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Want to start a garden? Here’s a few pro tips
Forsyth County Master Gardeners
Forsyth County Master Gardener Gerry Jones works on his produce garden. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

This article appears in the April issue of 400 Life.


The weather is getting warmer, baseball is back and Easter is just around the corner. It’s safe to say that spring is back in Forsyth County. 

With nicer weather comes the return of another popular hobby: gardening. While experienced gardeners know what they’re in for, many gardening newcomers may have questions on how to get started.

Luckily, some experts gave their opinion on what newcomers should know.

Julie Delano, who focuses on plants and flowers, and Gerry Jones, who has a robust produce garden in addition to his own flower gardens, are members of the Forsyth County Master Gardeners — a program hosted by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension office, which provides information based on the latest research through programs, workshops, blogs, field days and other methods, and the school’s college of agriculture and environmental sciences.

Both have gardened since their youth and had a few pointers for newbies.

First and foremost is finding a flat place where plants can get the sunlight necessary to grow. 

“Part of knowing your garden is knowing how much sun you get,” Delano said. “You need to know how much sun and how much shade is in the area you want to go plant. That’s important. It makes all the difference in the world.”

Jones recommended plants getting a full eight hours of sunlight each day, even if the time is divided.

Once gardeners have their light and water sources planned, the next step is to look at the ground.

“One of the most important things, before you start planting, is you really do need to know your garden,” Delano said. “Soil is important. A lot of people don’t want to get their soil tested, they don’t want to bother, but at least amend [or add to] it. Georgia soil is clay. It is tough. It is really tough on plants.”

Soil can be amended with garden soil, compost — Jones has his own compost pile in his back yard — or fertilizers, which are falling out of favor as organic gardening becomes more popular.

At this point, the prep work is done and next comes actually putting plants into the ground.

Delano encouraged future flower gardeners to experiment with both annuals — which need to be planted each year — and perennials, or plants that live for more than two years. 

 “It just depends how much time you want to give them,” Delano said. “Any type of perennial, you would think it is easier because once they’re established, you just kind of let them go, but they do need a little bit more care. Annuals they really don’t need a lot of care.”

When it comes to produce, Jones also recommended new growers try different things but said there are a few staples.

“Most vegetable plants are pretty tolerant, but most people start with tomatoes, beans. Most people could grow those,” Jones said. “Even the squash and zucchini, those are common.”

Once the plants have been decided, planted and are growing, gardeners need to keep them watered, though not overly so, and free of pests. 

“That’s the primary things that a new gardener has to deal with is diseases or insects eating the garden up,” Jones said. “How you choose to deal with that is a different story. Most organic gardeners don’t spray their plants with poisons. I’m a little more flexible on that. If I can control them by hand-picking the insects off the plant, then I will.”

Delano said perhaps the most important part of getting a garden together is doing something that gardener can be proud of and planting something that is pleasing to look at, or, in the case of produce, eat.

“Even if you just want to do one thing in your yard, try to create a focal point, whether it is a flowering shrub, flowering tree or a beautiful obelisk or trellis with a climbing vine that flowers,” she said. “Any kind of focal point in your yard, plant it where, if possible, where you see it. Where you can look out and enjoy it every day, not where your neighbors can see it. That’s nice, but do it for you.”