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Choosing the Right Site for Your Garden

April 10th, 2013

This is the first installment in the 5×5 Garden Challenge Series. Every Wednesday I’ll be posting about the challenge, covering topics that will help all the new gardeners get started. If you haven’t heard about the challenge head on over to the 5×5 Challenge Website, we’ll also be putting up a page here that pulls in all the 5×5 Challenge posts.
full sun (2)
The first thing to consider when you decide you want to garden is your site. Depending on what you want to grow, you will need to determine if you have full sun, partial sun/shade, or shade. So what do each of these terms mean? Most vegetables appreciate full sun, so finding a full sun location will be the best option.  All is not lost if you don’t have full sun, you can still grow vegetables, just not everything you may want to.
sun-shade 1
FULL SUN: receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. This doesn’t mean that there is sun in this area all day long, there can be some shade during part of the day. Six hours is the minimum amount of sun that most full sun plants will tolerate. Areas that get direct sunlight all day will need watered more often. Some plants can take full sun, but many are fond of some shade as well.
sun-shade 4
PARTIAL SUN / PARTIAL SHADE: receives 3-6 hours of direct sunlight. Most plants that are labeled partial sun/shade need protection from the hot afternoon sun as they can be sensitive.  These plants will often wilt in the heat of the afternoon.  
sun-shade 3
FULL SHADE: less than 3 hours of direct sunlight, generally with some filtered sunlight in addition to this. These plants generally don’t like the hot afternoon sun, so morning sun is best for them.
raised bed
All sun is not created equal. As a general rule, morning and early afternoon sun are better than late afternoon sun. Often plants will appreciate a little shade in the afternoon, particularly in hot areas and in the heat of the summer. When you are determining the amount of sun you get, keep in mind the time of the year. If it is winter and the sun is low, the shady area will be larger than it will in the summer.
tall trees (1)
Another thing to consider in your garden placement is the location of any large trees. Large trees will not only cast shade, but they will also send their roots into your garden and suck up your water and nutrients. Back in Ohio we had large trees surrounding our garden and were constantly battling them. It’s not a deal breaker if you have large trees, just be aware that you’ll need to add extra compost and water.
sun-shade 2
When trying to decide where your garden will be, think about the proximity to the door you use most often. If you have to walk by the garden daily, you’ll be more likely to notice weeds that need pulled and tomatoes that need harvested. Having the garden close at hand will make harvesting and using the vegetables easier.
Plants are pretty resilient and will take less than perfect conditions. Don’t be too worried about making sure you have everything just right. Start with what you can and work from there.  If you have full sun, great, if you’re on the border, give it a shot.  If you can find a space away from trees, fantastic, if not, give it a try but make sure you watch for dryness and consider fertilizing a little more.  Having good soil will help overcome a few of the other negatives, so make sure you focus on that. Next week we’ll talk about getting your garden area ready to plant.

If you’re a new gardener, what questions do you have about where to place your garden? If you’re an experienced gardener, what advice do you have for newbies just trying to figure out where to plant.

13 Comments to “Choosing the Right Site for Your Garden”
  1. kristin @ going country on April 10, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I think you made a good point about accessibility to the house, though I don’t imagine a lot of people will have the problem that their garden will be too far from the house to make it an “out of sight, out of mind” situation.

    One thing we deal with is the slope of our land. We have a huge garden, so we plant different things in different areas depending on a lot of factors, but slope is one of them. The lower areas obviously dry out last in the spring, collect more water in the summer, and even can be more susceptible to early and late frosts.

    Also, if you’re planning on putting in perennials–like blackberries or something–think HARDHARDHARD about what space you want to give up to that plant forever. Because things like blackberries? You couldn’t get rid of them by paving it over, practically. Plus, their aggressive roots can be a problem in the surrounding area.

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

  2. kathi Cook on April 10, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Also consider proximity to a water source. I like your advice about start with what you have and work from there. Gardening for me is all about trial and error. Focus on what worked an learn from what didn’t. I love the experiential learning that goes with it.

    Reply to kathi Cook's comment

  3. Elyse on April 10, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Hm. We have trees scattered all over our yard, some big and some small. How far away would you try to be? Is out from under the tree canopy far enough? Also, do raised beds help deter the tree roots at all? Thanks!

    Reply to Elyse's comment

  4. whit on April 10, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I was just going to comment about this. Here in the PNW, most people who garden think they have a black thumb, when really it’s the garden’s proximity to trees, in particularly, cedar. Susie’s point about more compost and water is good…but in some cases, like cedar, it may not help much.

    When a shovel cuts through cedar roots, tiny hair-like roots grow on the remaining portion of the root to ensure the tree gets enough nutrition, especially now that it feels it’s under attack. That could really ensnare a garden’s available nutrition.

    Best thing someone can do in this situation is building a raised bed. I know that’s a little more complicated than Susie would like for this challenge, however it’s what all the garden gurus in our area recommend.

    Reply to whit's comment

  5. amy on April 10, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Like the cedar not all trees would be appropriate to plant near or under…..The one we stay away from here in Kentucky is the Black Walnut…..It excretes a substance called juglone…. that although keeps competing plants and trees away from it’s space…… is very toxic to many many plants and trees….

    Reply to amy's comment

  6. Maria on April 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    You’re so right – planning ahead is the most important (and hardest?) part of gardening! I think it took me a full year to get a feel for where the light hits our yard on a month-to-month basis. From March to October the lighting is fair to good and from Thanksgiving to Christmas it’s absolutely dark.

    Our site in NYC is also pretty compromised by these huge Norway Maples that line the whole block. When the maples leaf out they block every single bit of light and rain underneath them. I spent days drawing out the crop rotations in our vegetable beds so that I could maximize certain areas that are sunny now, but will be shady by May. At least we have a 4 x 8 area that gets full sun during the entire growing season. That’s where the tomatoes will go. :-) I also plan on pruning the maples this month. They’ll grow back, but the other plants will get a bit of relief.

    Reply to Maria's comment

  7. Caroline on April 10, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I’m a total novice. I would LIKE my garden to be in my front yard because then I won’t have to deal with going out the back door (which sticks and is a PITA!)

    My front yard is on the north side of my house and I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Would it be out of the question to plant my 5×5 in the front yard? We have one large (dead) tree that we are tearing out. We want to replace it with something else, but it won’t be large enough to cast a big shadow for many years I imagine. (We’re thinking some type of Maple.) But would it be stupid of me to plant along the side of the house?

    Reply to Caroline's comment

    • Joan on April 10, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Hi Carolyn,

      Before you plant a tree near the garden, make sure you check that it is not alleopathic – meaning it excretes chemicals (either in the leaves or roots) that retard the growth of other nearby plants. I believe this is a problem with Norway maple and Japanese maple, as well as some of the oaks, and black walnut. Apparently they are not alleopathic to all plants, so some of the garden species you plant may do well. In any case, I’d do some research before planting a tree nearby. Hope this helps!

      Reply to Joan's comment

      • Caroline on April 11, 2013 at 12:58 am

        Thanks Joan!
        I will get some advice from the local nursery before choosing a replacement tree!

        to Caroline's comment

  8. Megan on April 10, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    For those who want a raised bed but are not handy or don’t want to make one, I used a premade bed from plastic composite that I found at Sams Club (northern ohio). It just slides together and then just add dirt/compost. It was about $45 and is 5×5 with up to 4 sections. I use one next to my back door for herbs and greens.

    Reply to Megan's comment

  9. Lea on April 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I am really excited about this challenge. My son and I are novices when it comes to gardening,, so we really love the advice of those who have gone before us. As I have mentioned before, we’ve already started our garden here in Texas where temps have been in the high 60’s for a few weeks (well until today). We actually planted our garden in the front yard in a raised bed. Built it ourselves and filled it with dirt we purchased on sale. The dirt here in north Texas has a tendency to be either red clay or white limestone and I hate working my hands in it, plus it’s very difficult to manage water irrigation. One thing i thought i would mention is if you happen to live in a neighborhood that has a home owner’s assoc. make sure to check with them before you plant a garden in a place that can be seen by others. i have heard that some have rules against it. We have sugar snap peas, green beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. In the last two days we’ve seen the stems of several of these already breaking through the dirt. I am going to take pics every few days and keep a log about watering/rain, so that will help us remember what we did for next year. We are now at a point where we probably need to get some kind of chicken wire up to keep the bunnies from eating from it and my cat from using it as a huge letterbox ;) Can’t wait until others get theirs going too.

    Reply to Lea's comment

    • Jill on April 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      We are still under snow here…snowing now as a matter of fact……I really look forward to this challenge and I’m including my son as well. How backwards has it gotten that an edible garden shouldn’t be seen? I know it is true that neighbourhoods can dictate things like that…it’s just that it’s so foolish….

      Reply to Jill's comment

  10. Deb on April 13, 2013 at 2:51 am

    I have never put time into figuring where to put a garden. In our yard you have to avoid where tile runs under the ground when planting trees and shrubs. the garden is far from the house but that’s no problem. Just walk to it every day to weed and harvest, etc. We have 3 wells on our property and one isn’t far from the garden which is good. we don’t use it for drinking but since it is extremely rusty works for watering. But is hard on sprinklers, sprayers, etc. My beds are all raised and 4X8 ft. Nice for reaching from each side to work. To me 5X5 isn’t as practical for reaching easily from the side for working it, therefore won’t be doing it as I’m not changing my layout. using 8 ft. wood and cutting it in half for the ends is convenient for buying so will stick with that. The only difference I would ever do is longer but never wider than 4 ft. No stepping on it to work it up as you cna stand on the edges. Can kneel and work from the sides. I rotate as much as possible but I tend to plant tomatoes and peppers wherever something else didn’t come up so the no potatoles/tomatoes each year sometimes doesn’t get followed at my house. Shouldn’t ever be a problem as someone said that gardens have to be ‘hidden’. That is so stupid in today’s society. Course I would never live where there’s an HOA involved anyway, but sad for those that wish to garden and can’t. I’d plant and put up a solid fence around so others couldn’t see, but then I tend to circumvent dumb rulles when I can. I will follow your challenge but won’t change my garden so can’t participate. Concrete blocks make good raised beds also. 8X16X8 on the bottom and the flat 1/2 ones on top, work great and are a great height and easy to sit and rest on, though not for long as it gets hard quickly.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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