Make your gardening efforts bear fruit

Many flowers, vegetables and herbs are available to grow at home.

Many flowers, vegetables and herbs are available to grow at home.

Few things are more satisfying than growing colorful flowers or eating vegetables picked fresh from the garden.

That might seem ambitious if you haven’t gardened before, but getting started this year need not be difficult.

Just follow these simple gardening tips to enjoy the benefits of fresh air, gentle exercise and healthy produce:

• Pick your spot with care. Plants need sun and water to survive. Vegetables and most flowers need full sun — at least six hours of sunlight every day during the growing season.

Plant close to an outdoor water source to make hot weather watering easier.

• Start with the soil. Because plants live by their roots, the most important part of any garden is below ground.

Most soil around houses isn’t ideal for plants, but can be improved by adding nutrient-rich organic matter, usually in the form of compost, shredded leaves or composted manure. Bagged soil mixes marked specifically for growing vegetables are ideal for containers.

• Keep your first garden manageable. For beginners, try a plot 4 feet by 8 feet, or half a dozen good-sized — 24–inch to 36-inch — containers. That’s enough to provide a satisfying harvest of herbs, greens or a few tomato plants while you get a feel for the amount of time and effort it takes to water and weed. Pots are the easiest to control soil, water and light. Creating a container garden of vegetables, herbs and patio flowers is a good place for novices to start.

• Get a head start. Some vegetables and flowers may need to be started from seed six to eight weeks before it’s safe to plant them outside. You’ll need to do this for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and petunias.

But other favorites like zucchini, cucumbers, beans and sunflowers are easily sown in the ground with seed. Planting time will vary in each growing zone, but is generally best in the late spring.

• Watch your garden grow. It’s fun for the whole family to observe seeds taking root and growing into plants. Be sure to water and weed regularly as you wait for the bounty of your first harvest.