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Searcy, Ark. –
If you close your eyes, can you visualize what your ideal small garden would look like? What do you see? Maybe it’s a secret hideaway or a secluded garden confined to
a city lot or even a lush balcony. It could be a few carefully chosen containers with stunning plants, or it might be crammed with colorful blooms, a collection
of herbs or even vegetables.
So whether you are dealing within the confines of a postage-stamp-sized lot, balcony or small planting space, or just trying to create a small garden hideaway or outdoor living space within your larger landscape,
you can create a wonderful outdoor space no matter what your boundaries or limitations are.
First you want to consider your site. Take into consideration your existing features, walkways, utilities, sun and shade patterns, wind direction, soil, drainage, slopes, existing trees and shrubs, other features
such as pool, satellite dish, etc. Views you want to enhance or eliminate.
Location: If raising edible produce, vegetables, herbs, or some flowers, make it easy to harvest. If you locate it closer to your kitchen entrance you are more likely to harvest
the produce by making it easily accessible. Around the walkways is a good place for veggies, especially lettuce that makes a good border plant, as
well as herbs. Rosemary is great to use like a shrub.
Everyone has their own definition of sun and shade. Then to add to the confusion
we have partial sun or partial shade.
As you grow things, you will be able to fine-tune these definitions to fit your own garden
and planting experience. Trial and error happens a lot in gardening. If something doesn’t work out in one
spot, then try moving it to another location. That is why container gardening is good, because it’s easier to just move the container to another location without having to disturb the plant.
Full sun: An area that receives 8 hours or more of direct sunlight.
Part sun: 4-6 hours of direct sunlight in morning or afternoon.
Light shade: Areas that are bright though shaded much if not all day. Some people include dappled or filtered shade in this category. Light shade at mid-day in the peak of summer provides relief from the heat and
allows flowers to produce a more brilliant colorful display.
Open shade: These areas are shaded by nearby buildings or fences. There are no overhead trees or structures blocking the sunlight. Just like light shade, these areas may
be well lit even though they do not receive direct sunlight.
Dappled or filtered shade: The sun shining through a fine textured tree canopy or
lattice covered arbor creates sun and shade patterns below. As the sun moves across
the sky, these patterns change throughout the day. This creates an ever-changing
combination of sun and shade.
Partial or medium shade: This occurs in areas shaded for most of the day. They may receive direct sun in the morning
or late afternoon. Areas under large shade trees or bright north facing exposures
often fit into this category.
Full shade: These areas have little or no direct sun all day. The only light reaching
these areas comes from sunlight reflected off a nearby wall or surface.
Dense shade: This can be found under decks and stairways, in heavily wooded areas,
and under evergreens branched near the ground. No direct or reflected light reaches
Soils: The easiest way to find out what your plants need and the type of soil you have
is to have a soil sample run. This is free of charge through the Extension Office (paid for by the taxes you pay on fertilizer). The test will give you the type of amendments needed for your soil. Of course, if you are planting in small areas like your flower bed, the best thing to do is to add compost or shredded leaves. By adding compost each year this will help build soil. Fertile soil full of organic matter is also full of earth worms, whose castings are
an important source of nutrients for plants.
Using a basic fertilizer will also help your plants produce successfully. Adding compost to your herbs is the best way for them
to get their nutrients. Fertilizing herbs heavily will produce leafy plants with
little oils. Oyster shells, fish emulsion, and green sand is some of the things that
herbs like best.
Drainage: Some things to consider when planting in the landscaped areas are downspouts, soggy
areas, and other drainage problems. All of these problems could be solved by using containers to grow plants and
Watering: Not all plants can be close to a water supply. That’s where soaker hoses or better
yet, drip irrigation comes in handy. Drip irrigation is much easier to install these days by the home gardener
or by experts if you prefer. Select plants adapted to your climate. Plants that thrive with the average amount of rainfall in your area will need less supplemental watering
once established. Check them during extended periods of drought, as they may need a helping hand.
Group plants by watering needs. You can design and program your irrigation system to match plants’ needs. If you have a manual system, that would be YOU, it will be quicker and easier to manage the plants.
Plant moisture-loving plants near a water source. A shorter hose or quicker trip with the watering can is all that will be needed to get water to these plants.
Collect water in rain barrels for use in the garden. New designs make them easier
to use and incorporate into small spaces. There are also plans to make your own rain
You can also invest in watering cones. These devices screw onto plastic one or two-liter bottles. Fill the empty soda container with water, screw on the watering
top, invert and place by the plant, whether it be in the ground or in a container.
This no-waste system delivers water to the plants roots.
As a final step in your planting, you will also want to add mulch to your space as a way to help hold moisture in as well.
A few other things to consider:
Wants and needs.
Who will be using the small space (adults, children, or pets)?
How will it be used (Entertaining, family dining, quiet reflection and resting, meditation or yoga, storage of furniture,
tools, composting bins, water gardens, grow fruits, veggies, and herbs, cut flowers
or attracting birds, butterflies or other wildlife.)
Even in urban settings, you’ll be surprised by how quickly wildlife finds and takes
up residence in your pond. Frogs, especially, seem to appear overnight. Moving water
will do more to attract birds that bird feeders.
Then the last thing to consider is what you want to grow in your small space. Vegetables, herbs, and fruit, of the dwarf variety, can be grown right along with
your flowers and shrubs, maybe even replace some of them.
When choosing plants remember that healthy looking plants, not size, is the key to success in choosing
plants. Just because a plant is blooming doesn’t mean it will produce quicker. A
smaller, healthy plant will grow and do much better. A healthy plant will mean less
work for you and will be a better-looking plant with greater impact for the space
it occupies. Select plants that are hardy to your region. A USDA cold hardiness
map will be helpful to help you determine your hardiness zone.
So whether you are dealing within the confines of a postage-stamp-sized lot, a balcony or small planting space outside your back
or front door, or just trying to create a small garden hideaway or outdoor living space within
your larger outdoor living space, these suggestions should help you to get started
to create your very own space no matter your boundaries, schedule, or gardening skills.
For specific information on recommended varieties for Arkansas’ growing conditions
refer to our website at www.uaex.uada.edu. The University of Arkansas System, Division
of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.
For more information you can contact your local county extension service, you can
also follow Sherri Sanders on Facebook @UADA.WhiteCountyAgriculture .
Photo credits: Virginia State University, Gary Bachman (Mississippi State University)
and Napa Master Gardeners
By Rose Ann Houston White County Master GardenerThe Cooperative Extension ServiceU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Sherri Sanders County Extension Agent - AgricultureU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service2400 Old Searcy Landing Road, Searcy AR 72143 (501) 268-5394 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative
action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need
materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other
appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay. The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons
regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin,
religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any
other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.