Ask a few gardeners what they like most about gardening and you’ll probably get a variety of answers. Some like working in the soil, the feel and smell of it. Some garden to enjoy the mood-boosting fresh air and sunshine. It’s a fun and relaxing way to get in touch with nature, and also has plenty of health benefits. Good for both the body and mind, gardening can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s very rewarding to keep plants healthy and alive. Plus, you get to marvel at the beautiful flowers and eat the delicious fruits, veggies and herbs that you grow. No wonder 55% of American households engage in gardening activities!
Before you grab your tools and get out in the dirt, we offer a few tips from Master Gardener, Mary Yelland who graciously agreed to a little Q&A.
MCM: How long have you enjoyed gardening?
MY: Gardening is something we did as a family when I was growing up, though I can’t say I really enjoyed pulling weeds and picking peas as a kid. As an adult, I’ve found weeding can be a relaxing and satisfying pastime and growing a vegetable garden brings satisfaction in helping to feed my large family.
MCM: How did you achieve Master Gardener status?
MY: I became an Extension Master Gardener in 2016 after taking the Master Gardener class through Michigan State University Extension in Genesee County. I attended weekly classes from January through April and then completed 40 hours of volunteer time required for certification. I spent most of my volunteer hours at Crossroads Village where I learned hands-on what to do with the information I learned in class. Through the process, I also met several others interested in gardening, providing a network of people who encourage each other and provide help with gardening problems. These ongoing connections through fellow gardeners at Crossroads Village and the Master Gardener Association of Genesee County Michigan (MGAGCM) provide continuing education and inspiration in gardening endeavors.
MCM: What makes a successful gardener?
MY: A successful gardener is one who attempts to grow something and learns from it for the next time, someone who doesn’t give up and quit. This mostly involves paying attention – gardening is not really difficult, but it does require attention. For example, if you just water frequently, plants can drown; you need to look to see if the soil is actually dry. It need not take a lot of time, but if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice changes in the garden and can learn to improve the next time.
MCM: What are the best ways to improve soil?
MY: Soil, of course, is where gardening starts. When it comes to soil, there is a bit of a mantra among Extension Master Gardeners: “Get a soil test and add compost.” These are the two most important and basic steps to improve soil. If you just randomly add things to your soil, you are often wasting money and may actually be doing more harm than good. Getting a soil test provides you with information needed to provide the right improvements to the soil. Adding compost is always a good idea – it provides a multitude of benefits; it improves water usage for both sandy and clay soils, it attracts beneficial microorganisms, and can help soil hold on to important plant nutrients. These two things alone can make a big difference in any garden.
MCM: What’s the best way to prevent weeds?
MY: The best way to handle weeds is to stop them before they take over. With small weeds, hand cultivating is an easy way to prevent them from getting bigger. I love my scuffle hoe (aka stirrup, hoop, or hula hoe) as it makes quick and easy work of sweeping away small weeds. Using mulch around plants (but not touching them) will shade soil and help stop weed seeds from germinating, as well as suppressing some that have started to grow. There will sometimes be those weeds that just need to be pulled. While there are useful commercial weed killers on the market, I personally rarely use them. I would also recommend staying away from the homemade weed killer recipes often found online. Even though they may seem safer and cheaper since they are made from familiar household products, in the long run they can be ineffective or even harmful to the garden and more expensive than commercial weed killers.
MCM: What is your favorite tip?
MY: Don’t give up! When you plant plants, they will die, they will get disease, they will get eaten by critters and insects. Plant some more, learn about disease resistant varieties, maybe build a fence. The master gardener program through MSU Extension is all about education. There are a multitude of resources on the Gardening in Michigan website to help with “next time.” Try new plants, try new varieties, grow the flowers you like to look at and the vegetables you like to eat. Keep planting, keep growing, keep trying. I grow tomatoes every year but have yet to grow a beautiful tomato plant … maybe this year.
Same for me. I want a perfect beef tomato , so trying from seed this time. Usually I’ve bought plants or my son gives me some…thank u.