Planting 101

Welcome to the wonderful world of gardening.  These gardening tips are perfect for new gardeners looking to get started.  

21 Gardening Tips
Every Gardener Should Know

  1. Know your USDA Cold Hardiness Zone. Use it as a guide so you don’t plant trees, shrubs and perennials that won’t survive conditions in our area. The USDA Cold Hardiness Zone map is available in THE BASICS section of ROCKMGA.
  2. Prune spring flowering shrubs and climbing roses immediately after the blooms fade. They set their flower buds in the fall on last year’s growth. If you prune them in fall or winter, you remove next spring’s flower buds.
  3. Apply only composted, rotted manure that has cured for at least six months to your soil. Fresh manure is too high in nitrogen and can “burn” plants. It may also contain pathogens or parasites. Manure from pigs, dogs and cats should never be used in gardens or compost piles because they may contain parasites that affect humans.
  4. Perennials generally need 3 years to achieve mature growth. Remember the adage that they “sleep, creep and leap” over the three-year period.
  5. Learn how long your growing season is – your average last frost in spring and average first frost in fall – so that you can start some plants inside or avoid growing them if they don’t fit into the growing season. (In Rockwall County, the easiest way to remember the frost dates is March 15 for the last frost and November 15 for the first frost.)
  6. Deadheading – removing spent and fading flowers – is a good practice for perennials and annuals. Because the goal of annual plants is to flower, set seed and die, removing the old blooms tells annual plants to produce more flowers. Removing spent flowers also encourages plants to place energies into stronger leaves and roots instead of seed production.
  7. Grow vegetables in a location that gets at least 8 hours of direct sun every day. Most vegetables need full sun to perform well. If you have some shade, try growing cool-season crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and cabbage.
  8. The best approaches to controlling weeds in the garden are hand-weeding and hoeing. Avoid deep hoeing or cultivating that can bring weed seeds to the soil’s surface. Weed early and often so weeds don’t go to seed. Use mulch to smother and prevent annual weeds.
  9. Hostas don’t need to be divided unless you want to rejuvenate an old plant or increase the numbers you have, or because you simply prefer the look of single plants.
  10. Don’t clean up everything in your garden in the fall. Leave ornamental grasses for beauty and the seed heads of perennials such as coneflowers to feed the birds. Avoid cutting back marginally hardy perennials, such as garden mums, to increase their changes of surviving a harsh winter.
  11. The optimal nighttime temperature for ripening tomatoes is between 68 to 77 degrees. At 85 degrees, it is too hot for the plants to produce lycopene and carotene, the pigments responsible for the fruit color. In a fall garden, once temperatures consistently drop below 50 degrees, green fruits will not ripen. Tomatoes that have a bit of color change can be brought inside to finish ripening.
  12. Plant spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths, in the fall before the ground freezes. In general, place the bulb in a hole that is two to three times the depth of the bulb.
  13. Deadhead spent flowers on spring-blooming bulbs so the plants send energy to the bulbs instead of making seeds. Leave the foliage until it turns brown and can be removed with a gentle tug. The leaves store nutrients needed for the bulb to bloom the following year. Braiding or tying the leaves is not recommended because it reduces the amount of light to the leaf surfaces.
  14. Fertilizer is not the answer to growing the best plants; soil quality is. Add organic amendments such as compost and well-aged manure to your soil. The best soil structure is crumbly, easy to dig, accepts water easily, and offers oxygen for plant roots.   (refer back to Tip #3.)
  15. Late summer or early fall is the best time to divide and transplant spring-blooming perennials. The most commonly divided perennials are irises, hostas, daylilies and daisies.
  16. When transplanting container grown plants, dig a hole larger than the soil ball of the plant to aid in root establishment.
  17. Most in-ground garden plants grow best with 1 inch of water per week. If not enough rain falls, water deeply once a week instead of watering lightly daily. Frequent, shallow watering only moistens the top layer of soil and encourages the plant’s roots to move up instead of growing deeper.
  18. Don’t send your fall leaves away. Chop them up and use them as compost ingredients. Pulverized leaves can be left to nourish the lawn.
  19. Avoid digging up or planting in wet soil; working it damages the soil structure. Wait until the soil is crumbly and no longer forms a ball in your hand (it doesn’t have to be bone dry) to till or dig.
  20. Understand your soils drainage. Roots need oxygen, and if your soil is consistently wet, there are no air pockets for the roots to thrive. Many plants prefer well-drained soil, so amend your soil with organic materials to improve the soil quality.
  21. Some plants flower in response to day length. Chrysanthemums, poinsettias, strawberries, and others need long nights to produce flowers.