Heed the garden catalogs, for they hold the key.
What you need to know before you begin your search for the perfect plants.
Ever wonder why that beautiful exotic flower just doesn’t perform like you thought it would? Have you wasted money and time planting your favorite flowers just to watch them expire in the sun or flop over in the shade? Well most of us have done the same. We pick out our favorite flowers and not necessarily the ones that will grow well in our climate conditions and soil types.
Whether you choose your plant from a catalog, website or a nursery you can give yourself an edge by carefully reading about your beloved plant before you purchase. Catalogs contain valuable information indicating the best growing conditions for all the plants they list, websites and nurseries also provide this same information. As a matter of fact, even Walmart offers up advice on their plants. Though I avoid purchasing anything from a store where I can clearly see the carnage of what happens when no one waters potted plants. Walmart in July is comparable to walking through the green house of horrors. Once beautiful plants now brown and crunchy piles or decayed lumps with the familiar “Rollback” tags.
One very easy way to see what grows best in your climate is to drive around your area and look at gardens. Make note of what plants others are planting in sun and what they are planting in shade. If your town has a garden tour…by all means take it. What better way to see how plants thrive in your climate. Green thumbs aren’t magical….they are earned with a little research. Everyone used to say I had a green thumb and that they could never grow the things I did…I gave them divisions of my plants and shared my ‘green thumb’ with them. No I didn’t really have the proverbial green thumb, I just knew what would grow in my area and the soil type it needed to thrive. Once I shared that knowledge, they too had the ‘green thumb’
Get your hands dirty. That’s right you are going to have to understand what soil type you have. This can vary according to the drainage in your yard. I had several different soil types in one area. One area was very rocky, turned out there had been an old gravel driveway that covered over with grass over the years. A second area was very wet with an underground spring running right through it. The 3rd area was a surprise. The first time I dug to check the soil I noticed that the soil was a rich dark mix, turns out 50 years ago they tore down the outhouse and that’s where it had been. Yeah it’s gross…but man did my flowers grow!
There are several factors that need to be looked at to determine what you can grow in your soil. You’ll want to know if your soil is moist or dry for starters. Does water lie in a low spot in your yard? Avoid that spot, but certainly use the surrounding area. Can you see visible cracks in your soil? This soil is too dry, you may have to amend it with new rich soil and expect to invest some time in watering on a regular basis. Sandy soil will drain well, but not hold moisture well and soil that is clay based will hold excess water but dry out quickly and harden, making it difficult for plants to take root.
There is always hope even if you have an extreme soil type, you can always add good top soil, fertilizer and a water system to help alleviate the problem. There is something you can’t change on your property and that’s its location. You are stuck with whatever zone your property happens rest upon. Here’s where new gardeners try to break the rules. Don’t try to garden out of your zone. I’ve heard many a novice gardener regretting their choice to grow a zone 8 plant in zone 6. You are throwing your money out the door because the plant will not thrive. Occasionally you might get it to take hold, but it will not do well and you’ll just watch it falter for a few seasons before you give up and put it to rest.
Before you even begin to choose plants, make sure you know your zone. Zones range from 1 to 11 with 1 being the coldest and 11 the hottest. You can go a zone up, but don’t try to go a zone down. Most of us worry about planting material that enjoys warm climates not being able to survive colder climates, but don’t forget that some of the cold tolerant plants won’t be able to stand the heat in the warmer climates.
I know my zone and Soil type… now what?
You're ready to hit those catalogs, websites and nurseries!
If you decide to peruse the garden catalogs you'll find a wealth of information for each plant listed. Listings include soil type, zone, sun conditions, bloom time and height of the plant at maturity. These are all useful bits of information when choosing your plants. Websites also include this information and most are set up in the same manner as catalogs.
If you prefer to see you plants up close and personal by cruising the nurseries, you still have access to this information. You'll find each plant will have a tag containing the information you need to decide if your plant is a good fit. Local nurseries also are a good bet because they will usually stick to plants that are hardy in your zone. Good nurseries also offer the additional benefit of knowledgeable staff. I've often stopped and asked their experiences with a particular plant before making a final decision.
The key to a great garden is doing a little research before you start. Armed with the knowledge of soil type, the amount of sun the garden will get, and zone you too can be come a 'green thumb' gardener.
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Do you know your Zone?
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