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By Marianne Taylor

Marianne TaylorJanuary is traditionally the time for making our personal New Year’s resolutions. It’s also a good time for gardeners to set a spring garden goal for the type of gardens that work in your lifestyle and time availability. As new gardeners, we often see a beautiful picture of a mature garden and want that full abundant look right away in our garden.

As with everything in life, maturity begins with wisdom and experience. Gardening is an activity based in daily lessons—of patience and perseverance, trial and error—that, if followed correctly, will produce bountiful abundance in one’s life, season after season.

The challenge with any new goal is taking the first step. You’ve made a conscious effort to commit daily or weekly to a routine that promises success, you follow-up, you adjust, you make mistakes, adjust again, and you move forward, proceeding through the weeks or months visualizing the end results. You’ve kept your eye on your goal and the outcome you originally strived for in the beginning. Success!

Setting a garden goal is similar; you need a plan. Take an inventory of what is in the garden—what to keep, what to give away, what to throw away. This applies to garden tools, too. After you’ve done these steps, decide what you want to add or replace in your garden. Do you want more flowers, vegetables, native plants, herbs, an area to ponder or less maintenance?

Los Rios Park flora. Photo: Claire Taylor
Los Rios Park flora. Photo: Claire Taylor

After you’ve made some decisions, it’s time to create a master plan. Think of your yard as many rooms; break down each area you envision you’d like to see renewed using some of the elements—an herb garden by the kitchen door, a hammock for resting underneath the tree in the corner, a flower and vegetable garden in the sunniest part of your yard or a private sitting area to observe bird and butterfly activity. You might not be able to build everything at once, but if you add one element to your yard each year, you’ll have your dream yard in next to no time.

You’ve created your plan, you know where you want to beautify the garden with plants and you have your garden and tool inventory list. Next up, soil: it all begins here for a successful garden to flourish.

  • Before you plant, know your soil. You’ll need to add plenty of organic matter to existing soil, working it in 6 to 8 inches and turning often for easy plantings. Much of the soil in Southern California is clay, which gets compacted over time. Soil becomes deficient of nutrients, so you need to amend often during the growing season. This is where garden patience comes in. It’s good practice to let your amended soil sit a few weeks, allowing healthy organisms to make their home in this rich organic matter. This process will benefit the root system of the plant in the long run. That’s why starting your garden prep in January is a great idea for spring and summer plantings.
  • Know your water source and drainage in each planting area. Many plants perish from poor soil, drainage and under- or over-watering. Know your plants’ needs—make sure before planting you know the plants’ lighting, soil and water maintenance requirements.
  • Check with your city for water rebates. You’d be surprised how much money you can get back by removing your lawn and replacing it with gardens. Believe it or not, gardens use less water than lawns and continually give back beauty, abundance and thriving wildlife habitats.
  • Are you new to gardening or want the latest on garden information? Join us at San Juan Capistrano’s newest park, Reata Park & Event Center, for a free 5-part garden class series hosted by Goin’ Native Therapeutic Gardens and presented by the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Orange County.

Smart Gardening 101: Learn how to create a successful garden that best fits the new climate dynamics.

Feb. 7: 10 a.m.  “Smart Gardening Overview”

Feb. 21: 10 a.m. “What’s in Your Soil?”

March 7: 10 a.m. “Water Better, Not Wetter”

March 28: 10 a.m. “What’s Bugging Your Plants”

April 4: 10 a.m. “Create a Wildlife Habitat In Your Yard”

Come to one class or attend all. Classes are free to the public and take place at Reata Park & Event Center, 28632 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano. Please RSVP early to or 949.606.6386. For more information, visit

Reata Park & Event Center. Photo: Brian Park
Reata Park & Event Center. Photo: Brian Park

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