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Adlen Robinson: 9 tips to jumpstart your garden from a local expert
Master Gardener Dennis Whittle and his wife, Linda, love working the soil and growing numerous organic fruits, vegetables and flowers. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

Have you planted a garden yet? It’s not too late. If you are new to gardening, or just consider yourself a novice like me, read on. For advice on all things gardening 101, I turned to one of my favorite experts on the subject, Master Gardener Dennis Whittle.

I asked Dennis to come up with a plan for people who want to have a garden but are just overwhelmed with where to begin and how to move forward. Dennis came up with some awesome advice and I am happy to share some of his best gardening tips.

1. Gardens need sunshine

Dennis said most vegetables need at least six hours of sunshine to grow — he also suggests you avoid areas on your property that might be overly wet and/or have poor drainage.

2. Consider raised beds

Dennis said for newbies and veteran gardeners alike, raised beds are simple to build and offer a solution to unforgiving Georgia red clay. Dennis suggests a 6- or 8-foot by 4-foot raised bed so your plants are reachable and you can avoid walking on the soil, thus compacting it.

3. Put a base down before you add soil 

Dennis said by adding a base to the bottom of the raised bed, such as newsprint or cardboard, you will help deter weeds from coming up into the bed.

4. Use good soil and fertilizer

Dennis recommends a garden mix type of soil. He says if you have a 4- by 4-foot bed that is 6 inches deep, you will need 8 cubic feet of soil. Dennis also said you will also need a fertilizer, preferably an organic one. Dennis gets his from Gardens Alive and said a 4- by 4-foot bed needs approximately 1 ½ cups of fertilizer.

5. Get your soil tested

Dennis said it never hurts to get soil tested and that the Extension office in Cumming is happy to do this for you.

6. What should you plant? 

While growing plants from seeds is much more economical, it is more time consuming and a bit late in the season if you want to have an early harvest. Dennis said to remember you want to space out the plants so they are not crowded. Check the growing instructions on plants to space them out correctly.

7. Weed, weed, weed

Dennis said to reduce, but not replace weeding, consider mulching with wheat straw. Before putting the wheat straw down, place a few layers of newsprint down. The wheat straw helps cut down on weeds and also helps lock in moisture.

8. Watering

Dennis said ideally, gardens need 1 inch of water per week. Watering early in the day is best. Dennis said the best watering is done directly, using soaker hoses as opposed to spraying plants with water.

9. Disease and pest control

Dennis said to check on your plants’ health several times a week. Not all bugs are bad. Dennis said certain insects, such as ladybugs, are beneficial to gardens since they eat mites and whiteflies. When you use harsh pesticides, you might kill beneficial bugs and who wants chemicals sprayed on plants that you hope to one day eat? Dennis said to be sure to choose plants that have strong immunities so you can avoid using pesticides altogether. Read the “code” on the plants instruction label.

Dennis and his wife, Linda, have a beautiful garden that is much bigger than most of us could handle. They love working the soil and growing numerous organic fruits, vegetables and flowers. I love that when the Whittles have a surplus of food, they generously give the food to those who are less fortunate. They are such good stewards of the earth. Thank you, Dennis, for sharing some of your gardening knowledge with our readers. You are both inspiring in so many ways.

While I do have a little garden envy, I am so happy to have you as resources for my little garden. 

Happy planting everybody. 

South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is the author of "Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home." Email her at