The Q&A Archives: New Gardener

Question: I have never gardened before and wanted to know if you could recommend a good book to help me. I do not know what I am doing and really want to learn. I want to plant flowers and vegetables, but I also want to make sure I give these plants what they need (as far as pest control and fertilization). I do have to be careful with the pest control because I do have a dog who gets onto everything. Someone told me to use ladybugs only and that would work and not harm the dog.

Answer: The first book I suggest to beginning gardeners is "Gardening for Dummies" by Michael MacCaskey ISBN 1-56884-644-4. It gives a great straightforward overview of what is involved, from basic landscaping decisions like where to put the veggie garden to improving your soil to plant selection and even maintenance. There are even specific sections on annuals and vegetables to get you started right.

With regard to fertilization, the best thing you can do is run some basic soil tests and find out for sure what your soil is or is not in need of. Your County Extension (489-4315) should be able to help you with the tests and with interpreting the results. In general one of the best things you can do to improve your soil is to adds copious amounts of organic matter such as compost, rotted leaves, aged manure and bedding, and so on.

Pest control is an ongoing process, some of which is preventive. Pests tend to attack plants that are already not as vigorous as they should be, so keeping your soil healthy and the plants growing vigorously is a big help. When pests do appear, it is very important to identify them first and then decide what (if anything) to do about them.

For example, ladybugs are often used to reduce an aphid population, but aphids can also be controlled by a stream of water from the hose or a spray of insecticidal soap according to the label instructions. The control depends how may aphids there are and how much damage they are causing. Ladybugs would not however work to control certain other pests, so you really need to identify the pest first.

I'm sure you will enjoy gardening -- have fun!

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