A beautiful garden provides a picturesque setting for your home. Winding pathways with landscaped borders, colorful blooms, fragrant scents and garden lighting can turn your home into a special place with stunning appeal.
Although everyone loves the beauty of a garden setting, getting it to look that way takes time, patience and good planning. Take a look at 10 important tips for good garden maintenance in northern NJ.
1. Healthy Soil
With any garden, it’s essential to start with healthy soil. Just because your soil looks rich and black, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or the right acidity level to plant a successful garden. The pH balance of your soil should be tested to ensure it will provide adequate nutrients for plants and flowers in your garden. You can gather samples from different locations in your yard and take them to a local Cooperative Extension Service or nursery for testing. They typically provide low cost soil tests that measure pH levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen. If you can’t find a local Extension Service, you can pick up a Rapitest Soil Test Kit for DIY testing or talk to a local landscape company who handles garden maintenance in northern NJ.
Your soil’s pH levels are critical to a successful garden. Without a proper pH balance, your plants and flowers will not be able to absorb adequate nutrients. An average pH level for healthy garden soil is usually between 6.0 and 7.2. If your soil pH is below 6.0, you can add lime to raise the levels. If it’s high, above 7.2, adding iron to the soil will lower it. When garden soil is healthy with the right pH levels, there’s less need for fertilizers or pesticides. The best time to have your soil tested is in the spring or fall when it’s the most stable from sun, water and new growth. This is also the best time to add necessary soil amendments and organic fertilizer if you need to boost nutrients and minerals.
2. Good Drainage
For proper garden maintenance in northern NJ, your garden needs good drainage. This often depends on the texture and composition of your soil which is determined by the amount of sand, silt and clay found in the soil.
- Sand – Sand constitutes the largest pieces of soil particles and makes dirt feel very gritty to the touch. Sandy soils drain quickly and tend to be nutrient-poor since nutrients drain out rapidly through the large spaces between the particles of sand. Sandy soils also tend to be low in organic matter and microbes that healthy plants need to thrive.
- Silt – Silt makes up the medium sized particles in most soil. Silty soil feels rather powdery when it’s dry and slippery when it’s wet. If you rub some soil between your fingers and it has a smooth texture like talcum powder, you have silty soil. Although silty soil is usually more fertile than sand or clay soils, the dense texture traps water and doesn’t allow for good drainage.
- Clay – The smallest particles found in soil are clay. Clay particles are flat and tend to stack together like sheets of paper. When dry, clay soils feel hard and brittle and tend to crack easily. When wet, they feel very slippery. Heavy clay soils are extremely dense and don’t drain well since there isn’t much space between particles. Clay soils don’t contain much organic matter, so plant roots have a difficult time growing and spreading.
3. Organic Compost
Since most soil throughout Bergen County areas don’t naturally contain proper nutrients for your garden plants, adding organic compost will add necessary nutrients and improve soil composition. Whether your soil type is mainly sand, silt or clay, compost will help hold the soil particles together and help the soil to retain essential moisture for plant growth. Compost also absorbs and stores needed plant nutrients and provides a food source for beneficial micro-organisms.
Organic compost will provide nutrients for your garden. You can usually purchase it at your local nursery, or talk to your local landscape company about regular garden maintenance in northern NJ areas. If you’re interested in making your own compost, combining brown layers from leaves and straw with green layers from food waste, grass clippings and livestock manure will make a good organic compost. Pile layers on top of each other, keep them moist and turn them over frequently. To keep compost neat and contained and away from small animals and rodents, buy a compost bin from your local hardware store.
Whether you use organic or inorganic mulch in your garden, it will provide healthy benefits for your plants and flowers.
- Organic Mulch – Organic materials like grass clippings, bark, straw and hay make good mulch that will insulate your soil from extreme heat and cold. Over a short time, organic mulch will break down into organic matter to feed the soil. Organic mulches are lightweight, affordable and easy to use.
- Inorganic Mulch – Inorganic materials like gravel, pebbles, rocks, stones and landscape fabrics provide the same benefits for your garden as organic mulch, but they will last longer and won’t attract insects or small animals. The biggest difference is that inorganic materials don’t break down into organic matter which improves soil texture and nutrients.
Both organic and inorganic mulch can be purchased from your local nursery or landscape company. Either type will help to reduce water evaporation in the soil and prevent weeds from popping up in your garden.
Proper fertilization is essential to a healthy year-round garden. Both dry and liquid fertilizers will add nutrients to the soil that might not get there any other way. Organic garden fertilizers work a little slower than synthetic fertilizers, but they release nutrients over a longer period of time.
- Dry Fertilizers – Dry fertilizers are easy to use and well-suited for covering large garden areas. They’re easily mixed into the soil and activated by watering. Dry fertilizers work slower than liquid fertilizers, but they release their nutrients slowly and provide long-lasting results.
- Liquid Fertilizers – Liquid fertilizers are sprayed directly on the plant foliage or onto the soil. They provide a quick, effective way to nourish established plants in outdoor pots or in your garden. They go to work almost immediately to provide continued, superlative growth and quick recovery for plants that are tired and malnourished. Liquid fertilizers quickly provide important minerals, enzymes and trace elements essential for healthy plant growth.
Fertilizer blends contain different amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, so it’s important to read the ratio that’s listed on the label. For example, a 5-10-5 fertilizer contains 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorous and 5 percent potassium. If you’re unsure about the right fertilizer your garden, talk to your landscape contractor about proper fertilization garden maintenance in northern NJ.
An important tip for garden maintenance in northern NJ that most homeowners don’t think about is proper aeration, providing airflow in the soil by punching holes or removing plugs of dirt. Like all living things, plants and flowers need air above ground for proper photosynthesis and underground for strong root systems. When your soil provides adequate airflow, nitrogen is held longer in the soil and absorbed longer by plants as essential nutrients. Adequate oxygen in your garden soil is also crucial to the survival of living organisms in the soil that provide numerous benefits to plants.
Since most soil doesn’t provide proper nutrients, drainage or airflow, aeration helps to provide just the right space between soil particles to hold air that plants will use. Heavy clay and silty soils have particles that remain close together, making airflow and drainage difficult, while sandy soils have larger particles that are spaced further apart. Sandy soils drain rapidly and contain a lot of air between soil particles which promotes faster decomposition of organic matter.
7. Garden Layout
Creating a successful garden depends on a good location in the yard, the size of your garden space, how much sun and moisture your landscape gets and other specific landscape concerns for your home. For proper garden maintenance in northern NJ, you’ll need to consider local climate and weather conditions which includes hot summers and cold winters.
Whether you plan a front yard or back yard garden, plan a layout that compliments the style of your home and accentuates architectural materials and features. For a front yard garden, you can create interesting borders along the sidewalk, driveway or main entrance to your home. For a backyard garden, create a colorful border around the patio or deck. If you have a large yard, add winding pathways that lead to a separate garden. Use plants and flowers in different heights, textures and colors.
8. Choosing The Right Plants
To ensure the best garden maintenance in northern NJ, it’s important to choose the right plants. When planting your garden, check with your local nursery or landscape company to make sure the plants you choose will thrive in your landscape and climate conditions.
- Spring Gardens – Rhododendrons and azaleas will add a bold dose of vibrant color to your early spring garden plan. For brilliant shades of pink, purple, yellow, orange and red, include hostas, alliums, primroses, daisies and roses. For an early-spring garden, you can’t beat tulips and daffodils for a big burst of spring color and hyacinths for wonderful fragrance.
- Winter Gardens – Flowering quince is a great winter plant that easily tolerates climate extremes and neglect. This deciduous thorny shrub can grow to 8 feet wide and provides beautiful red blooms in winter.
- Ground Covers – Ground covers help to control erosion and weeds in your garden. They provide a great way to soften hard edges on planters, walkways, driveways and patios. There’s a variety of ground covers that will thrive in Bergen County year-round. Thyme offers fragrant foliage and pink or white flowers in spring or summer. Bishop’s weed will thrive where most other shade plants fail. Bunchberry, with cute little white flowers, is a great choice for fall.
9. Specialty Gardens
Butterfly gardens are not only beautiful to watch, they’re also beneficial to the environment. By growing plants that caterpillars like to eat, and plants that adult butterflies feed on, you can create a wonderful butterfly garden that protects the butterflies and promotes a healthy, green landscape. Find a location in your yard that gets 5 to 6 hours of sun each day and is sheltered from the wind. Butterflies need the sun to warm themselves, but they won’t feed in an area where they have to battle the wind to stay on plants. Butterflies also need water, so add a fountain to your garden to attract butterflies. Never use pesticides in your butterfly garden! Butterflies require a pesticide-free environment to thrive.
Wildlife gardens use plants and flowers, ponds, birdhouses and natural surroundings to attract animals and insects. Think of your wildlife garden as a nature reserve where you’re the warden. The perfect wildlife garden themes provide two important things – a safe habitat for wildlife to breed and adequate shelter throughout the year. In a wildlife garden design, grass, flowers, trees, shrubs and water are key habitats that can be designed for low maintenance. Here are some helpful tips for wildlife garden maintenance in northern NJ:
- Long Grass – Provides an excellent place to lay eggs and nest during the winter.
- Thorny Shrubs – Provide excellent nest sites and shelter for various wildlife species.
- Dead Wood – Creates a great habitat for beetles and beneficial insects and fungi.
- Water Features – Birds use shallow water areas for drinking and bathing. Deeper water areas in ponds create a perfect habitat for aquatic insects.
Native gardens are filled with native plants that offer easy garden maintenance in northern NJ. Plants adapt easily to local climate and soil conditions for proper growth. With native garden themes, you’ll be providing seeds, pollen and nectar that serve as a natural food source for native birds, butterflies, insects and wildlife. In addition, native plants don’t require fertilizers and pesticides, they reduce air pollution and require less later to virtually sustain themselves.
10. Pest Control
If you have a garden, you will need some type of pest control. Trees, shrubs, plants and flowers are all susceptible to outdoor pests. Without proper pest control, your garden can become a breeding ground for all types of pests including tiny, hard-to-see insects like mealybugs, aphids and caterpillars, as well as underground pests like grubs, slugs, wire worms and fire ants. Even small animals like squirrels, rabbits, birds and rodents may attempt to invade your garden.
An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program provides a way to prevent unwanted pests in your garden with emphasis on prevention and natural, organic solutions. Talk to your landscape contractor about the benefits of a pest control program for your garden maintenance in northern NJ.