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Ask A Peninsula Expert: How To Start Your Dream Garden

(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Spring is the perfect time of year to start thinking about planting a garden. With a warm, mild climate and plenty of sunshine, the Peninsula is the perfect environment for growing most plants. Certified Edible Landscape and Master Gardener Mike Klein shares an overview of some of the main things to consider before planting. Use Klein's tips and make this year the year you start your dream garden.

Mike Klein
UCCE Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco Counties
80 Stone Pine Road, Suite 100
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
(650) 726-9059 Ext. 107

Mike Klein is both a Master Gardener and Certified Edible Landscape Gardener with the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco County. To become certified, Master Gardeners spend 14 weeks learning about everything from botany and soil science to plant pathology and pruning, and they must also annually volunteer hours sharing their knowledge with other local gardeners. See the UCCE website for planting guides and localized regional gardening tips.

Geography Of The Yard

Klein says the number one thing to consider when starting a garden is the geography of the yard. First, analyze where the sun rises and sets. Where does the yard get sun? Does the house face north, south, east or west? It is important to ensure the right plant is selected for the right place. For instance, heat-loving palms shouldn't be placed in a shady north-facing yard, while tender ferns would suffer in the direct sun and heat of a south-facing yard.

Water And Soil

It is also important to consider the water and soil of the yard. Consider drainage and the requirements of the plants you want to grow in order to choose the best location for them. It is also important to take note of the yard's soil. Is it hard clay or loose sand? A good rule of thumb is always to amend garden soil with some quality organic compost, as it typically contains a well-rounded variety of nutrients that help plants thrive.

Select Plants

Decide on the type of plants to grow. Does your dream garden include vegetables, year-round color, large trees or masses of annual flowers for visual appeal? Also consider theme gardens like a butterfly or hummingbird garden, as well as if the garden will be used for entertaining, relaxation or as a kids' play area. All of these can influence appropriate plant choices to maximize a garden's enjoyment.

Trial And Error

Don't be afraid to take risks and try something new. If there's something you've always been curious about growing, why not go out on a limb and take a chance on it? Even with gardening failures, there is always a learning experience, whether it's how to better care for the plant or perhaps the location of a better planting spot. Always wanted to try growing potatoes or have a bulb garden? Throw some in the ground. What is there to lose besides a few dollars? Klein suggests to keep in mind that gardening is supposed to be fun. Don't worry about making mistakes or failures, and don't be afraid to take risks.

Choose Water-Wise Gardening Practices

In response to our recent drought conditions in California, many gardeners are looking for ways to still enjoy growing things while also being responsible and conserving water. Klein says water-conscious gardeners can choose water-wise plants such as California natives, or plants that grow in Mediterranean areas, South Africa and Australia and thrive in drier conditions.

Other great ways to reduce water usage in the garden includes lawn removal and making use of drip irrigation systems and mulch. According to Klein, removing a lawn is the number one way to reduce water consumption. He suggests replacing a lawn with an attractive rock or native plant garden, or even a handful of fruit trees which will have the added bonus of delicious fresh fruit in addition to a lower water bill. Drip irrigation system supplies are simple to install, and supplies can be readily located at local Home Depot or Lowe's stores. Mulching the ground around plants not only aids in stemming water evaporation, but also reduces weed growth.

Joanna Metheny is a freelance writer covering all things South Bay. Her work can be found on

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