5 Steps to a Home Garden with Arlington Parks
By Arlington Parks and Recreation
Posted on April 08, 2020, April 08, 2020

Man watering his garden

Home Gardening Tips and Tricks from Arlington Forestry and Beautification

Spring is a great time to get outside, work on a garden, plant a tree, or spruce up your lawn! In light of current stay-at-home efforts, Wendy Pappas, Arlington Parks and Recreation Urban Forestry Land Manager and Jeremy Priest, Arlington Parks and Recreation Forester, wanted to share 5 steps on how you can start a home garden while you’re at home.

March and April are great times to start a summer garden for some plants, but keep in mind gardening or landscaping work can be done almost all year here in Texas. The fall and winter are also important times to work outside since that is the best time to plant trees and some crop species

Planting a Garden

  1. Determine space & sunlight
  • The first step to planting a garden is determining the space and sunlight you have available.For some Arlington residents with full tree cover you’ll need to select species such as leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, cress, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peas, spinach, and potatoes that tolerate shade.That is just a few most leafy greens can tolerate shade.
  • Most garden plants will not grow under heavy shade, but if you have trees with a lighter canopy such as pecan, bald cypress, or desert willow you may be able to grow shade tolerant plants. If you have oaks, pines, or elms you’ll need to move your garden to an open area. You can have the canopy of trees pruned up to allow more light, but “thinning” out the canopy is expensive and does not provide lasting light infiltration. We don’t recommend removing or topping trees to get more sunlight.
  • If you don’t have space for a garden there are other options such as sharing space with a friend or neighbor, or joining a community garden. There are community gardens at many of the churches in the area, you could also find space through other organizations, or through the City of Arlington community garden. Community gardening can help provide food to charitable organizations such as Mission Arlington or food banks.

2. Prepare the garden

  • After locating a space you’ll need to prepare it either by tilling or no-till cleaning. The idea is to remove competing plants to allow your garden to establish. Depending on the specific plant you select and the soil type, you may want to build raised rows to promote drainage.

3. Know your soil

  • Soils can be fine (also known as heavy) if they are made up of clay, or coarse if they are made up of sand. Most soils fall somewhere between these two soil types, but the important thing to know is that clay is a smaller particle so it packs together tighter and doesn’t drain as well as sandy soil.
  • If you are located in south or east Arlington you will likely have clay soils, but you’ll need to check your soil by wetting and feeling it. You can also do a drainage test by digging a small hole and filling it with water. If it takes more than an hour to drain you likely have a soil on the heavy side. Poorly drained soils take multiple hours for water to drain and may limit the crops you can grow successfully. Drainage is important to understand since plants can actually drown if there is no air in the soil.
  • Since clay soils take a long time to drain, the roots aren’t able to get any air, especially in low lying areas that stay wet for long periods. To combat poor drainage in gardens you can easily build and plant your crop on raised rows that allow soil to dry quicker. The down side to raised beds is that you’ll need to water more frequently.

4. Pick your crops

  • Now that you have a prepared bed for your garden, select the crop you want to produce based on the time of year. From now until April 15, here in Arlington, you could plant the following crops:
    -Beans (snap or lima)
    -Peas (southern)
    -Peppers (if transplanted)
    -Sweet potato slips
  • It’s important to read about the specific planting requirements of the crop you want to plant to make sure it will work with the space you have. Each plant will have different watering requirements and growing seasons. You’ll also need to know when to harvest your crop at peak freshness, since some plants such as spinach can become less palatable after a while.

5. Tend your garden

  • Gardening is very rewarding as long as you have time to devout to care and maintenance. The most important things you’ll need to keep up with over the entire growing season of you plants are watering and weeding.

    Garden plants are very sensitive to competition for water and light, so pulling weeds is high on the list of maintenance items.

Watering requirements will depend on the crop, the soil, and the bed design you use. To check soil moisture you can use high-tech probes or simply use your fingers. Soil should not dry out fully between watering, but you want to avoid saturating the soil as well. If you probe into the soil and find standing water you’ll need to cut back the amount of water you apply.

You may also see symptoms in the plant if watering is not correct. Wilting can occur from both too little water and too much, but the leaf will be crisp and dry if there is not enough water. Too much water can kill a plant quickly if it goes unnoticed. You may also need to fertilize your plants, and this can be based on soil tests or by visual inspection of the plants. Under nourished plants often develop yellowing, streaking, or spots on the leaves.

Planting a Tree

Although fall and winter are ideal times to plant a tree you can plant a tree any time of year. Spring is still a good time to plant, but the closer to summer temperatures we get the more water a newly planted tree is going to need since it needs time after planting to develop roots into the surrounding soil.

If you are planting a tree in the spring or summer, plant a smaller specimen. This doesn’t mean you can’t plant a large shade tree such as on oak, it means planting a smaller container size tree. Any 5-15 gallon tree can be planted now as long as you can water it well all summer and next summer.

You can also find “liner” trees that are only a few feet tall but grow quickly and need less water. Another advantage to liner trees is that they cost a fraction of the price of a larger tree, but will grow to a full size in just a couple of years.

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