By Laura Gutschke
Photography by Hannah Vickers
With a little knowledge, planning and effort, even novices can improve their home landscaping, grow healthy vegetables or naturally decorate an indoor or outdoor entertaining space.
Master Gardener Eddie Hutson of the Big Country Master Gardeners Association suggests beginners divide a gardening project into four parts: plot, plan, prepare and perform.
“Resist the urge to buy a plant on impulse,” Hutson said. “Sometimes people will see a plant at the garden center and think, ‘This plant reminds me of my grandmother who had one.’ Those plants are grown in green houses in the best of conditions. There are a whole lot of circumstances that affect how well they will do in your home.”
Decide what you want to grow and where. Are you interested in adding color and décor to an indoor or outdoor space, growing vegetables or creating an outdoor retreat?
For an outdoor vegetable garden, decide if you want to break ground or build container beds. Outline the potential space with a garden hose and look at the space 24 hours later to be sure you still like the location and design, Hutson said.
Analyze the space and research appropriate plants. For an indoor area, is the lighting natural or artificial? Is it near a high-traffic, outside door? Do you want something big and bushy near a front entrance, or a small plant on a bedroom shelf?
“The No. 1 reason plants die indoors is it’s the wrong plant in the wrong place,” Hutson said.
The lighting for the outdoor space also needs to be monitored throughout the day to determine if it is in full sun, full shade or something in between. Then, research plants and learn which will do best under your space’s conditions.
Note that some plants can be toxic to animals. Consult the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website aspca.org for a list.
Clean used gardening pots with a scrubbing pad to remove salt deposits and a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach to remove harmful molds and bacteria, Hutson said.
Odds are the dirt around your house lacks the nutrients plants need to thrive. Use a shovel or spading fork to loosen the soil down to about 6 inches. Rehabilitate the dirt by working in organic material, such as cotton burr compost, said Glenn Jackson, an assistant manager at Jackson Bros. Feed & Seed.
“That will help roots grow in the looser soil,” Jackson said.
Gather tool and supplies, build garden boxes or containers and buy additional gardening soil if necessary.
Put all the plans in action and buy the plants. Select flowers and vegetables in 4-inch pots with individual plants instead of the containers crammed with four or six small plants.
“The root system is going to be so much healthier,” Jackson said.
Use the information on the plastic tag included with the potted plants to properly space the plants in the bed and water as necessary.
“You want to water thoroughly rather than frequently. If you quickly hose down the plants, the roots will grow shallow. Water heavily so that the roots grow down into the soil,” Hutson said.
Outdoor plants will require the addition of three to four inches of mulch to keep out weeds and hold moisture in the ground. At the City of Abilene Environmental Recycling Center, rough-cut mulch is free and small-cut premium mulch is $6 a bag, Hutson said.
Once everything is planted, maintain the plants, research problems as they arise and enjoy the new space.
“The whole object of the game is to have the least amount of water and least amount of maintenance,” Hutson said.
Abilene All- Star Plants
Indoors: Airplane (or spider) plant, ponytail palm, pothos and prayer plant.
Outdoors: Coreopsis, New Gold Lantana, “Princess Caroline” Napier Grass, petunias (Laura Bush, Tidal Wave Silver and Cherry), salvias (Mystic Spires), verbenas (Blue Princess), vincas (Cora and Nirvana) and zinnias.
Vegetables: Cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, radishes, tomatoes, watermelon, yellow squash and zucchini.
Recommendations courtesy of Eddie Hutson with the Big Country Master Gardener’s Association, Glenn Jackson of Jackson Brothers Feed & Seed, and the Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s webseite, texassuperstar.com.
The Master Gardener Program is a service of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service to educate volunteers in horticulture and train them as volunteers for community projects, such as establishing and maintaining community gardening, teaching children how to garden and hosting plant sales and informational seminars.
To learn about upcoming public events in Abilene, visit the Big Country Master Gardeners Association’s website at txmg.org/taylor.