January in San Dimas is a great time to think about gardening. Whether you are drawn to the idea of growing your own food, beautifying your surroundings or replacing a water-hogging lawn with drought-tolerant landscape, now is the time to get going.
Gardening offers something for everyone, regardless of age or inclination. While adults may appreciate gardening’s practical purposes, for young children the garden is a magical place of exploration where they can enjoy the outdoors alongside a parent, digging in the dirt, planting seeds, observing newly emerged seedlings, and discovering the pollinators that come to visit. For school-aged children the garden becomes a hands-on learning lab — a welcome break for students who have been glued to a computer screen for all their lessons. Gardening offers science and math lessons at every grade level and provides inspiration for creative expression in the arts and literature.
But how do you embark on a horticultural adventure? That is often the stumbling point. While the idea of gardening can be alluring, some people are just not sure how to start. Others may have tried, failed and given up. Do not lose hope! Usually the problem lies in a lack of information, so keeping some basic considerations in mind will greatly improve your chances for success.
Keys to Success
Good planning is one of the most important foundations to gardening successfully. Planning consists of several phases that help you to clarify your goals, choose an appropriate method, identify the best place for your garden, and decide when to get growing.
In order to choose a gardening technique that fits one’s lifestyle, Master Gardener Stephen Williams recommends people start the planning process by asking themselves basic questions.
Answering the following questions can help new gardeners figure out what type of garden will meet their needs and fit their lifestyle:
• How much time, energy and money do you have for gardening?
• Who is committed to helping?
• What types of fruits and vegetables does your family like to eat?
• Do you want a flowerbed to enjoy outside or a garden that produces fresh cut flowers for your table?
• How much space do you have to garden?
• What type of soil do you have?
The next step is to select a good site for growing. Williams recommends you select a site that gets at least five or more hours of sunshine each day and has a handy source of water, especially for vegetables.
If this is your first garden, consider starting small. Growing in pots filled with planting mix can be a great way to get your feet wet. They can be placed close to the house and filled with your favorite herbs or patio-sized vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.
Gardeners who desire a larger harvest and are willing to make a greater commitment may choose to grow in raised beds. These are enclosed planting beds that sit on top of the existing soil. Raised beds can be constructed from a variety of materials and may be any length or design.
Those who dream big may be inspired to start a garden in an area of their property that is currently covered with grass or weeds. This is the most labor-intensive method of gardening, especially in San Dimas. Our heavy clay soil is difficult to work and requires large amounts of compost to make it garden ready.
• Soil-building enthusiasts like Debra Gibbs, a local San Dimas gardener, are finding success with sheet mulching, a less exhausting, no-dig soil improvement technique. This method involves covering an area with cardboard, compost and woodchips. This process kills off undesired plants, and introduces beneficial organisms that break down the pile, resulting in healthier soil and fewer sore muscles. Gibbs said she was amazed upon discovering that the compacted clay soil beneath her pile of mulch had been transformed into a rich, soft soil teeming with earthworms.
• Some gardeners have abandoned in-ground gardening altogether. Williams, who has more than thirty years of gardening experience, said, “I’ve just done that for too many years, fighting that hard clay soil, so now I am growing in raised beds.”
Get a Head Start
Now is the time to decide which plants you want to raise. Look for those suitable to your environment, and find out when to plant them.
Williams recommends gardeners start preparing for spring planting in January.
“That means starting seeds indoors,” he says. “By doing this you can get a jump start on the season and have plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, ready to go into the ground in February or March when the weather warms up.”
Many vegetables and herbs can be started indoors, while others can even be directly sowed outdoors this month. For a more complete list of gardening activities for January, see Yvonne Savio’s “January Gardening Tips for Los Angeles County Residents.” Savio is the former Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.
If you are a new gardener, seek guidance from experienced growers. Ask for advice from successful gardeners you know, read books, watch webinars, or take a gardening class.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
“Vegetable Gardening for Beginners,” a free, downloadable book is an excellent resource for new gardeners. It provides all the basic information a beginning gardener needs.
Gardening In LA is Savio’s fabulous website. She provides a treasure trove of information on just about anything having to do with gardening.
Williams teaches a home gardening course for adults through Mt. San Antonio College’s Community Education program. His class covers everything one needs to get started, with an emphasis on organic gardening. Williams said, “My students often tell me how their gardens are so much better now, after being in my class.” This free, six-week course is offered online, and students may enter at any point. If interested, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a gardening method for every person. Pick the one that best fits your lifestyle, and get growing!