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Gardening in Hawaii, 10 tips to get you started

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If you’re looking for a summer project that your children might enjoy, one that is educational and produces delicious results, it isn’t too late to consider starting a little garden.

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This reporter started one during the pandemic. It was definitely trial and error (still is), with a mixture of garden seeds and little potted seedlings or transplants from the garden store. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but there have been some delightful successes growing vegetables, fruit and herbs.

Here are some lessons learned along the way:

1. Select the right vegetables, fruit and herbs for you
Whether they’re in the form of garden seeds, seedlings or transplants from the garden store, choose the vegetables and herbs that you will use for your family’s meals and enjoyment.

2. Seeds or plants/seedlings?
The experts say garden vegetable seeds can be directly planted where they are going to grow — lettuce, beans, carrots, beets, spinach, peas, cucumbers and squash.

However, thanks to pests such as snails and slugs, I plant my seeds in starter pots so that they are heartier and stronger when I plant them in the ground or raised beds.

Experts recommend purchasing transplants for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons.

3. Good soil is key
Plants depend on the soil for nutrients, drainage and stability. For the best outcomes for your garden, experts suggest starting with well-drained loam which is a rich soil made up of sand and silt and as much organic matter as possible. If I’m recycling soil, I often add used coffee grounds and crushed eggshells to condition the soil.

4. Select the best location
Ideally, a sunny location in your yard would be best. Experts say veggies need at least six hours of sun a day, though leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach grow well in partial sun. Sun loving plants such as tomatoes and peppers do best in full sun. I have experimented and moved my various pots around the yard where they thrive best. When they don’t, I adjust.

5. Water should be readily available
The more convenient your access to water is, the more likely you will regularly water and care for your plants. A quality hose with a mister, a heavier sprayer and other options work for me and my various plants.

6. But don’t overwater
This is a common mistake many beginner gardeners make. I’ve killed many plants this way. I could not understand why my lavender kept dying until I read that they don’t need much water at all. Not all plants need the same amount of water.

7. Be sure your plant pots have good drainage
The lack of good drainage is key to killing your plants. I make sure that all of my pots have holes in the bottom, even though I have to drill them myself. Lack of drainage and overwatering will certainly cause root rot and kill your plant.

8. Use raised garden beds or containers if you’re short on good gardening space
If you live near the ocean and have salty soil or if you have rocky soil or solid clay, you may want to consider buying or building raised beds and filling them with good soil. The owner of a plant nursery once told me not to plant fruit trees in the soil if you live near the ocean. So the Meyer lemon trees that I purchased remain in pots to this day, producing the best lemons ever!

Experts suggest growing vegetables in containers as an option, or using grow bags for instant gardens

9. Stagger your plantings
When planting fast-maturing vegetables such as lettuce and beans, be sure to stagger them. Replant in other areas and harvest the older plantings when they’re ready. Experts advise against planting all at once.

10. Amend your soil
This means add compost, leaf mold or well-aged manure to your soil to increase the ability of
your soil to both drain and hold moisture to keep your plants healthy and alive. Experts
caution against using fresh manure however, because it can harbor dangerous pathogens and
will burn tender plant roots.

I have a bucket of loose rocks that I throw into the soil when planting or transplanting seedlings into larger pots. It seems to improve the drainage for those plants.

But again – it’s been trial and error over and over. And it’s all been worth it. There is nothing
like going to your yard to pick a lemon or clip a sprig of rosemary or pull a cucumber off the
vine, to use for the night’s supper.

Good luck, and good gardening!

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