Insider tips for the ultimate herb and flower garden

It’s that time of year. The time when we are all super over winter and start to daydream about spring. Though my backyard is covered in snow, I'm starting to wonder where I’ll plant my tomatoes and which herbs I’ll commit to growing this year. My first time gardening was last summer, so I'm a complete rookie. My husband and I were a little too ambitious and we planted a lot without really knowing what we were doing. (This seems to be a theme in our lives.) We were mostly successful and ate a lot of tomato sandwiches. This year, I want to plan better, so that I can put our space to better use so nothing is being crowded. Or, maybe, if I know more going in, I can save my kale from being devoured by an army of slugs. So, I sat down with Elaine Stechisen from Shelmerdine Garden Centre and asked her all my pressing questions about planning for spring. Where to plant, how to plant, what to plant. Elaine has been working for Shelmerdine for years and has all kinds of gardening anecdotes and wisdom. I probably learned more in the thirty minutes I spent talking to her, than I had learned from my first summer of gardening.

Here are seven important things to consider when planning your plant and herb garden:

7 Tips for Planning Your Herb + Flower Garden

1. Ensure your soil is healthy

Whether or not you need to fertilize your soil really depends on healthy the soil around your property is. To find out, pour water on a patch of the soil and observe if it soaks it up quickly or not. If it absorbs right away, you have good, loose soil. If not, you need to amend it by adding a bit of fertilizer and turning the soil. Turning the soil is equally as important as adding the fertilizer because loose soil enables the roots to get the air they need. It is best to do this in the fall, but you can get away with doing it once the snow melts.

2. Don't plant until after the first full moon in June

Elaine follows the same tradition that her grandma followed. She plants after the first full moon in June and it’s never failed her. She starts with things, like peas and other plants that don’t like hot soil to germinate in, that can handle colder temperatures. It’s good to plant things in different places than the year before. Legumes will add nitrogen to your soil and you want to do your best to keep the nitrogen levels balanced.

3. Figure out what parts of your yard gets the most sun

Plant in areas that get 6-8 hours sun a day. That’s an adequate amount of sun to keep your garden growing and healthy. You may think you know the sunny spots in your yard, but it’s good to do some tests first. Elaine suggested putting a stick out in a spot in your yard and checking it five to six times within eight hours to see how much sun it gets. The spots that get less light are good for herbs like parsley, chives, and peppermint. Regardless of where you’re planting, it’s best to put your taller items in the back so that they don’t block the sun from your other plants. It’s also best to plant anything that grows on vines, like tomatoes, on trellises so that they don’t take up too much space. These trellises can also be great for covering plants that need more shade. Elaine plants her lettuce under her trellises since they can take partial shade.

4. Plan a watering routine

Herbs and flowers like consistency. Misting your garden when you think of it or when you find yourself outside with some time to kill isn't enough. You need to create a routine that includes deep watering every eight to nine days (or less when it hasn't been raining much). If you’re only watering lightly, you will encourage the roots to grow up to get it, but when you water your soil until the top 1.5’ are wet, the roots are encouraged to grow down.

5. Plan ahead to attract (or discourage) the birds and the bees from making a home of your yard

If you don’t want bees buzzing around your yard or you want to encourage birds to land and chirp songs outside your windows, you can strategically encourage or discourage them. Anything that flowers will attract bees. As for birds, they look for food, a place to nest, and safety. If you have trees, berries, or bushes with thorns, you’ll definitely attract birds.

6. Pick herbs you'll actually eat

Don’t plant a bunch of mint because it looks nice. Plant herbs you know you’ll use. This is especially important because you have to trim them once a day to keep them from getting spindly. That means you have fresh herbs to either use or dry every day, so choose ones that you would be happy to throw into your cooking or dry and store for winter.

7. Coffee grounds and marigolds keep bugs away

The scent that marigolds and geraniums give off repel bugs. Put a 2 inch barrier around plants affected by slugs. You can also scatter coffee grounds around the edge of your garden and it will deter some of them.

Meghan Zahari is donut shop owner by day and a writer by night. In between, she does photography and social media accounts for other businesses. Motherhood and emotions are a 24/7 gig. She lives with her husband, Brett, daughter, Emelyn, and cousin, Laura. (Plus, a pug and a puggle.) It’s a full life with a full house, so her introverted soul seeks refuge by hiding away with a book or watching Buffy or Grey’s.