Newbie -- few 'get started' questions

eppsfamily(z5 CO)September 10, 2005

I'm sure I'm overthinking a lot of things, but as you all will quickly learn, I overthink EVERYTHING.

We recently bought a cute little house on about 1/2 acre. We have a VERY wide variety of landscaping (or lack thereof) and quite honestly, I have NEVER done much gardening or landscaping.

First question -- where is the best place to find info (opnline) on gardening in MY ZONE (5) specifically. I'd like to start by learning what will even survive in my yard!

Second -- I have approx. 1/4 acre piece of our lot that is virtually untouched (with the exception of a friendly neighbors kindness to mow down weeds every so often). It's dry, weedy and home to a few ant hills. What can I do and where should I start in soil prep? Approx. 1/3 of this area is intended to be used for our spring vegetable garden, but I'm not sure if there are things I should do to the area NOW.


Addie in NE CO

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creatrix(z7 VA)

Here's a good place to start- your friendly extension service.

Also check out the Soil Forum FAQ page for 'lasagna' bed prep. You would start now for spring planting.

Here is a link that might be useful: CO Extension site

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 7:19PM
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eppsfamily(z5 CO)

TY, but I must say, that Extension site was just a tad overwhelming!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2005 at 11:47PM
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First, go to your library and find "The Undaunted Gardener" by Lauren Springer or any other of her books. Lauren is an extremely proficient and talented gardener and a great writer and her books address gardening in challenging climates, specifically Colorado, where she lives (outside Fort Collins). You will find a wealth of gardening tips and information on plants that will survive and thrive under your tricky conditions and well as lots of photographic eye candy to give you inspiration. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2005 at 10:37AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Find a spot.....cover it with 10 laters of wet newspaper....pile on about 8 inches of leaves and cover that with bagged compost about an inch thick....keep adding water....and top off with more leaves and /or grass clippings.....and next spring come back here for suggestions on what to plant.
Don't try to learn all and plant all in one season.....don't try to do that in even 3 takes years!
Linda C

    Bookmark   September 11, 2005 at 2:12PM
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eppsfamily(z5 CO)

Lindac -- should all these steps be done at once, like in one day? Or is this something we can do a little at a time?

Does it matter whether the leaves are "fresh" leaves vs. dry/fallen leaves? We are pulling out a bunch of lilac bushes and thought of using the leaves from them.

What is meant by "bagged compost" you mean compost purchased by the bag at a nursery, or homemade compost placed in bags?

Am I on any kind of time crunch with the fall approaching? How would I continue to care for and prepare the ground through winter?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2005 at 7:16PM
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Start with a local nursery, as they'll be selling stuff that grows well in your particular version of zone 5 (there are a lot depending on where you live), and can tell you what works and what doesn't, and how to plant them, etc.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 4:51AM
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This is how I started in my new house...hire someone with a rototiller to strip the sod in a small area to be used for your veggies for next year, and till the soil. Till in some bags of manure and compost that you can buy at a garden center. Next spring you will have a small garden all ready to plant, while you see what comes up in your yard. You can always add more garden space. This small bed can also serve as a nursery for plants you buy in spring, until you know where to finally put them.

In the meantime, buy a beginners gardening book, softcover, at a local garden center or Lowes, and read it over the winter. It'll make you less nervous about what to do. Knowledge of basics will relax you more.

For fun, you can plant some daffodils and crocus this fall to enjoy in early spring.

Spend lots of time at local garden centers and talk to local gardeners. Buy gardening magazines like Fine Gardening or Garden Gate and send away for plant catalogs to read all winter. They have a ton of info in them (Parks Seed, Wayside Gardens, Bluestone Perennials, to name just a few with good info.)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 11:45AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

At the attached link, type in the name of your county and you will be given the names and phone numbers of local extension personnel to talk to. I would also take time to make a trip to the office, to see what kinds of pamphlets and other resources they have.

You will find bags of compost at the big box stores. You will also find bags of composted bark fines. I use that stuff a great deal. DO make friends at a locally owned garden center, that was very good advice. Your big box stores will sell all kinds of inappropriate stuff. And they rarely have any informed employees. The locally owned small garden centers can be a great source for the best plants and the best advice.

Once you've contacted your extension office, see if Colorado does soil testing for its citizens. According to their site, they do....but call and ask for specifics. Every newbie should know what he or she is dealing with in their new property. The link below will give you some soil testing information from their website.

Don't be misled by the appearance of the extension site. Go into each division: horticulture, consumers, etc. You will find a great wealth of easy to understand fact sheets.

Here is a link that might be useful: Click on 'County' , then type county name

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 3:27PM
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username_5(banned for no reason)


I can understand your feeling overwhelmed, it is never easy to transform a yard into what you wish it to be. Couple that with the fact that you are just starting the gardening process and lack even much of the basic knowledge and you have a recipe for frustration.

I strongly suggest you work on small areas one at a time and get your feet wet.

The resources suggested in previous posts are all terrific, but it will be you who has to go out and work the soil, condition it, plant, weed, water, fertilize and manage it. As garden areas become established and require less care you can work on another area. If you try and do everything at once you have a lot of work and time to expend ahead of you.

The vegetable garden area you mentioned sounds quite large. I have a 24'x24' veggie garden area that I am 'shrinking' to allow for a sandbox and ornamental flowers because I am finding that I simply don't need that much to grow the things my family of 4 eats. Next year it will be 16'x24' and that allows me enough to eat all the fresh produce I want and preserve enough to last until next season. My advice is only grow what you *know* you like to eat and leave just a small section for experimental plants that you aren't sure you will want much of.

To condition an area for planting mow down any existing vegetation and leave it rot in place. This makes compost which is the single best thing for any soil type. Once this is done you can roto till or use the lasagna method to 'take back' small plots for planting as you are able to.

I strongly suggest you use from now until spring to learn as much as you can, get some books, talk to the extension agents (although I find they often know nothing so just get their published literature) and in the winter get a graph paper notebook and start sketching how you want things to look when finished. Then start one section at a time as energy and finances permit.

I live on 1/4 acre (undeveloped when I got here), have been here for 4 years and *still* am adding areas and pots. I expect this will continue for another couple years at least. The moral is don't expect to do everything in one year. Take the time to learn, look at other people's properties that appeal to you and figure out each section at a time. Otherwise you will frustrate yourself and create something that is a maintenance nightmare and end up redoing it.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2005 at 3:58PM
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Congrats on your new house! I live in zone 5 too. I would start a bit on the veggie garden now, if you have time. Maybe just create a couple of raised beds and get them ready to plant in early spring. Garlic is something that you plant in the fall. I would set aside an area in the back for a compost bin and start filling it up with all of the leaves and anything else you have this fall, no big sticks or branches tho, keep them in a seperate pile. Also many shrubs and trees like to be planted now. Do you like lavender? It is one of my favorites, grosso is one that survives the cold, looks and smells great.
This winter when it is cold and everything seems gray, look at your yard and decide where you would like some more winter color. There are many plants that keep their shape and form during the winter months. I have one big bush, (don't know what it is called) but the branches are red. I don't notice it much in the warm months when it is covered with leaves, but it really stands out when it's leaves are gone and the snow is everywhere.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2005 at 11:57AM
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username_5(banned for no reason)

I have one big bush, (don't know what it is called) but the branches are red. I don't notice it much in the warm months when it is covered with leaves, but it really stands out when it's leaves are gone and the snow is everywhere.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2005 at 3:05PM
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