On green thumbs, luck, and magic in the garden

Woman peering into crystal ball

This young gardener scries to figure out why her plant died.

We all know somebody with a green thumb.

It’s a grandmother, an aunt, a grandfather, father, or sometimes it’s some young Johnny Appleseed who just has to look at a tree to make it grow.  We wish we had that green thumb, but we joke that ours is black, we’re cursed, or what have you.  It turns out that many of us actually believe it.

A recent survey by Today’s Garden Center shows that most gardeners “under 49 years old often think success in gardening is a result of luck.”  Many of the respondents viewed gardening as a risk — they had to weigh the potential gains against the potential financial loss when buying a plant.

I’m going to share a secret:  There is rarely luck; it’s mostly science.

It’s sometimes hard to figure out what plants need because plants can’t talk back and tell us when they need something, but the information is out there.  Mostly, it comes down to experience.  That’s probably why people aged fifty and over didn’t list luck as a major factor in gardening any more.

So how do people get that knowledge?  You could muddle your way through and learn by trial and error, but it’s an expensive route in terms of both time and money.  There are two easier ways to get there:

  • Read!  Follow blogs, read some books, search the Internet!  But be careful and make sure that your sources are good ones.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there.
  • Interact!  Join a gardening club or seed swap.  Join some online gardening groups like the ones at hort.net.  Talk with people and pick their brains.  Chances are you’re not alone in whatever you’re trying to do.

We’re going to help you here, too.  These winter doldrums are getting to us, so it’s time to start writing tips. Things like how to dig a hole (believe it or not, this isn’t as straightforward as you might think).  How to make your own soil mix.  Ways to propagate plants, install your own irrigation, battle deer, battle weeds, battle pests…  The list goes on and on.  But don’t let this daunt you — sure, there are a lot of possible topics.  But you don’t need to know them all to garden well.  Following these rules is almost always enough:

  1. Respect your plants’ needs!  Research their needs and try to grow them in a matching space.  Think about sun, water, drainage, and temperatures.
  2. Make sure your plants get water if they need it.  If a plant dries out too much, it suffers.
  3. Don’t overwater your plants!  This is probably the #1 cause of death in cultivated plants.  Make sure they get drainage if it’s needed.
  4. Fertilize your plants accordingly.  Plants usually do better with fertilizer.  Just make sure you use the right fertilizer for the right plant.
  5. Watch for diseases and pests.  If you see something that looks wrong with a plant, find out what it is and fix it, if possible.

Do you have any questions you’d like to have answered?  Let us know!