Five Steps to a Fabulous Garden

By Melinda Myers - horticulturist and gardening expert
January 20, 2018

Landscape with Water and Flowers

1) Start with a plan

It’s just like making a grocery list before you go shopping. No gardener, like the hungry shopper, can resist that bargain or new variety. Unfortunately, when we get the plants home there is no room for them in the garden or our landscape doesn't have the right growing conditions to keep the plant healthy and attractive. A plan will save you money spent on the wrong plants for your landscape.

  • Make a sketch of the existing landscape, identify bad views to screen and good views to save.
  • Note problem areas, sunlight and soil conditions.
  • Sketch in locations for plants and gardens that add beauty to your view whether indoors or out.
  • Evaluate and review the plan – it’s much easier to move plants on paper than after they are planted in the ground.

2) Select the right plant for the location

No matter where you live, all gardeners seem to suffer from zone envy. We are looking for warmer winters, cooler summers, and more or less moisture in the form of rain and snow. Matching the plants to the available space and growing conditions means better looking plants with less work.

  • Use plants tolerant of winter and summer temperature extremes in your area.
  • Pick plants suitable for the average rainfall.
  • Give plants plenty of room to grow to their mature size.

Perennial Garden

3) Prepare the planting site

Soil is the foundation of a healthy and attractive garden or landscape. If you build a good foundation, your plants will be more drought and pest tolerant. Investing time up front means less work for you to keep the landscape healthy and looking good.

  • Start with a soil test – most University Extension Offices can help.
  • Dig 2 to 4 inches of organic matter such as compost, peat moss or aged manure into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil.
  • Incorporate Milorganite® prior to planting and follow recommended application rates. The nitrogen is slow release and won't burn the tender roots of new plants. The low nitrogen slow release formulation eliminates excessive growth that is more prone to pests and requires more mowing or pruning. The Phosphorous is non leaching, staying put for plants to use.

Woman Planting a Garden

4) Provide proper care

A healthy plant is better looking, requires less corrective care, and is the best defense against pests. Proper watering, fertilizing, grooming and care throughout a plant’s life will keep it looking good for a long life in your landscape.

  • Water the soil thoroughly, moistening the top 4 to 6 inches of soil during extended periods of drought.
  • Wait until the soil is crumbly and slightly moist before watering again.
  • Water early in the morning to reduce the risk of disease and water lost to evaporation.
  • Mulch the soil surface with shredded leaves, evergreen needles, woodchips or other organic mulch to conserve moisture, reduce weeds, improve the soil, and insulate roots from temperature extremes.
  • Apply Milorganite to plants that need a nutrient boost. The low nitrogen encourages growth without prohibiting bloom. As microorganisms work on Milorganite, the Phosphorous and Potassium becomes bound to the soil and is made available for plants to use. The nitrogen won’t burn plants even during the heat and drought of summer

5) Manage pests in harmony with the environment

Despite your best efforts, insects, weeds and disease can invade the landscape. A healthy plant is usually able to tolerate normal insect and disease infestations. Beneficial insects, pest-eating birds, or a change in the weather can slow the spread and damage caused by pests. Patience if often our best weapon.

  • Make sure you have a problem before treating since most insects (97%) are beneficial. They eat the bad guys and improve the environment.
  • Check your garden weekly for problems since early detection makes control easier and more effective.
  • Handpick and destroy diseased plant parts or troublesome insects as soon as they are discovered.
  • If you choose to use a chemical look for the most eco-friendly product available, and always follow the directions.
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