When should I prune lilac bushes? What’s the best manure to add to my soil? What’s a perennial vs. an annual? These and similar questions are common among new gardeners. Maybe it’s your first house or maybe you have decided to add some curb appeal to your current home, but either way this hobby of gardening will bring you much satisfaction and happiness.

First is the planning! Choosing the right style garden for you is a personal choice. Do you want a romantic English Cottage Garden with drifts of flowers, a variety of colors and rustic garden décor? Or, do you like a more traditional, formal garden style with repeated patterns, clipped edges, statuary and fountains? A Modern Contemporary Garden Style is one that accentuates structure and form over blooms. It uses structure and repeats patterns. This modern garden style is minimalistic with hard edges and clean lines and looks great with more modern architecture. Plants like Japanese Maple, Yucca’s sharp spikes, swaying grasses, and rocks rather than mulch are often used. Once you choose your style, look for examples you like in your neighborhood or online. We don’t know a single gardener that stuck 100% to their plan. This is because our willpower is just not strong enough when we see a gorgeous new plant in a greenhouse. And we think, “Wow! Where can I plant that?” After all, it’s your garden and you are the artist!

Pay attention to light. How much sun will your area get? Many of the labels on the flowers you choose may read “Full Sun” which means they need 6 hours of sun per day. Others, like Hostas, Columbine, and Bleeding Hearts, Astilbe, and Ferns do well in shade-part sun. Do you want blooms all season? If so, then incorporate Fall bloomers (such as Chrysanthemums, Asters, Black-Eyed Susans) amongst your summer flowers. And in Fall, make sure to plant hardy bulbs that can over-winter like Snowdrops, Hyacinth, Daffodils and Tulips for Spring color. When shopping for plants, know that perennials are plants that come back year after year without replanting. Annuals only last one season. Plan your garden on paper according to the height, color, and spacing. Highest plants at maturity go in back – or choose bushes as a backdrop.

Know your USDA Hardiness Zone. In our area of Central PA, we are zone 7A. Use it as a guide to avoid planting trees, shrubs, and perennials that won’t survive winters in your area. Don’t crowd your plants and you may want to amend your soil with composted cow manure. Only composted, rotted manure that has cured for at least six months should be blended into your soil. Fresh manure is too high in nitrogen and can “burn” plants. Manure from pigs, dogs, and cats should never be used in gardens or compost piles because they may contain parasites that can infect humans. You may want to start your own compost bin or pile using leaves, kitchen scraps, paper, etc. There is much info online on how to create “Black Gold,” as compost is called, for your garden.

As for maintenance, there is a lot of it but you’ll enjoy being in the garden. Pruning flowering bushes is a task that may make you feel sad to see them sheared, but they really do need that haircut. Spring flowering bushes like Lilacs should be pruned after they are done flowering as next year’s blooms will be on their “old wood” from this year. Conversely, shrubs that bloom later in summer and fall tend to “bloom on new wood,” which means they set flower buds on the current season’s growth. These shrubs should be pruned in late winter or very early spring, before they leaf out.

Deadheading or removing spent flowers on plants, such as petunias, will keep them full and producing blooms. You will want to keep weeds at bay also. Use landscape cloth when planting, or a few inches of mulch around your flowers, or you can pull weeds by hand and make sure to get the roots.

Fertilizers are a gardener’s friend. Miracle-Gro is a popular brand. Bloom-boosting fertilizers are usually high in phosphorus encouraging blooms and lower in nitrogen, which encourages green growth. In a fertilizer formula, the first number identifies the nitrogen content, the second identifies the phosphorus content, and the third is potassium. Different types of plants require different fertilizers and usually the bottle will list the plants for which it is recommended.

Stop in our greenhouse for advice from Stephanie if you have questions. And remember, Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”