What to plant as a first time gardener?
You just moved to a house with a yard from your bachelor pad apartment. Congratulations. At the same time, good luck. That yard of yours will need some tending to look its best. As a novice gardener you will need a few tips to get you started with a flower garden.
First thing you need to know is your growing zone. What grows like wildfire and looks great on the west coast’s hot climates, is not going to do so well in the cooler climates of the Midwest or New England states. So, keep your growing zone in mind when you are selecting plants for your landscape.
Second thing to consider is do you want perennial or annual plants. Those both have their advantages and disadvantages. Annual plants usually have bright colors and bigger flowers giving you the million dollar look in your garden, but when their season is over, they just die. You have to plant new ones next year. Perennials on the other hand keep coming year after year. They also have pretty flowers but many of them are not as lively as annuals and when you decide to change the look of your garden, they are kind of a pain in the neck to dig out and replant somewhere else.
Third and may be the most important aspect of these plants for me, was, how much maintenance will they need ? My yard had an automatic irrigation system. So, watering them was not going to be an issue, but plants still need regular maintenance against diseases, weeds and what-not.
So, I decided to go with a perennial garden with some annuals sprinkled in some spots to give the needed color pop as well as having an option to change them yearly, to make my garden look a tad bit different.
For the beginner gardener like myself, I decided to have a couple of crape myrtle bushes or trees depending on how you train them, azaleas and rhododendrons as my anchor plants with zinnias and marigolds (more about those in a little bit) as their colorful counterparts.
Crape myrtle, is one of the lowest maintenance plants you can find which grows in zone 7 and above. They are not picky about soil pH levels but slightly acidic soils is their best planting medium. They grow tall and can be trained to look like trees or bushes. Very light and infrequent fertilization with nitrogen rich compounds is all they need. More fertilizer makes the plant grow more foliage rather than their gorgeous flowers. To get more flowers throughout the season, you just need to deadhead the plant once a week or so. Light pruning once during winter is all the maintenance it requires. They can become the focal points of your landscape.
Azaleas and rhododendrons are members of the ericaceae family of plants. Although both plants can not handle cold weather frost well and die, in milder climates of zone 7 and and higher numbered zones, they are hardy perennials. They require very little maintenance. Maybe a little bit of finger pinch pruning to keep the plant shape in check every now and then. That’s about it. They are acid loving. Hence they thrive in the red clay of the south. If you want to force them to flower, plop a basket full of used up coffee grounds around the stump of the plant once a month or so. Then all they need is water.
And yes, I know, zinnias and marigolds are not necessarily perennials, technically speaking. But these plants self-seed when they die and unless there is a drastic change in the soil condition, they come back year after year. Hence they can be treated as perennials for all intents and purposes. Some people like marigolds’ scent while others find it unbearable. But regardless where you stand on that topic, the scent it emits is a natural repellent for mosquitoes. If you are living near a standing body of water, you should consider surrounding your property with marigolds.
Also, in the south, you can not go wrong with creeping phlox. They grow like a wildfire, their needle-like leaves cover the barren spots in your garden while its white or pink / purple tone flowers add a much needed color pop to your landscape. If you plant them as a ground cover, consider pruning the branches that went woody once a year after the flowering season is over.
When it comes to annuals, it is mostly a personal choice. If you are living in a cooler climate, you can not go wrong with pansies, impatiens and forget-me-nots. Once planted, all you need to do is water them. In the south where the planting zones are 8 and above, some annuals can be treated as perennials. Hence a little more planning may be a good thing, for saving you both time and money.
My choice of annuals in the south were impatiens, verbanas, dianthus, celosias, snapdragons and foxgloves. None of these require too much of a maintenance and most, if not all of them come back year after year, either by self seeding or their roots being well protected from the effects of very little frost I had.
Also, both for the perennials and the annuals, planning the plant height is another aspect of planting. You do not want to place your dianthus behind the celosias, as their near ground level flowers will not be visible while celosia’s tall and majestic looking foliage and flowers block their visibility.
Last but not the least, if your garden doesn’t look right the first year, don’t fret. Chalk it up to experience and learn from your mistakes. Take note of where you went wrong. The next time you’ll be wiser.