fall, it often needs very little oversight during the growing season. If time is a premium for you, pick the lowest maintenance, native perennials for your zone. Once established, they will need very little care but they will bring you tons of joy and satisfaction. They’ll also enrich the ecosystem. You don’t even need to cut them back in the fall. If you leave the stalks and dead flowers, you’ll be offering habitat for native insects and food for birds all winter long.
Your local Native Plant Society can be a great resource planning an ecologically friendly, low maintenance perennial garden.
As a special bonus, when you join you’ll receive Splendor on a Shoestring, my guide to finding silver, china, linens and other home items on a budget.