Whether you have a garden for beauty, for family play, or just to relax, use these steps for success.
Beauty: Start with a focal point: a uniquely shaped tree or shrub, outdoor structure, or garden accessory such as a birdbath. Then add complementary plants. Strive to include bright colors and bold foliage to make the vignette visually pop from a distance.
Play: Like to play badminton, toss the ball with the dog, or let the kids run wild? Then your garden should include a lawn for play and sturdy, low-growing plants that can withstand occasional trampling. Avoid plants with thorns or sharp edges for safety’s sake. A grassy expanse of lawn also serves a design purpose: It gives the eye a place to rest amidst the chaos of crowded flowerbeds.
Relaxation: Unless you’re running for office, you’ll probably appreciate staying out of the public eye. Gain privacy from a strategically placed hedge, fence, or even a vine-covered garden structure. You’ll be more inclined to relax if your garden includes seating and shade.
Food: Aside from a veggie patch, you can also grow edibles in raised beds and patio containers. Or incorporate them into the overall landscape—blueberry bushes look great with spring flowers, summer fruit, or fall foliage. Colorful foliage plants such as basil and Swiss chard fit easily into a flowerbed.
Location: Once you know the garden’s purpose, locate it accordingly. For instance, a garden for beauty should go where it can get some attention. Put it in the front yard where others can appreciate it and you can enjoy it from the front window, porch, or patio. A tranquil spot for relaxation works on the other end of the spectrum -- its best location will likely be in the backyard, away from prying eyes.
Size: Gardens take time to install and to maintain. Remember that when you’re figuring out the size of your garden. Begin by measuring your yard’s available garden space. Then ask yourself if you have the time and energy to plant and maintain it. One strategy is to start small and grow out with time. It’s easier on your wallet and on your back. For instance, you could plant a small corner in back or a modest foundation in front. Both offer a convenient backdrop for plants and can be planted in a weekend. Or start really small -- plant a solitary container and add more as time and money permit.
Soil: There’s no better time to improve the soil than before planting. Do a soil test (with an inexpensive soil test kit from Lowe’s or by sending a bagged sample to your local cooperative extension). This will tell you what kind of soil you’re dealing with and what nutrients are needed. No matter what kind you have, it’s a good idea to amend it with compost, peat moss, and composted cow manure. Dig the amendments into the top 8 to 12 inches of topsoil. This will help soil hold moisture and oxygen. If you have a heavy clay soil that sticks together when wet, you may need to add gypsum to help separate the dense soil particles.
Planting: Consider the type of soil and the amount of sunlight available when choosing plants. Be sure to plant correctly. Inspect the root ball. If the surface roots are circling, encourage them to migrate outwards by cutting roots at four equidistant points, as well as at the bottom of the root ball. Place the plant in the ground at the same level it was growing in the nursery container. If in doubt, it’s better to go slightly higher than deeper. Backfill, tamp the soil to remove air pockets, and water well.
Aftercare: You’ll want to fertilize to give plants a quick boost and to adjust for any shortcomings that showed up in your earlier soil test. Snip off faded blooms to keep plants neat and to encourage more flowers. And look for signs of pests and diseases, which can be treated with products from your Lowe’s Garden Center. Keep plants weeded and watered. Adding 2 inches of mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, will help cut down on weeding and watering, but don’t let the mulch touch plant stems.