The most important part of growing healthy plants is understanding their basic needs. Light, moisture, and nutrients are the essentials. Without them, plants simply won’t grow! The tricky part is that there are hundreds of thousands of plants, all with different requirements. A successful garden is always tailored to the needs of the plants it hosts. When you purchase seeds or plants, you can find important growth information on their packaging, or from one of our garden experts.
Flower Gardening for Beginners
Flower gardens are a great way to beautify your property while reflecting your own personality. But before heading to the garden center, it’s best to make a plan. Figure out what kinds of plants you’re looking for, and what plants will compliment each other. Play around with different color schemes, shapes, and textures until you find the perfect combination. Once you have an idea of what plants you’re looking for, and which ones will thrive in your garden, it’s easier to narrow down the endless options.
Flowering plants fall into two categories: perennials or annuals. Perennial plants bloom for a shorter period of time but will return faithfully year after year. Annuals are usually bright and showy, flourishing all season long. They die off at the end of the season and need to be replanted next year.
Certain plants require more sunlight than others to thrive. Keep this in mind when selecting your plants and planting locations.
Starting a Vegetable Garden
Starting a vegetable garden is valuable in many ways. Not only does it add interest to your landscape, but also fills your kitchen with fresh vegetables and cuts back on your grocery bill! Though it might seem a little more overwhelming than planting a flower garden, veggies are easy to grow once you figure out what they need.
The first step to vegetable gardening is choosing which delicious edibles you want to grow. Grow vegetables that you like to eat and cook with often, or that you’d like to incorporate more of. Some veggies are easier to grow than others. Root vegetables, such as onions, potatoes, and turnips, as well as herbs, salad greens, peas, and beans are the best vegetable plants for beginners.
The trickiest part of growing veggies is knowing when to plant them. Seeding schedules really depend on the hardiness of the vegetable and the climate. Here in northwestern Illinois, our final frost dates are usually May 12th, or Mother’s Day. Although we may be eager to get a start on the season, most plants are at risk of damage by frost if we plant them before this date.
When the risk of frost has finally passed, you can safely direct seed or transplant seedlings to the ground. Since most veggies need lots of light to grow, choosing a spot with bright, direct sunlight is wise. Make sure you plant them in moist soil with lots of nutrients and adequate drainage. Amending the garden with organic matter before planting can help improve these conditions.
Gardening 101: Light
Typically, plants fall into one of four categories:
Full sun indicates that your plant will need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. These plants can usually tolerate the heat but might need more watering to make up for excessive evaporation. Partial sun or partial shade indicates that your plant needs between 3-6 hours of direct sunlight a day. However, plants classified as partial shade might be less tolerant of the peak afternoon sun. They like direct exposure in the AM and then filtered sun in the afternoon. Full shade indicates that your plant should receive no more than 3 hours of sun daily.
Keep these requirements in mind when you’re planning your garden, pairing plants with similar needs together. Take note of how the sun affects different areas of your garden throughout the day. While most plants will survive with inadequate lighting, their growth may be stunted and their display of blooms might suffer!
Gardening 101: Soil
Soil is the most important means of nourishment for plants. Good soil encourages roots to grow strong and healthy, acting as an anchor while taking up important nutrients. Since soil can vary in texture and density, it’s important to test out your ground with a trowel before starting your garden.
So what’s the best soil for gardening? Some plants prefer dense, clay-like soil, while others that require excess drainage thrive in sandy textures. While it varies based on plant needs, loamy soil is widely considered the best soil amongst gardeners. This dark, rich soil retains nutrients and moisture while also providing adequate drainage, the perfect medium for nurturing most plants in the garden.
If your backyard is naturally loamy, count yourself lucky! For those who dwell in poor soil conditions, don’t worry, you can always improve with soil amendments. Mixing soil with compost is a great way to improve drainage. Organic matter also provides plenty of beneficial microbes that enrich the ground with nutrients and improve soil fertility. For heavy feeding annuals, fertilizers are important amendments to help keep up with their high nutrient demands.
In addition to the texture and drainage of your soil, good soil also has a great diversity of microorganisms and various vitamins and minerals. Soil, after all, is a living organism, so it should be teeming with the flora and fauna your plants need to thrive! This can be best achieved by adding organic matter to your soil. We recommend a brand of products called BioFlora, which have proven to be successful over the past several years. BioFlora products have every vitamin, mineral, and trace-mineral known to man. Soil amendment is essential to successful plant health; feed the soil, and the soil will feed the plant. Soils that have the proper nutrients generally attract beneficial organisms like bacteria, bugs, and worms. These creatures tend to help flocculate your soil thus making it more porous. The more porous your soil, the more oxygen it contains and the better it drains. Plus, porous soils promote better root zones and root mass.
There’s no doubt that gardening of any kind takes time and effort. But you’ll be well rewarded for your hard work. Once you’ve had a taste of the gardening life, the minor maintenance will be a piece of cake! Our garden staff would be happy to help you choose the perfect plants and soil amendments.