Extension Viewpoints: Advice to first-time gardeners: Think small, find your spot

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By Robin Young
PREVIEW Columnist
Another growing season is building momentum, with warmer weather, the rapid snowmelt and the arrival of the 2020 seed catalogs. Gardeners are drafting plans for new harvests. There is such a thing as being too enthusiastic, especially among novices.
Beginners can achieve their best planting results by thinking small. Starting too large is the most common mistake made by first-time gardeners. It is a good idea to limit yourself to 10 feet by 10 feet. If you grow frustrated because of too many things happening the first year, there is a good chance you will not feel like gardening for a second. You can always expand as your skills develop.
Other tips that beginners can start thinking about now:
Find the right location. You need at least 12 hours of sun per day for a vegetable garden. Ornamental gardens are not as fussy. If you plan on gardening in the fall, you should start by using an easy to use leaf mulcher to clean fallen leaves in your garden easily.
Gardens also need a convenient water source and rich, well-drained soils.
Good soil preparation is important to success, but be patient. Don’t force the soil when it’s wet. Soil structures will compact and get tight. That makes it tough for water and air to move through and greatly inhibits growth.
Squeeze the soil gently in your hand. If it crumbles a bit when squeezed, it is ready for use. It can take a long time to get good soil texture and just minutes to destroy it if you work it while it is too wet.
Keep records: You can learn a lot by recording things. What did you plant and when? What worked and what didn’t? Did you experience insects and disease? What were your management methods? Put those lessons to use the following year.
For vegetable gardens, choose easy-to-grow plants like leaf lettuce, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, green beans and radishes. Leave more challenging plants like cauliflower, melons, celery and broccoli for another season.
Deal quickly with insects. Make regular visits to your garden to check for plant pests. Don’t worry about the adults. You want to go after the eggs before they develop into juvenile leaf cutters. Most eggs are on the underside of leaves. Use soapy water and picking or simply remove the infested leaves. If you really want to see the show, put on a headlamp and go into the garden at night. That is when they are most active.
Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients and water. Get rid of them before they go to seed.
Mulching retains soil moisture, cools the ground and smothers weeds. Use natural and free materials like shredded leaves, newspaper, grass clippings and sawdust that also enrich the soil over time.
Avoid overcrowding. That stresses plants, invites disease and reduces yields.
Recruit pollinators. Adding clumps of pollen-rich blooms (think daisy-like coneflowers, sunflowers, asters) to a vegetable mix enhances pollination and boosts harvests.
Eliminate or ease up on the pesticides. Chemicals don’t discriminate. They kill the beneficial insects along with the bad.
Gardening can be a challenge in our high and dry environment. Don’t get discouraged; there is help. You can contact your local Extension office and be on the lookout for Colorado Master Gardener Days coming soon.
Shred It event
Shred It paper shredding event to benefit the local 4-H program — May 6 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Natural Grocers parking lot. The cost is $5 per box. All proceeds support the 4-H youth of Archuleta County.
CPR and first aid classes
CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.
We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.