Tips for the new OR NOVICE gardener PART II


 As I told you last week, I asked the Master Gardener Class last year to share with me what they would say if a new or novice gardener asked “How can I improve my landscape?” Or “How can I make my flowers, shrubs, and trees grow better?” The group broke into small groups and provided written tips and recommendations.

The idea for this exercise came from Dr Cindy Haynes, Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University. She wrote two articles with the same premise after a novice gardener asked her, “What can I do to grow plants better or have a better looking landscape?” She pondered her answer and then wrote, “I think it might have been easier to tell him and others what not to do first.” (Garden Don’ts, Parts I & II, published in Horticulture and Home Pest News, March 9, 2005 and April 20, 2005.) In Part II she asked some of the other Horticulture Department professors to share their wisdom. The information is very informative.  

Today I am going to share some more of the tips from the Nebraska Master Gardeners. Some are quite similar to what the professors at Iowa State University said. If you want to read what Dr. Haynes and the other faculty members wrote go to “”. In the search box, type in “Garden Don’ts” or the date of the article.

The Master Gardeners suggest that you select good quality tools when you start out and then keep them maintained. For example, good quality garden pruners will last you a long time. Poor quality ones will be a pain after a short time and will not do the kind of cutting you want. After purchasing good tools, take care of them!! Clean them after each use and coat any metal with oil. The easiest way to do this is to use a container with course sand or gravel with motor oil in it. All you have to do then is put your spade or pruners in the sand and the dirt will come off and the metal will be coated with oil to protect them from rust.

Next they highly recommend that you ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!!! The label on all pesticide containers has very important information. This is true regardless of the pest you are after. The pest may be an insect, a weed, a disease, or an animal. The label will tell you what the active ingredients are, where you should use this product, any precautions, and how to mix the ingredients if necessary. Then FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!!! If the label says to use 2 ounces per gallon remember that 3 or 4 ounces will not be better. Increased dosage may injure your plant and not do what you want it to. Also if it says to spray every two weeks, application once a week is not necessarily better. Apply the right product, on the right plant, at the right time. The right product at the proper dosage and at the right rate but at the wrong time is a waste of time and money. So learn the life cycle of the pest you are trying to get rid of so you know when the optimal time to treat is. This is true whether the pest is a weed, an insect, a disease, or an animal.

BUY QUALITY SEEDS AND PLANTS!!!!  Poor quality transplants or seeds, planted in the wrong location or at the wrong time will not reach full potential. Also, soil temperature is very important when planting seeds and/or transplants. Seeds planted too early may just sit there and rot while seeds planted too late may not grow to maturity before a frost gets them. Many books on starting seeds will list the ideal germination temperature and it may be on the seed package. Transplants set out too early will also just sit in the soil and not do anything until the soil temperature reaches a certain point. I have a small kitchen thermometer I use to measure soil temp. Stick it in the ground only 3 to 4 inches deep and wait for about 5 minutes. Then read what it says.

PLAN BEFORE YOU PLANT!!! Planning means deciding where you are going to place a plant before you buy it. Too often we go to the garden center and see a very nice looking plant, buy it, take it home and then wonder where we are going to put it. It also means placing like plants together. I don’t mean those of similar color, shape, or form, but put plants that have similar water needs, similar soil needs, similar fertilizer needs, and similar sunlight needs. If you don’t take these needs into consideration some plants will grow and some will struggle. Or all will struggle because you are over watering one time and under watering the next, or you may be fertilizing too much or too little. .

ROTATE YOUR CROPS!!! The best way to prevent an infestation by insects that over winter in the soil, or prevent soil borne diseases, is to rotate where you plant. This applies to more than vegetable crops though these are the most likely plants to be affected. Some tomato diseases are soil borne, so try to rotate. I grow mine in one raised bed for two years and then move over and plant something else in that raised bed for at least two to three years before I replant tomatoes or anything in that family like peppers or potatoes.

DIVERSIFY!!! This means when you are planting a tree, a shrub, or flowers in your yard, or a windbreak on your farm or acreage, do not plant all one species or all one variety or you are asking for trouble. Many windbreaks now have too many Scotch pines and they are being devastated by pine wilt. In your orchard quite often you need at least two different varieties of the same fruits. For example, apples take two different varieties and they need to flower about the same time to have good pollination. DIVERSIFY. 

DO NOT PLANT MORE THAN YOU CAN CARE FOR!!! The last couple of years I had too many tomato plants and too many water lilies. They did not grow and produce very well. So, this year I plan to cut back so I can take care of what I plant.

The last tip from the Master Gardeners is IT IS OK TO FAIL!!! Most of us at one time or another have planted too much or have tried to grow a plant that is not suited for our growing conditions, or have planted something in the wrong place, or at the wrong time. However, it is fun to experiment and try new things, so don’t be afraid to try and don’t worry if you fail. I have found that some parts of my garden have a micro-climate that allows me to do things I didn’t think would work. By taking a risk I have found out what grows best where.

P.S.--the Master Gardeners above all encourage you to HAVE FUN AND ENJOY YOUR GARDEN!!!

Copyright 2007