Many people think that gardening is an impossible task, but this is not the case. With the right knowledge and tools, anyone can have a beautiful garden. Here are some basic gardening tips I obtained during my five years as a summer employee at a local greenhouse. Follow these tips, and you will be on your way to having a green thumb!
- Buy local. When choosing plants to buy from a greenhouse, it is a good idea to buy locally raised plants. Not only will these plants be used to the area’s climate, but they will be less likely to introduce foreign insects or diseases to your flower bed. Also, by buying plants from a local, family-owned business, you can take pride in knowing you are supporting your area’s economy.
- Be careful when you plant. When planting already-sprouting flowers from your local garden center, you should wait until the temperature stays above freezing at night. Frost can kill your plants, so if it does unexpectedly drop below freezing at night, you should cover your flowers with some sort of tarp to protect them. Also, make sure to buy your flowers when you are ready to use them; leaving them in the garden center packaging for too long increases the chance they will be pot-bound, and makes the plants more likely to dry out.
- Check the label. Most plants come with a tag that says how much sun they need in order to thrive. Before you go buy flowers, keep track of how much sun the planting area gets. If it gets direct sunlight all day long or all afternoon, look for plants with a tag that says “full sun”. If the area only gets direct sunlight in the morning, look for “partial sun”. If the area never gets direct sunlight, look for “full shade”. It is important to follow this direction on the tag, because if you plant a shade flower in direct sun, or a full sun flower in the shade, it will not grow to its full potential or may even die. When in doubt, ask an employee where you are buying your flowers.
- Check the soil. The shrubs our home builder planted all died this spring, and I will never forget what I saw when I dug them out. There was about two inches of mulch, underneath which was solid clay. No wonder those shrubs died! Don’t make the same mistake they did – make sure the area you are planting in has good topsoil in it. A good rule of thumb is to dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the little bit of soil that comes with the plant. Fill that hole with good topsoil before you plant.
- Water every day. Most flowers need to be watered every day, or they will become droopy. Too many days without watering, and your flowers will die. I have been told that plants absorb water more easily in the morning, but even if you cannot water them in the morning, make sure to water every day. When watering flowers, try to water at the base of the plant, not all over the petals. Some flowers such as impatiens will get slimy petals if you water on top of the plant. When watering a basket or pot, put water in until it just begins to leak out of the bottom. That way, you know the water has reached all the way to the bottom of the root system, but you are not overloading the basket with water. Too much watering is not good for the plants either, so just once a day is adequate for most situations.
- Deadhead. “Deadheading” means removing spent blooms. Many flowers need this kind of maintenance, or new blooms will not grow. When deadheading, it is important to not only remove the petals, but the whole stem up to where it connects with the plant. If you are not sure how to do this, ask your local greenhouse employee. Most flowers will not need to be deadheaded more than once a week; petunias are a bit more high maintenance.
- Check the drainage. When using a pot or planter, make sure it has good drainage. Before you put in potting soil, put some gravel or small rocks in the bottom of the pot; this will help excess water to drain out. If there is no way for excess water to escape, it can cause your plant to start rotting.
This is an important part that has to be looked into because the drainage can have adverse effects on the plants’ health and its foul smell will prevent them from processing photosynthesis and this is a tenuous link that binds it to the entire growth project.
- Fertilize. Fertilizing your plants will help them to reach their full growth potential, and in the case of baskets and pots, will replace vital nutrients leached out of the soil by the plant itself and by water drainage. It is a good idea to fertilize plants according to the package directions at least once every two months; much more than that will not have additional benefits. As with watering, make sure you apply the fertilizer to the soil line of the plant, and not all over the leaves and petals.
- Protect your plants. If an unexpected frost is forecast, be sure to cover your plants, and bring any pots and baskets into your garage or house to prevent frost damage. If high winds and strong rain showers are expected, it is a good idea to bring pots and baskets inside, especially New Guinea impatiens, which can be easily damaged. If tiny holes start to appear on the leaves of your plants, insects are eating them, and you should get an insecticide. I have heard several ideas for keeping deer away, from sprinkling cayenne pepper on your plants to planting a strong-smelling herb such as basil in the middle of your flower bed. The theory behind these remedies is the deer do not like the strong smell or taste.
- Know what to do when winter comes. Annuals can be dug up and thrown away once they are killed by the first frost of winter; winter care of perennials varies widely and cannot be summarized in this article. Be sure to ask a greenhouse employee.