published Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Stebbins: Join the Beginning Gardening Class

Tom Stebbins

It's time to sign up for the Beginner/Newcomer Gardening Class, sponsored and taught by the UT Master Gardeners.

The class is very popular because the participants learn so much and they have so much fun. Local merchants provide hundreds of useful gardening door prizes for the students. Food is provided by the Master Gardeners, who also are great cooks.

Topics include soil improvement, herb gardening, turf care, flowers, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, tree care, birds in the backyard and composting. The class meets at 6:30 p.m. on the four Tuesday nights in March at the UT Extension Office off Bonny Oaks. Call the UT Extension office for registration and details at 855-6113.

Beginner basics

Gardeners new to the South are often scared by rumors that it is too hot, too dry and too rocky for a good garden in our area. Don't be frightened by clay soils, garden writers or Latin names. Success can be enjoyed the first year, even if you don't know a pansy from a petunia. Let the Master Gardener volunteers help guide you to a successful yard and garden.

The best advice is to ask lots of questions. Get to know the experts at your local garden center. The best ones are the family-owned stores. Shop when the store is not real busy, so someone can spend time with you. Drive around neighborhoods to get ideas for your yard. If you are lucky, you may see the gardener. Don't be afraid to get out and ask questions. Gardeners are very friendly and willing to share ideas. Don't be surprised if they share a few plants.

Treat the entire property as a large art canvas. There should be an overall plan divided into separate projects. Flowers and plants are used as paints. The front yard can be a single painting. The backyard could be another work of art. Landscape design has many principles similar to interior decorating. Do one garden room at a time. Start with what excites you.

Gardening 101

Take pictures before and during the projects. Show these photos to all of your advisers. Use a garden hose or latex spray paint to make an outline of the new plan. This will show the actual size and shape of the new garden.

Determine the amount of sunlight the selected garden spot will receive. Sun-loving plants require at least eight hours of full exposure to grow well. Most of these like early morning sun best. A few plants can survive harsh afternoon sun. For best results, follow the gardener's mantra of "right plant in the right place."

Watering is another issue. When a garden is planted, it needs adequate water. A garden hose is just as good as an elaborate watering system. Plants with similar water requirements should be grouped together.

Get a soil test. It costs $7, but the information is very valuable. The report will give advice on many important soil characteristics. Add compost, peat and sand as needed to improve the soil quality. Buy these from the garden center, or look for local farms where aged manure is available. Manure and compost provide soil nutrients and improve the soil texture.

Time to start

The final word of advice is to just to get going. Start with a small area. Take breaks. Drink plenty of water. Watch your back. Avoid working in the hot part of the day. Don't get frustrated. If the garden isn't exactly what you wanted, that's OK. Plants can be moved around. Have fun.

There are many other gardening classes, workshops and events scheduled for this spring. For information and a calendar of events, go to the Master Gardeners of Hamilton County Web page at www.MGHC.org.

Contact Tom Stebbins at tstebbins@utk.edu or 423-855-6113.

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