Gardening 101: Gardening Advice on Getting Started

Posted by: on February 26th, 2011 | 25 Comments
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At The Home Depot, we want everyone to enjoy digging in the dirt, and we’re ready to offer you the gardening advice to make your thumb as green as you’d like. Here we take a quick look at the basic ingredients of gardening: Light, soil, mulch, water and fertilizer.


Light is important

Most gardens fall into two categories – sun or shade.  Sun loving plants generally need a minimum of 8 hours of sun a day, while shade loving plants will be happy with just a minimum of reflected, ambient light. Sun or shade, the location should also be easily accessible to properly tend, maintain, and enjoy. Plant tags will tell you if the plant is sun or shade – and often tags will be more specific and tell you ‘partial sun’ or ‘half day shade’ – whenever you see a tag like that you should be more careful with the planting location. Look at the role that house exposure plays, with planting against east facing walls generally being cooler and more gentle that west facing or southwest exposures that get the full impact from hot afternoon light. Planting tubs on a sunny deck or patio will have the double effect of sun reflecting back off the deck surface – so use more ‘sun’ plants in patio and deck plantings unless you truly know that it is a shady location.


Work that soil
With only rare exceptions, all gardens benefit from nutrient rich, well-draining soil. As soon as the soil is workable in your region, begin by digging deeply, turning the soil and remove weeds and other debris. Add copious amounts of organic material like peat, compost, composted manures, even fireplace ashes, and turn them in to the soil. With patio and deck plantings we like to use a ‘fluffy’ peat based potting mix (hint – if it hurts your back picking up the bag of soil – it is too heavy for a patio pot – look for the lightweight ‘fluffy’ soils). Patio and deck pots need to be watered often, so we like a soil that has good air porosity (fancy way to say fluffy) as well as peat based to hold enough water for the plants. Roots are funny – they need air as much as water – and a heavy, compacted soil with little air tends not to be a good place for great gardens. We really like adding organic matter to soil – it adds air, it adds nutrients and it improves the water holding ability of most soils.

Mulch the garden
After the plants are in, apply a good 2”-3” layer of ‘organic mulch’ over the garden. Use any of a number of good organic substances like compost, cocoa shells, straw, finely shredded bark, peat moss, composted manure etc. Mulch not only makes a neat presentation but also discourages weeds, retains moisture, and over time breaks down to add to the health of the soil. If you do not have organic mulch you can add a layer of plastic mulch or weed cloth (rolls of black poly film) used to keep the weeds down. Some types of plastic mulch are now made with biodegradable plastic. Some folks use old newspapers for a short-lived mulch that help keep more water in the soil immediately after planting.

Watering
Water according to the plant’s needs and be consistent about it. Most garden plants need to be watered frequently when they are small (and have small root systems). Once a plant is established in the garden (and has deep roots), it can go much longer between watering.  Irregular watering stresses the plants and leaves them vulnerable to diseases, pests, and overall poor health and performance. A hint: when you do water – make sure you water ‘deeply’ – that is do not just spritz the plants with a little water on the leaves – but get the soil under a plant good and wet – think about adding a ‘few inches’ of water. If you water deeply you will help drive the roots down deep into the soil as well. When you water deeply you can water less often than those who spritz.

Fertilize
It’s good to add a balanced time released fertilizer when originally preparing the bed to get things off to a good start. A few supplemental feedings with liquid plant food throughout the growing season will ensure healthy, robust and productive plants. There are many types and brands of fertilizer – here are a few that you can use:

  • Water-soluble or liquid feed:  These types of fertilizers you would add to a gallon of water and then water onto the plants. These types on new plantings as they make the food immediately available to the young plants. VIGORO and Miracle-Gro both have very good water-soluble products. Read the directions – but typically, you mix a tablespoon of food into a gallon of water – then apply every two weeks.
  • Granular or dry fertilizer – These are the types you sprinkle around the roots or put into the hole prior to planting. These types slowly fed the plants – also a good thing. These are great with patio planters that get watered a lot as well as with petunias as they are heavy feeders. Many good gardeners use both water soluble and granular as long as you cut back on the recommended application rates.
  • Organic feeds – These types can be either liquid or granular, but are organic based. Organic feds are slower to work but are a good use of waste products from other industries. Many gardening experts like liquid fish emulsion or dry manures.

You can use several different plant foods throughout the year – feeding at heavier rates in spring and summer. You can also add a dry fed to all of our plantings then get the plants started using a supplemental liquid food. The real secret is to make sure you fed the plants consistently.

Take a look at more of our Gardening 101 posts here on The Apron Blog.

Check out our Home Depot Forums, too, for gardening advice. Get your gardening questions answered by Home Depot gardening experts. We’d also love to hear your gardening stories–triumphs, tragedies and clever ideas.

You can also always speak to one of our Certified Nursery Consultants at your local Home Depot Store. He or she will be happy to give you gardening advice, point you to the right product or offer ideas how to make your garden a place of pride. 



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  1. Joan says:

    When is a good time to transplant rose bushes? I need to move them because they do not get enough sun.

    • Now is a great time for transplanting rose bushes. Just prune your roses back to about 1 foot tall and dig up as much of the roots as is manageable. Plant in a very sunny area and amend the new home with some Miracle Grow garden soil and then water in a root stimulator like the Miracle grow Quick Start. In no time your roses will be coming up and be so much happier in their new home. – GreenGiant

  2. Valeria says:

    I would like to dig up my azaleas and replace them with other shrubs. When is it not a good time to do that?

    • The best time to plant new shrubs is in the spring and in the fall. Try to do it before the temperatures drop down to the freezing mark. When you go to re-plant make sure that you mix in some good soil with your existing soil. Also, some transplanting solution is a good idea to help the roots establish themselves quicker.

    • Ayana Glaze says:

      The best time to plant new shrubs is in the spring and in the fall. Try to do it before the temperatures drop down to the freezing mark. When you go to re-plant make sure that you mix in some good soil with the stuff your existing soil. Also, some transplanting solution is a good idea to help the roots establish themselves quicker.

  3. Jocelyn says:

    How come when I try to repot plants they die?

    • When you go to re-pot a plant you should always loosen up the roots. Make sure that the pot your using has fresh potting mix in it. You can use a transplanting solution which will help the roots establish themselves quicker and help prevent them from dying. Also, make sure that you keep your plants watered, but not overwatered.

    • Before you re-pot a plant you should always loosen up the roots. Make sure that the pot you’re using has fresh potting mix in it. You can use a transplanting solution which will help the roots establish themselves quicker and help prevent them from dying. Also, make sure that you keep your plants watered, but not overwatered.

    • Ayana Glaze says:

      When you re-pot a plant, you should always loosen up the roots. Make sure that the pot you’re using has fresh potting mix in it. You can use a transplanting solution which will help the roots establish faster and help prevent them from dying. Also, make sure that you keep your plants watered but not over-watered.

  4. emily says:

    how do i plant a garden or tree when my yard is full of clay

  5. Kiersten says:

    Andrew-
    I’m a new homeowner and the flower bed just completely died on me! (ok, maybe it was because I didn’t water it…). The only thing living are the weeds and grass in the beds. I think the best thing for me to do is start it over. I’ve started to pull out the weeds aaaannnddd I’m not sure where to go next. Do I just dig and start over? Once I have the trench, do I put something to stop the weeds? Just cover back with dirt? How much time do I have once I dig the trench to fill it back up before weeds root or birds bring in seeds etc? Can you direct me to a link with simple step by step instructions for starting over complete with products?

    Thanks!!

    • Kiersten says:

      Nevermind…I can piece it back together from other articles w/n the blog :) Any other help is greatly appreciated!

  6. brian says:

    Followed all advise given. Plant died after first day planted. What do I do now?

    • Jae Warren says:

      Hey Brian,

      Sorry for taking so long to respond to your question. Sounds like you have a bit of a brown thumb like me. No worries. Our Garden Club community members will surely have some useful advice for you on what you can do to have more success in your garden. It’s absolutely free to join, and you’ll be able to get answers to your questions from community experts, as well as engage with other gardening enthusiast. Hope this helps.

  7. Kimberley Jackson-Brown says:

    I live in NYC and I want to plant some flowers on my terrace in window boxes. What type of plants would be best as well as would the above 101 info apply to me even though I do not have a “garden” persay?

  8. NE says:

    My flower gardens are always over-grown with that awful tall grass. How do I keep it out?

    • Your best bet is to use a weed killer that takes care of weeds and grass in gardens. They are very easy to use and usually just mixes right in with the soil. There are different types of weed killers for flowers or vegetables, so make sure that you pick up the right one.

    • Andrew Gillette says:

      It’s also very important to consider the particular weeds you are dealing with.

      For instance, you said you have a problem with pesky tall grass. There are special weed and/or grass killers for particular weeds and grasses.

      For example, you need to consider are they broad leaf weeds? Are they narrow leaf weeds. These are particular features you need to consider when picking the proper Weed/Grass Killer.

      If you like to stay away from sprays and granules weed killers,
      simply lay down some mulch or weed block. There are a large variety of products in your local Home Depot that will fit your particular need.

  9. shar says:

    i have a hard time clearing all the debri and weeds

    • Andrew Gillette says:

      Sometimes it’s easier to start over with a garden. In that case, here is a tip on what you should do;

      First, decide what you want your new garden to look like. Don’t think you can’t do something from the start, keep a positive outlook.

      It’s important to choose the right plants for the right climates and shades, etc. Visit our local store/s for details.

      You can clear your garden by multiple tasks;
      -Cultivating/Tilling
      -Weed Killer/Grass Killer, then Tilling/Cultivating
      -Garden Claw (depending on the extent of weeds/grasses)

      You can choose which you prefer, then swing by your local store and choose the products. Remember, you can always ask an associate for help on projects, etc.

      Finally, have fun with every project you pursue!

  10. J HARRIS says:

    THE SOIL THAT I LAID IS LUMPY. I WONDER IF I SHOULD SIFT THE LUMPS.

    • Andrew Gillette says:

      The health of the soil is more important for particular species of plants, etc. Some plants (like dryer ones) tend to like a fluffier soil, and even mulch or peat moss. This helps the soil to retain moisture, and your plants to be healthier.

      Depending on the content/size of the lumps in your soil, it’s always a better idea to have a consistent soil. You can manually sift the soil, or use a cultivator. The choice is yours! It’s recommended to use a cultivator on significantly large areas of garden.

      Good luck with your garden!

  11. b j carson says:

    i bought a home with a small back yard and a hill that goes up that was cut in two levels and braced by wood and rock. i’d like to put in plants/flowers (i.e, honeysuckle or wildflowers) and maybe even a running fountain. my concern is would there be a problem doing that due to possible erosion during rain storms? or should i consider a different option? where could i get wildflowers???