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3 pieces of advice from gardening experts that you'll definitely want to heed

To start, you're definitely watering wrong.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Victoria Day long weekend means one thing to many of us in Canada: gardening!

But before you slip into those crocs and pull on those gardening gloves, there are some key things you need to know when it comes to prepping your garden for summer. Just how much you water and soil do you need? Do you have a plan for the sunny spots and parts that are shaded by that new tree you neighbour planted last year? These are the things that can make the difference between a bountiful garden that lasts until October, and one that shrivels up by June!

We turn to some bonafide gardening experts to tell us the top tips novice and green-thumbed gardeners alike should know before planting this May long weekend.

Don't be a knucklehead when it comes to watering!

Just like your body after one too many gin and tonics on the dock, your garden needs water – lots of it.

"Most people are total knuckleheads when it comes to watering," said Marjorie Harris, gardening columnist for The Globe and Mail and Toronto-based plant and garden consultant. "They don't water long enough or deep enough and they do it shallowly and too often."

If you're watering by hand, Harris suggest spending at least one minute attending to each major plant, such as a shrub or a smaller tree. Harris uses a hose with a nozzle and ensures she gives the plants enough water to reach the plant's roots.

If you're using a sprinkler, leave it in the garden for 45 minutes, and if you have an automatic system, leave it on for 35 to 40 minutes, she said.

Repeat this process twice a week and your garden will thank you all summer long.

Do not scrimp on soil

Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy garden, but it's easy to overlook.

"We become obsessed with what's going on above the ground – we're looking for flowers, we're looking for fruit, we're looking for nice, healthy green plants," said Mark Cullen, an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. "And sometimes we…conveniently forget that the top part of the plant is only as healthy as the roots are."

Cullen said the importance of having good soil "can't be overemphasized." This means you need organic matter, like compost or manure, piled at least five centimetres high, spread over your entire garden. This will enrich the nutrient quality of soil, he said.

If you're planting new plants, dump in a generous amount of compost after you dig the hole and before you plant the plant, said Cullen. This should give it a better shot at success.

Plan plan and plan some more

Just as you shouldn't go grocery shopping hungry, you shouldn't go garden shopping when your imagination is running wild.  

"Write down what you need before you even go," said Frank Ferragine, a garden expert based in Bradford. "If you get the wrong plant for the wrong place, it's always going to struggle."

Ferragine suggests taking a good look at your garden pre-shop and acknowledging how much sun it gets. Plan to buy plants that are most likely to thrive based on their access to sun. You might also want to create a theme, such as white and red flowers to mark Canada's 150th birthday, or all-white flowers that will still be visible at night when you get home from work late, he said.

Then, snap photos of your existing garden. Take them with you to a garden centre where a professional can help make sure your plans are on the right track, he said. But beware: May long weekend is a notoriously busy time for garden shopping. Go early or late in the day to avoid the rush.


Katrina Clarke is a Vancouver- and Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.

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