Gardening 101 – the Basics – Spring 2020

— Written By

Gardening 101: The Basics
By Sharon Mendelsohn, Master Gardener℠ Volunteer in Henderson County

garden tools

Time to get those garden tools out!

Our Master Gardener℠ volunteer helpline frequently gets calls from homeowners new to Henderson County or to gardening in general. These callers ask great questions, and many come down to this one: “What will grow well in my yard?” Here are some tips to figure out the answer:

Where are you?

Weather varies significantly from one part of the state to another. The primary guide in determining which plants are well suited to an area is the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. The map divides the country into 13 zones based on average minimum temperatures. Each zone is further subdivided into A and B sections.

North Carolina covers Zones 6, 7 and 8. There are no clear-cut lines between zones. Any spot can be warmer or colder than the rest of a zone because of air drainage or elevation. This microclimate can occur in your own yard!

For the most part, Henderson County lies in Zone 7A. Visit Plant Hardiness to confirm your garden’s zone.

How’s your soil?

Good soil grows good plants. Most roots grow in soil’s upper layer so take good care of it. Add decomposed, organic amendments such as compost, manures and pine bark to increase nutrients and beneficial organisms, and to improve drainage and aeration. Amendments can be added as you prepare the bed for planting perennials and annuals or as a topdressing for existing plants.

How can you tell if your soil is healthy? Have it tested by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This test is much more accurate and complete than any store-bought kit. It will analyze your soil’s pH and key nutrient levels, and will provide specific lime and fertilizer recommendations. Using only as much fertilizer as needed minimizes plant burn, reduces nutrient imbalance and runoff, and saves money, time and natural resources.

There is no charge for testing between April 1 and November 25; a peak-season fee of $4 applies otherwise. Stop by the Extension Office for instructions and supplies.

How much sun and rain do you get?

Be aware of the amount of sunlight and moisture your yard receives. These are important factors in determining a plant’s ability to grow in a specific location.
Some plants require shade or filtered light while others need full sun (at least 6 direct hours) for best growth. Before choosing plants, observe how many hours of sun and shade various parts of your yard receive.

While most plants need to dry out slightly between watering, they can’t tolerate standing water or drought for extended periods. Check soil drainage by digging a hole 12 to 15 inches deep. Fill it with water and see how long it takes to drain. If water remains in the hole after 24 hours, the soil is poorly drained.

If drainage is a problem, you have several options. First, select plants that are tolerant of wet conditions. Secondly, make site changes to improve drainage, such as using raised beds or installing drainage tiles. Do not place gravel in the bottom of the planting hole; this will actually decrease drainage. Thirdly, incorporate organic matter such as pine bark mulch to improve aeration and drainage.

What tools do you need?

High-quality tools are an investment. The right tool will not only make the job easier, but will be safer for you. Our top ten must-haves include:
1. Round-point shovel
2. Square-edge spade
3. Spading fork, hoe or cultivator
4. Garden and leaf rakes
5. Hand trowel
6. Hedge shears
7. Bypass (scissors-style) hand pruner
8. Bypass lopper
9. Gardening gloves
10. Wheelbarrow or cart

What to plant?

Start with plants suited for this area. Take a look at the Plant Toolbox, a searchable database of 19 plant categories arranged alphabetically from annuals to wildflowers.

For the home vegetable gardener, visit Home Vegetable Gardening and download a 24-page document filled with helpful information.

Need more help?
The N.C. Cooperative Extension of Henderson County office offers materials on a wide range of gardening topics. Also, Master Gardener℠ volunteers in several public venues. Visit the grounds of Flat Rock Playhouse, Bullington Gardens or the Community Garden in Jackson Park for inspiration.

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This information is provided as a service of the Extension Master Gardener℠ program of Henderson County. Got gardening questions? Call 828-697-4891, or email steve_pettis@ncsu.edu.