8 Tips to Make Your Garden Grow Sturdy and Stunning This Season

The outside of your home uses planting and landscaping as their tools for design. But knowing how to place furniture and what colors work well together will only get you so far. Officially finding your green thumb requires certain steps. 

Grapes and leaves

Grapes. Photo: Mike DeRose

1. Research and Plan Your Garden Design ... a Must

Like any project, doing your research always benefits the end product—so understand what plants grow best in your area (The National Wildlife Federation offers a native plant finder that is helpful), and what special needs those plants might require.

“A gardener should be observational about their gardening area,” said Mike DeRose, The Pool Gardener. “Are there any areas with rocky or sandy soil, areas where water pools, areas that are windy?  Fences create a natural support for climbing plants like morning glories and green beans. Mostly shaded areas that are sheltered from wind are a good place to "harden" seedlings before transplanting them outside.”

Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau, a nonprofit organization that helps gardeners, also recommended knowing a few facts before you plant, such as the last and first frost dates, and the number hours of sun the spot gets compared with how much sun the plant might need.

Amaranth and sunflowers

Amaranth and sunflowers. Photo by Mike DeRose

2. What's the Difference Between Annual and Perennial Flowers?

It is useful to mark out the space you intend to plant. Good garden design offers something all season … if not all-year long. So look at when flowers bloom, and how long they’ll last. Try to use both annuals (colorful blooms that last a season) and perennials—which come back every year will allow a starting point each spring.

“These plants will reward you with their bloom every season and are available to bloom at any time of the year,” said Gena Lorraine, a gardening expert at Fantastic Gardeners. “Treat them as your foundation to your colorful garden and add the rest of the plants to your taste. Whether you would like a mixed palette of colors or different shades of one color, the choice is in your hands.”

Some suggestions she has are: winter jasmine, snowdrops, daffodils, crocus, forsythia and flowering quince for the spring; lavender, salvia, begonia, fuchsia, hydrangea, sunflower and petunia for the summer; marigolds, shrub rose, helenium, pansy, iris for fall; and mahonia, daphne, Christmas rose and snowdrop for winter.

Echinacea flowers

Echinacea. Photo by Mike DeRose

3. Create an Outdoor Color Palette ... Yes, There Is Such a Thing

Flower color is also important; you want to combine tones that don't clash. “One idea to try is to pick a color like pink and grow different flowers that are various shades of pink,” said Susan Brandt, president and co-founder of Blooming Secrets, a gardening website. “You can look on your color wheel and see that yellow and orange are next to year other and look good together.”

Pay attention to height as well. Tall plants should be in the back if the flower bed is near a structure, but be careful nothing will grow too high that it blocks a window. For circular designs or if you are creating an island, tall plants remain in the middle. 


Sunflowers. Photo by Gena Lorraine.

4. Your House and Garden: Keeping Design Consistent … Or Not

Coordinating a cohesive look between your house and the garden is optional. Just because you own a Victorian doesn’t mean your garden should contain just roses and sweet peas. “Different flower garden design ideas and styles lend themselves to different types of plants,” offered Brandt. “For example, a contemporary home might want a contemporary-leaning landscape that entails having a minimalist approach and clearly define flower beds with hard lines. An English-Tudor style home would look nice with a cottage-style garden that encourages a mix-and-match approach and whimsical paths and flower beds.”

Those with historic homes might want to reference photographs or paintings of homes from that architectural style and time period. “Utilize the visual resources as a guide to help you select color, textures and varieties,” said Shane Pliska, president of Planterra based in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “Don’t get too caught-up trying to source varieties or cultivars that may no longer be available, instead focus on the design: How can you recreate the palette and emulate the design that is related to that architectural style?”

But, of course, your home type is just one consideration—keep your preferences and needs in mind. “For instance, if you love having fresh flowers in your home on a regular basis, you might want to grow a cutting garden that could include such flowers as sunflowers, tulips, daffodils, and zinnia to name a few,” said Brandt.

Tulips. Photo by Gena Lorraine.

5. Learn About Deadheads ... No, Not the Grateful Dead

Once the flowers bloom, you can stop and smell and enjoy them but there’s still maintenance to keep everything healthy and lovely. As flowers die, make sure you deadhead them to keep the blooms going through the warmer weather by cutting the stem down. In the fall, some of these deadheads release seeds and you can leave them be.

Zinnia flowers

Zinnia flowers. Photo by Gena Lorraine.

6. Why You Need to Mulch

Mulch will make your garden healthier since it decomposes and adds minerals to your soil. Usually made of organic materials like bark or straw, mulch slows erosion, keeps the earth moist, prevents weeds, shields the soil from the weather. “Mulch is definitely one of the best ways to make your garden grow,” said Rich Howard from the blog the Greenery Guide. “If you're growing vegetables, a well-mulched garden will produce significantly more vegetables because of the added nutrients.” 

Don’t add mulch in the early spring, the soil needs the warmth to promote growth. Instead, wait until June or July and place a 3-4 inch of it around your trees, shrubs and flowers. In the fall and winter, mulch can insulate soil and keep plant roots warm and cozy.

7. Water Us ... Daily

Gardens need watering, of course, but there is a right way to do it. Try making this part of your morning routine so the soil is cool and the plants have time to dry—otherwise insects and fungus might set in. Aim for the roots, which need the nutrients most.

Flower in a pot

During the summer, you can expect to water once a day, maybe more in hotter weather. Test the soil with your knuckles, if it feels dry a few inches down it is time to get the can or turn on the sprinkler.

8. Fertilizer Gets to the Root of It 

Fertilizer helps root development, bloom formation, and overall plant health, but every plant has different needs so take that into consideration. The best practice is to fertilize your garden in the spring just before planting.

“Fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer three times a year per the label instructions,” suggested Zachary Smith, President of Smith's Pest Management. “For anybody who wants to be more scientific, take a soil sample to your local soil lab, and then follow their fertilizer prescription.”

A basic fertilizer strategy, added DeRose, is to get an all-purpose fertilizer or fertilizer higher in nitrogen until the plant begins to flower and then to switch to a bloom booster type of fertilizer with less nitrogen and more phosphorous and potassium. 

And that’s how you make your garden grow!

Feature photo by Gena Lorraine. For more on gardening, see other Fabrics and Home posts.


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