Garden Time

Fail-proof gardening tips to get you growing

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Learning which plants work well together can help make your garden the best it can be.

With so many plant choices, picking the perfect plants that will thrive in your garden can seem overwhelming — even for experienced gardeners. Rather than randomly buying plants that are attractive in the displays and hoping they’ll live once you get them home, there’s a smarter way to shop.

Check out these tips from the experts to make plant selection easy, fail-proof and fun:

• Get inspired — Look through garden magazines and visit online for ideas on what’s new and tried-and-true. Talk to your friends and neighbors for suggestions.

Tip: Use the new garden Web site, BloomIQ.com, which inspires and takes the guesswork out of planning and plant selection. Its garden design suggestions and planting combinations will match your color preferences, personal style and growing conditions.

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Do you want veggies, herbs, annuals or perennials? Start by sketching a garden plan.

With one click in the comfort of your own home, you can browse beautiful images, plant descriptions and info to help you choose the right plants for your needs. Plus, there are tips for designing gardens, creating container gardens, using indoor plants and learning which plants work well together — all on one easy-to-use site.

• Sketch a garden plan — Look at your home’s architectural features and landscaping. “Start with the ‘bones’ of your home and landscape — they’ll make your yard look good all year long,” says Justin Hancock, senior garden editor at BHG.com, the Better Homes and Gardens online magazine.

• What kind of garden do you want — formal or informal? Decide if you want edibles, annuals or perennials in a garden or containers filled with herbs, veggies and perennials. And don’t forget the indoors. Include houseplants to change the look of your home; it’s easy and economical.

Tip: Sketch what you want to plant — and where.

“No matter what you want to grow, gardening success starts with a good design plan,” says Bobbie Schwartz, president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (apld.org). “Photograph your home and landscape, print out the photos, lay tracing paper on top and then sketch out your ideas.”

Schwartz suggests not worrying about specific plant varieties. “You can fill in those later. Begin by deciding on features such as shape, color, and height texture and bloom time.”

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Adding organic material, like compost, helps plants build strong roots.

After you have a general idea what you want, you can start having fun by picking out the plants.

• Create a shopping list — “Come up with a list of plants suitable for your garden conditions,” advises Hancock. “Hostas may come to mind, but if your yard is a deer magnet, coral bells are a better choice.”

Tip: Educate yourself on exactly what works best in your garden before you go shopping. Learn the plant’s water, sun and care requirements. Is it deer-proof, drought tolerant, or low maintenance? Answering these questions can be a garden saver.

“With a click of the mouse at BloomIQ.com you can create and print a shopping list of the plants you want,” says Kristi Huffman, vice-president of John Henry Horticulture. “You can shop with confidence, knowing that the plants you buy are going to be successful in your home and garden.”

With a personalized plant list in hand, anyone can shop like a pro. For more information, visit www.BloomIQ.com.

Ready tools for the growing season

As the seasons change and outdoor living becomes a reality once again, visions of bountiful gardens and green grass fill the heads of most homeowners. It is likely, however, that a few items in the tool shed need some attention.

Even the most experienced gardener has tools for working in and around the garden and lawn. Although the lawnmower, spreader, shovel or rake may get taken for granted, all tools work more efficiently and last longer with proper care.

Essential tools

A quick inventory of garden and lawn tools will make things easier this growing season. Most tool sheds contain a shovel, hoe, trowel and hose. Lawn care can be even easier with just a few additional items such as a mower, a rake and a high-quality spreader.

You can find many variations on these basic tools and numerous other options on the market such as trimmers, edgers, aerators and tillers, but the key is to have a few essentials on-hand and ready for use.

Care tips

Most garden and lawn tools have metal parts containing iron and, therefore, attract rust. Oxygen present in the air and water combines with iron to create reddish-looking patches on metal, known as rust. Left unchecked, rust can eventually destroy a tool but it is easily prevented. Simply keep tools clean and dry.

After each use, tools like shovels and hoes need a quick cleaning with a stiff wire brush and rag to remove moisture and debris. Oiling or waxing the blades on garden and lawn tools is a great way to prevent future rust while keeping tools in tip-top shape. If a tool is already rusted, simply apply a small amount of mineral oil and scrub with steel wool, or consider a commercial rust remover if necessary.

Lawnmowers need care each season. A properly cared for and maintained mower will last for several years. To ensure the best possible performance, treat your mower to a tune-up, oil change and blade sharpening each spring.

Spreaders also need annual maintenance to ensure peak performance. After each use, empty the leftover contents back into the bag. Finally, place the spreader on the grass and hose it down. Any metal parts may also benefit from a spray of oil to prevent rust.

Proper tool storage is very important. Remember to keep tools clean and dry. Never leave tools outside, exposed to the elements. If possible, hang shovels, spades, hoes, rakes and hand tools from hooks on the wall, making tools easier to find when needed.

Some attention at the start of the season really pays off in the end, and extends the life of your favorite garden and lawn tools. So this year, take a few minutes to care for these items and reap the benefits for many years to come.

Garden prep 101

Outside birds are singing and bits of green are popping up all around. As seasons change from winter to spring, the gardener’s mind quickly leaps to growing flowers and produce. Before getting out there and planting, follow these basic garden preparations to get the most out of this growing season.

• Journal — ScottsMiracle-Gro gardening expert Ashton Ritchie strongly recommends that every gardener keep a garden journal. “My wife and I keep a garden journal so we know what we planted, when we planted and harvested, what problems we had to treat, what we used and how well it worked,” he says. “We start each growing season by reviewing last year’s journal.”

In fact, many successful gardeners, like Ashton, take notes or keep journals. It can be as easy as taping seed packets into a small notebook or sketching out where the tulip bulbs are planted. Keeping track of gardening experiences can simplify the gardening process, and will be an invaluable reference in the future.

• Garden design — Whether planting a new garden or bringing life to an old one — a smart design is key. Light, water and space requirements vary from plant to plant and region to region. Therefore, a well designed lay-out for a garden can make the difference between a bountiful harvest and withering leaves.

From fancy landscaping software programs to simple charcoal sketches, creating a garden layout is a great way to plan the optimal design. A few measurements of the space and observations of the amount of sunlight or moisture will prove helpful in the planning process. Consider what the garden will look like from all angles to maximize enjoyment. In addition, seed packets, garden books, potting labels and nursery experts are always great resources on a plant’s growing requirements.

• Plant selection — Varieties of plants available in today’s market are virtually endless. That is why seed catalogs are a priceless tool for any gardener. Leafing through these resources can make plant selection easy and fun. With a garden design and journal from last year in hand, it will be a cinch to narrow down the choices for this year’s garden. A successful gardener doesn’t have to grow all their plants from seed. Most nurseries offer a wide range of small herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers to transplant directly into the garden. However, starting plants from seed does provide more variety, is usually less expensive and can grow plants that are more disease resistant. Selecting plants native to your region attracts wildlife and makes your garden a living visual experience.

• Soil amendment — Native soils and top-soils are not all created equal. Most will need a little boost to become fertile garden soil. A 3-inch layer of high-quality garden soil can be tilled into native soil to improve existing soil, add organic matter and help plants build strong roots.

Amending soil will allow gardeners to grow beautiful flowers and bountiful vegetables naturally. Compost is another great source of organic matter for the garden. Create a compost bin and add leaves, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps, potting soil from last year’s containers and any other garden waste. Turn or aerate the pile once a month, and by next summer all that former yard waste will be nice organic material for your garden, and keep the refuse out of landfills.

• Feeding, watering and weeds — Once the garden is planted, feeding, watering and weeding are essential to the growth and survival of flowers and vegetables. Even with proper feeding, a garden should still be monitored daily for water needs, depending on the amount of rain, sunlight and temperatures it receives.

• Mulch — Mulch is an often overlooked cousin of garden soil. Many believe mulch to be a strictly decorative item, but most gardeners know its true value. High-quality mulches look great while also helping conserve water and naturally preventing weeds by blocking growth and restricting access to sunlight. Mulch should be used around the base of plants and in beds, but can also be used to create pathways through a garden, making harvesting and watering easier. Don’t forget that containers also benefit from a nice 2-inch layer of mulch.

With just a little planning, and a few easy preparations before the growing season, gardeners can reap the rewards come harvest time, and enjoy the beauty of the garden all season long.

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