Best Practices for New Gardeners

Gardening can be an intimidating hobby to get into. Trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and hundreds of species and varieties of each. It can be overwhelming! That’s why we’re providing this guide, overflowing with tips from our garden center experts. 

We will cover some of the most commonly asked questions, such as proper watering techniques, mulching tips, sunlight requirements, and the best planting times. 

How to Water Properly

Many new gardeners accidentally overwater their plants, not realizing how much water is really needed. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other diseases. To avoid this, feel the soil around the base of the plant a few inches deep. If it’s dry, it’s time to give the plant a drink. It’s also important to adjust your watering based on the weather. If there’s a heavy rainfall or drought, make sure to compensate for that with your watering schedule. Watering the entire root zone deeply will encourage deep root growth, which can help plants grow stronger and thrive. 

To avoid overwatering ensure good drainage, use pots with drainage holes, and adjust watering according to the plant’s needs, season, and weather conditions. The amount of water your plants need depend on several factors:

Type of Plant: Different plants have varying water needs. If you have questions on the specific requirements of our plants, let us know!

Size and Type of Pot: Larger pots hold more moisture than smaller ones. Terracotta pots allow soil to dry faster than plastic or glazed containers.

Soil Type: Well-draining soil dries out faster than dense, clay-heavy soil.

Climate and Season: Plants need more water in hot, dry weather and less in cool, humid conditions. 

Plant Size and Growth Stage: Larger, actively growing plants or those in bloom may require more water.

Overwatering is a common issue in gardening. Watch out for these signs, which are common indicators of overwatering:

Soggy Soil: Consistently wet soil, especially a few days after watering, suggests overwatering.

Yellowing Leaves: Leaves turning yellow, particularly at the bottom of the plant, can be a sign of too much water.

Wilting: Wilting, despite wet soil, indicates that the plant is not properly absorbing water due to root damage.

Root Rot: Soft, brown roots as opposed to firm, white roots indicate root rot, often caused by excessive watering.

Mold or Algae on Soil Surface: A green layer on the soil or mold indicates high moisture levels, which are conducive to these growths.

Slow Growth or Leaf Drop: Overwatered plants often have stunted growth and may shed leaves unexpectedly.

Blisters on Leaves: The presence of blisters or lesions on plant leaves and stems can occur when roots take up more water than the plant can use.

Sunlight Requirements – Why it Matters

Some plants, like hostas, love the protection of shade. If you plant a sun-loving coneflower in the shade, it won’t bloom to its full potential. Every plant has a sunlight requirement that’s important to its growth. Recognizing whether a plant is getting too much or too little sunlight is crucial for its health. Below are some signs to look out for.

Signs of Too Much Sunlight:

Scorched or Brown Leaves: Leaves may turn brown, especially at the edges, and feel dry or crispy.

Faded or Bleached Leaves: Excessive sunlight can cause the colors of the leaves to appear washed out or bleached.

Wilting: Plants might wilt during the hottest part of the day, even if the soil is moist.

Dry Soil: The soil may dry out more quickly than usual.

Signs of Too Little Sunlight:

Leggy Growth: Plants may have spindly, stretched stems as they reach towards a light source.

Small or Pale Leaves: Leaves might be smaller than usual and lack vibrant color.

Leaning Towards Light: The plant may lean significantly towards the nearest light source.

Slow Growth or No Growth: Insufficient light can lead to stunted growth or no new growth at all.

Dropping Leaves: Older leaves may fall off more quickly than normal.

Adjusting the location of your plant or the duration of light exposure can often correct these issues. Remember, different plants have different light requirements, so it’s important to understand the specific needs of each plant in your care. The plant’s tag can help you identify its sunlight requirements, but if you can’t find it, we’re also here to help! 

When is the Best Time to Plant?

The best time to plant largely depends on the plant type and Wisconsin’s climate. Below are some guidelines based on the plant type.

Perennials, Trees, and Shrubs: In Wisconsin, early fall is often ideal. The soil is still warm, which encourages root growth, and cooler temperatures reduce the stress on new plantings. Spring is also a good time, especially after the last frost date.

Annuals: Plant after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. In Wisconsin, it could be late April through late May. We always say wait for Memorial Day, but it could warm up before then. Keep an eye on extended weather forecasts!

Cool-Season Vegetables and Plants: Plant in early spring or early fall, as they can tolerate and even thrive in cooler temperatures.

Warm-Season Vegetables and Plants: Plant these after the last frost in spring when the soil has warmed up.

Bulbs: Spring-flowering bulbs (like tulips and daffodils) should be planted in the fall, while summer-flowering bulbs are best planted in the spring.

Lawn Grass: Early fall is typically the best time to seed or sod a lawn, as the temperatures are cooler and rainfall is more abundant, which helps grass establish.

It’s also important to check the specific requirements of each plant, as some may have unique planting time needs.

General Plant Tips

We’ve covered the basics above, but we have a few more tips and tricks to share to ensure your garden grows to its fullest potential. 

Know your Growing Zone: All plants have areas where they will thrive. These areas are split into hardiness or growing zones. The UDSA has created this interactive map, which is a valuable tool to help you decide what plants are more likely to thrive in your location. Most of central and southern Wisconsin is between zone 5a and 5b. This means that you should only choose plants that tolerate this hardiness zone. Our garden center only carries annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that thrive in our growing zone. 

Mulching is Key: Mulching is essential for new plants. It helps maintain soil moisture, regulate soil temperatures, deter weeds, and even prevent erosion. We recommend mulching all newly planted nursery stock, and adding new mulch in late spring or early fall. Mulching about 3” deep for trees, shrubs and perennials is recommended, but leave space near the trunk of the plant for it to breathe. 

Give Plants Some Space: It’s easy to underestimate the space plants need to grow. Some plants may start out small, but easily triple their size once matured. Most plants will give a matured size on the tag, but if you’re not sure just ask our garden center experts! Overcrowding your plants can lead to competition for nutrients, water, and light, which results in weaker and less productive plants. Overcrowding the same type of plant can also increase the likelihood of spreading disease, should one get infected. 

Final Thoughts

We hope these gardening best practices will help you during the growing season. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us, or stop in the garden center. We’re here to help you and your garden succeed! 

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