By Susan Albert
Gardeners pick up their how-to tips in a variety of ways: from their parents, grandparents, friends, books, magazines, clubs, newspapers, television, and the Internet. A lot of knowledge can come through trial and error too.
I’ve been gardening for about 15 years, and I started out gleaning information from a plethora of library books, magazines, TV garden shows, and gardening clubs. My initial interest was in gardening for butterflies and birds, and the obsession snowballed from there.
For those who just recently caught the gardening bug, here is some “sage” advice I’ve learned along the way.
Flowers, ornamental grasses, groundcovers:
- Understand the meaning of annuals, biennials, and perennials because it makes a difference in how they perform and how much they cost. Annuals, such as zinnia and impatiens, grow and flower during one season before going to seed. Biennials, for example parsley and sweet William, typically grow for two seasons before going to seed. Perennials, including purple coneflower and phlox, return year after year but may take up to three years to flower if you grow them from seed. So consider transplants for perennials.
- If you purchase perennials from a garden center, choose plants old enough to bloom that season—buy those with buds already on them. It’s doubly important to find out a plant's age when buying from a catalog: You may get a very young perennial and be stuck waiting years to see it bloom. Also pay attention to the pot size of catalog plants; that also can be a clue to the age.
- Know in what USDA plant hardiness zone you live. The map shows the average annual minimum winter temperatures across all regions of the U.S. When you purchase a plant, the label shows the zone, so you know whether the plant can survive your winters. In the Lowe’s South Central region, hardiness zones range from 6 in northern Oklahoma to 9 in southern Texas.
- Read and keep your plant labels. You learn: hardiness zone; what type of light the plant needs (sun, part sun or shade); whether it prefers moist soil or can withstand drought; the expected height and width; and its common and botanical name.
- Incorporate native plants in your yard. They are well adapted to the climate and soil types and require little fertilization.
- Pinch back mum tips two or three times during the summer to keep them shorter and mounded, or they flop come bloom time in fall. However, some of the newer hybrids are bred to stay short and mounded. (Do not pinch after August 1.)
- Find out whether the plants you choose require deadheading (removing spent blooms). Deadheading can prolong the bloom season.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Refrain from adding soil on top of the roots of trees in your yard. Many of their oxygen-absorbing roots lie within the top 3 to 6 inches of soil. Piling soil on top to plant flowers or groundcover can disturb or suffocate the roots, causing tree decline. A similar no-no is building a raised bed around a tree. Soil touching the tree trunk can cause tissue dieback, according to cooperative extension research.
- It is no longer recommended to amend soil in the planting hole of shrubs or trees; this can prevent the roots from spreading out beyond the amended soil. If the soil is clayish, you can plant shrubs and trees 1 or 2 inches above grade. Be sure soil covers any exposed fine roots.
- Choose contrasting foliage colors to add interest to your garden, such as in this photo taken at Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Many shrubs are variegated or have red, yellow, or purple foliage. When everything is green, it gets very monotonous.
These tips can make gardening more effective in your landscape. Happy planting!
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