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Gardening made easy for the beginner

Spring has sprung and it’s time for all those gardeners to whip out their shovels and start getting down and dirty in that flower bed. 

But for some garden novices, the garden/gardener relationship is a bit more complex. We would like to start digging away at that flower bed full of weeds, but determining the difference between a hoe and spade may be a source of confusion. So instead we turn green with envy at our neighbors’ blooming buds and in defeat and frustration swear off gardening all together. 

But don’t fret, all ye potential green thumbs! Help and advice is just a local garden center or nursery away and as it turns out, with their help, a little time and some patience, gardening is not all that complicated. 

Lacy Cates from Bev’s Bloomers explained that conditioning your soil is the best place to begin. 

“Make sure that you are starting with good soil in your garden,” Cates said. 

It’s common in the area to have clay-like soil, in which case Cates suggests mixing compost in with your soil to create a healthy future home for your plants’ roots. 

“And make sure that you are buying good healthy starts that are for the zone you are in,” she adds. 

For those novice gardeners, who don’t know the difference between a perennial and an annual — starts are young plants. Cates explained that it’s crucial to buy healthy plants and make sure they are well watered before you plant them in the garden. 

Lake County is located in a zone 4 climate, which means that we have long, cold winters in Montana. So choose your perennials accordingly.

Cates explained that the local garden centers and nurseries cater to the local gardeners and understand what grows well locally. Often times, the plants that are sold at bigger chain stores are started in other states and don’t necessarily do well in Montana’s climate.

“All (the green houses and garden centers) in the valley grow things that are going to do well for our customers,” Cates advised. “We want them to have success, so they’ll come back.”

For those of us who have a flower bed full of weeds and can’t tell the difference between a weed and a perennial, Cates explained that it’s up to you what to remove. 

“A weed is something that you don’t want in your flowerbed,” Cates said, simply. “You can take out anything you don’t like the looks of.”

She explained that if you want to leave in dandelions because they have a pretty yellow flower and make your children happy, it’s up to you.

But she also noted to tell the difference between a perennial and a weed, one must look no further than the growth pattern. 

After removing everything you don’t want in the garden, and mixing your soil with compost, now it’s time to actually transplant your starts into their new home. Beware that the transplant may be shocking to the plant, so it’s important to ease that transition as smoothly as possible by watering the plants as soon as they are in the ground. 

Mulch can then be spread on top of the garden to protect the garden from weeds taking root. And it can also be spread on the top of the perennials in the fall to keep them warmer during the winter. 

Starting a 10-by-5-foot garden can cost you anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the plants you choose. Most people plant perennials and fill the rest of the garden with colorful annuals every year. Perennials are a bit more expensive, but gardeners will save money in the long run because they come back every year.  

Other than that, Cates said to remember to water your garden twice a day in the dog days of summer to keep your flowers perky and your garden full of happy, healthy plants. 

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