Gardening advice for the novice grower with Dr. Gary Bachman

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For those blessed with green thumbs, gardening likely seems like the simplest thing in the world:

Plant the seed.

Give it some water and sunshine.

Enjoy a bounty of veggies.

But for some, asking them to maintain a healthy garden is akin to requesting they climb Mount Everest or swim the Pacific Ocean. It’s just not happening. Not without help.

That’s where Dr. Gary Bachman comes in. As the research professor of urban horticulture for Mississippi State University, a fellow at the American Society for Horticultural Science and host of MSU’s popular Southern Gardening segments and articles, Bachman is the perfect person to help transform the gardening novice into a seasoned expert. Or, at the very least, help them get started.


Q: So, I’m considering dipping my toe into the world of gardening. What are some pitfalls I’m likely to fall into right away and how can I avoid them?

A: The biggest problem is starting too big. Don’t do that. New gardeners, mainly men, have the notion to begin with a big garden. They quickly fail because the garden gets out of control because they don’t know what they’re doing.

I always advise to start with just a couple of tomato plants, preferably in containers. Container tomatoes are easy to take care of, will not have as many, if any, weeds to control, and they can be kept near the back door on the porch or patio making it convenient to care for.


Q: When should I start planting?

A: It totally depends on what you want to grow.

Large, seeded vegetables like squash, beans or corn can be direct sown once the weather starts to be consistently warmer. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants should be started indoors about six to eight weeks before transplanting outside after the spring frost date.

Many gardeners’ wait to plant tomatoes and peppers until after Good Friday, but this is unwise. Easter has a six-week swing on the calendar and could be too early or too late.

Always sow the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the typical spring frost date. For example, March 20 to April 4th (coast), March 28 to April 10 (mid-Mississippi), April 5 to April 20 (north Mississippi).

The Mississippi State University Extension publication, The Garden Tabloid, has lots of information on the timing for starting and growing favorite veggies.


Q: I have a limited amount of space at my home. Realistically, how much room do I need to plant a small garden?

A: All you need to start vegetable gardening is a 5-gallon bucket to grow a tomato plant. Growing in containers requires less space than growing in-ground. And gardening with sub irrigated containers is really easy.


Q: What are some of the easiest vegetables, plants, flowers, etc. that are the most likely to survive a novice like me? Once I’ve mastered those, what’s the next step up?

A: Easy vegetables for the cool season are radishes and carrots, lettuce, kale, collards, peas. Easy for the warm season are peppers, tomatoes, eggplant. Many herbs can grow well from early springs through to late fall.


Q: I don’t now, but I used to have a dog. Oh, and I definitely have a bunch of cats. How do I keep critters — both those I own and those that hang around my house in an unofficial capacity — from destroying my garden?

A: The only way is exclusion. In other words, a fence, or some other kind of barrier. But even then, critters are going to get in. You would be surprised (or horrified) with the kinds of creatures wandering around the garden after midnight. And we all know is this: nothing good happens after midnight.