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Planning Your First Garden

For Our Beginners (or Those Yet to Begin!)

For those of us who garden, when we hear the question “How do I start?”, we’re thinking the real question is, "How do I stop?".

As in life, gardening is a journey, not the destination. No two yards are alike – heck, no two seasons are alike – so there's going to be some trial and error here. Just remember that there are no permanent mistakes in gardening. (And perennials are really tough to kill.) Planted in the wrong spot? Too close together? Want to try it someplace else? Just grab a shovel.

How to Begin:

First, look around your yard and pick an area you’d like to add some visual interest (or just make pretty). If just starting out, pick a small area. Save going crazy for later on when you have a better idea of what you’re doing. Don’t forget container gardening as an option if you can’t get plants in the ground.

You’ll need a few basic pieces of information, and we’ll show you how to get them:

  • How much sun? (Squint Test)
  • What is my soil type? (Squeeze Test)
  • How is my drainage? (Sneaker Test)
  • How cold does it get in winter? i.e. What is my hardiness rating, or zone? This is a measure of how well a plant will survive in your winter’s cold temperatures.

Squint Test

Look at your site around midday. If you:

  • Want to wear sunglasses – you have full hot sun.
  • Find yourself squinting – you've got a sunny site.
  • Are comfortable reading a book – dappled shade.
  • Have trouble reading – deep shade.
  • Are asking people to follow the sound of your voice – pick another spot!

Repeat this process late in the day to see how long your conditions last. Most plants aren’t too fussy, but if you have hot, baking, late afternoon sun – then you will want to avoid planting moderate shade lovers, or plants that enjoy moisture as they will struggle in that spot.

Squeeze Test

Use a shovel to dig down about 6 inches. Grab a handful of the dirt and squeeze (like making a dirt snowball). If it:

  • Falls apart and wants to run through your fingers – you’ve got sandy soil.
  • Partially falls apart and crumbles a bit – you’ve got a loamy soil.
  • Stays in the shape you squeezed – you’ve got clay soil.

Sneaker Test

Is your spot squishy enough to get your tennis shoes wet a couple hours after a summer downpour? If yes, you’ll want to plant moisture tolerant plants. (Forget cactus for this spot!) It it’s still wet but not squishy; you have nice average drainage. Can’t really tell it rained? Then you have a dry site and will want to choose plants that like drier conditions.

Hardiness Test

Our Plant Finder can be used to fine your hardiness zone based on zip code. There are perennials for virtually every condition. You can also search based on height, flower color, season of bloom, etc. Now the hard part – picking which plants you’d like to try! Just remember we’re always available to help with any questions/concerns you might have.