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Curing The Black Thumb Syndrome
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Curing the Black Thumb Syndrome

In my High Sierra community, thriving gardens are not so usual - many people don’t make the effort because of our harsh climate and short season. Quite often people driving by have stopped their cars and jumped out to comment on my garden and to ask me how to make a garden grow. Comments like “I have a black thumb, I kill everything I touch” or “I can do exactly what the directions say but nothing will grow” are so common! So how does a person who believes they are incapable of growing anything conquer this “black thumb syndrome”?

First of all, philosophically, I think we need to take ourselves out of the picture - get ourselves out of the way of the process, so-to-speak. If you have ever seen grass or wildflowers growing up through cracked sidewalks, you have seen the “will to life” built into all living creations from tiny seeds to giant redwoods. So number one, give yourself a break and believe that life wants to live.

Observing your particular environment for a while is a good start. Notice what is already growing in your yard, in your neighbors’ yards, and in your community. What grows and survives in the surrounding fields with little or no care? These are generally good choices for easy success. If it doesn’t grow easily or naturally, bypass it until you have more experience, knowledge, and confidence.

Then, start small. Pick a container, or a small area of your yard. Read about the plants you would like to put in or observe the area where they naturally grow to determine the type of soil and culture they need. Or ask at your plant nursery what is recommended. Do they grow well in poor soil, dry soil, wet or shady areas?

From your research or observations, prepare a small area and plant according to directions. For best success, I would recommend starting with seedlings or established plants bought at a nursery rather than seeds. If you want to get the best buy and are worried about losing the plant, buy from a discount store nursery. Make sure to buy or provide a nourishing soil - easily purchased at discount stores or nurseries. Generally just sticking a plant in the dirt you already have is not the best growing environment. Enriched planting soil, compost, composted fertilizer are all elements that can contribute to healthy plant growth.

Plant at the right time of year. In my cold climate in the High Sierra, early Fall or mid-June is generally the best time to plant. Early fall gives the roots time to establish before the cold weather sets in. June is generally the earliest time in the High Sierra to safely put in a seedling (though, as with this year, June snow is not unheard of!).

Nurture the plants you have put in according the their stated needs. Overwatering is one of the biggest mistakes new gardeners make. Read about what the plant “likes” - does it like to be wet or have a period to dry out? Of course, new plants will need ample water until they have established their roots and are growing successfully. Make sure to water immediately after planting. Mudding-in is a technique where you fill the planting hole with water and create mud to put the plant roots in. That ensures it has a moist environment even if the topsoil dries out. Make sure weeds are pulled so the plants don’t have to compete to get nourishment. Cultivate regularly around your plants so that water and nutrients can easily penetrate to the root areas.

When you have some confidence in your ability to keep a small area alive and thriving, you can do some garden design - creating a mix of heights and colors that will look well together. Mass plantings are always eye-catching. You can move on to trying out seeds if that appeals to you. And bulbs put in at the proper planting time according to individual directions and given a good environment and nourishment (bulb food) are almost a sure success in the garden.

So, in summary, give yourself a break and realize plants want to live; start your garden in a small manageable area; do some research about what your plants need; give proper nourishment, cultivation and water; and plant easy plants that you can see from example already thrive in your area. If a plant fails, perhaps it just doesn’t do well in your particular conditions. Don’t give up on yourself! Try another easier one. In the High Sierra, Bleeding Heart, Columbine (shade plants), Hollyhocks and Sunflowers (sun plants) grow practically like weeds. Find plants like these for your environment to give yourself the best chance of success. You can do it!


Street Talk

Good points!

Reply
  about 9 years ago
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