Green Spaces

The Backyard Gardener: Tips From the University of Maryland Extension

The Backyard Gardener: Tips From the University of Maryland Extension“Gardening is a 12-step program, which includes planning, preparing, planting, and producing,” says Elizabeth Hill, urban agriculture and food systems educator with the University of Maryland Extension.

At a UMB Go Green-sponsored sustainability workshop on March 11, Hill showed faculty, staff, and students the steps needed to start a garden.

“Before you start, you need to ask yourself five questions,” Hill says.

  • Where do you want to grow?
  • How much time are you willing to invest?
  • Do you want to avoid pesticide applications?
  • How many people are you feeding?
  • What do you want to grow?

The planning phase involves looking at types of gardens, size and costs, and location. Hill provided examples of in-ground, container, edible landscape, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical gardening, and salad tables. “Make sure you start small — a 3-by-8 or 8-by-8 garden is plenty,” Hill says. She also urged attendees to pay attention to location, which should be ground level, close to a water source, and protected from animals.

“In preparing your garden, testing the soil is important,” Hill says. Soils, especially in urban environments, often are contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. There are a few regional soil test laboratories where you can have your soil evaluated.

If you’re using a raised bed, Hill suggests knowing the source of your soil and compost. It never hurts to ask. Chesapeake Compost Works is vegetable-based, for example.

Before you start planting, decide if you want to use seeds or transplants, Hill says. Seeds are more cost-effective and provide variety, but transplants are less work and ready to plant when you are.

Hill also provided tips for planting — avoid planting in compacted soil, follow recommended planting widths and depths, lightly tamp the seed down to improve contact between the seed and the soil, and water regularly to keep soil moist, but not soggy.

As far as maintaining your garden, Hill offered the following hints:

  • Read labels and follow directions when using fertilizers.
  • Water roots, not leaves.
  • Use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to save time and water (most vegetables need one inch of water per week).
  • Cover crops to help prevent weeds.
  • With disease/pest control, be aware of beneficial insects.
  • Know how to harvest each type of vegetable.
  • Learn how to preserve — canning, drying, freezing.

To request a copy of the presentation, email Hill at

For additional resources, visit one of the following:


— Tracy Gnadinger

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