Dreaming of Gardens – A Design and Care Primer

(ARA) – Does walking into a nursery or browsing through plant catalogs give you a headache? Do you agonize over where to start? Do you wonder how can you get your plants to look like, or somewhat like, those in the catalogs?

Planning next season’s garden does not need to be a chore. Getting your plants to respond well is within your ability. Several general steps, some that you are probably already doing, can get you the results you want.


Draw a diagram of your lot. Include your house, drive, walks, patios and other hardscape (permanent) fixtures. Also, include any buried pipes and wires, plus any overhead wires that may interfere with any work you will do. This map of hardscape features will be the backbone of your plan.

Now, add the large shrubs and trees that are permanent fixtures in your yard. Note their height. Note distinctive shady and sunny areas. Mark where shady areas reach, such as on the north side of your house. These features will influence your plant selection.

Now, how do you walk around, enter and view different parts of your landscape? Visit different areas, taking note of the pathways you take and the views from these areas. Go to areas from which you will view your plant beds, including inside your house. How wide is your view? How deep is it? Is it shady (lighten the area with light colored plants) or sunny? Measure the size of these planting beds.

Choosing Plants

Now you are ready to begin selecting plants. Always remember, you are the one who will be looking at these plants. And taking care of them. So pick plants that make you happy!

* Do you want annual plants (generally more color and “pop”) or perennials, which, once planted usually take less maintenance?

* Do you want color, varied leaf sizes (plant texture), height or density to vary your landscape, or do you want a smooth flow of color?

* Consider the specifics of soil type, temperature zone and climate that will dictate what plants do well in your area.

* How much work and money do you want to put into your landscape?

Now you are ready to visit your garden center and look at catalogs for those plants that fill your needs.

Reaching Potential

Make sure your gardens reach their full potential. To do this, you will always need to water and fertilize on a regular schedule according to each plants’ needs.


Each kind of plant will have its own water needs. This includes both the frequency and amount of watering. For easier care, put plants with similar water requirements near each other.

“Deep watering” means watering to full rooting depth. Deep watering, which encourages deep rooting, is usually relatively infrequent. Let the soil dry out somewhat between waterings. Some plants may show signs of wilt between watering and survive successfully.

“Frequent watering” usually means the plant has shallow roots or simply is a big user of water. Daily watering of these plants may be necessary during hot, dry summer weather. Many plants that require frequent watering do not tolerate dry periods.


When you fertilize landscape plants, you want to encourage even, steady growth. Landscape plants respond very well to fertilizers that have a high percent of slow release organic nitrogen. Fertilizers containing slow release nitrogen gradually release this nutrient as plants need it. Plants aren’t “pushed” to grow faster than they should. And, you don’t end up with unsightly, leggy growth.

Fertilizers such as Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0 contain over 85 percent slow release organic nitrogen. When growing conditions are favorable, this nitrogen is released as plants need it. By releasing nitrogen only as plants use it, Milorganite products are less prone to leach this nutrient into the groundwater.

According to Melinda Myers author, speaker and horticultural instructor, “Milorganite products, such as Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0, provide organic nitrogen for even feeding. Milorganite products, with their high percent of slow release organic nitrogen, help plants overcome the stress of summer heat and dry weather. They also add non-staining iron, which helps make sure that plants reach their full potential for deep, green color.”


Annual plants, because they grow faster than perennials, generally respond faster to fertilizer. General recommendations are to fertilize at seeding or planting, and again when buds are set. When you use slow-release fertilizer, this will result in steady growth and full blooms. Deadhead spent flowers to help many annuals continue to bud and flower.


Perennials generally grow slower than annual plants. Because of this, they require a different fertilizing pattern. Fertilize when you first transplant perennials. Mix your slow release fertilizer into the soil with the roots. Non-burning fertilizers like Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0 don’t harm tender roots. Fertilize young plants again in mid-summer to encourage growth. If you have flowering perennials, fertilize at bud set. Then, fertilize again about 45 days before they go into winter dormancy. This will give perennials time to store adequate nutrients to survive the winter.

As always, look for plant specific information. Plant tags, your local nursery, and your county horticulture extension agent are excellent sources. Don’t forget that your personal experience will also come into play. Experience will take into consideration the amount of growth you want, the type of soil you have and the kind of climate you live in.

Courtesy of ARA Content