Gardening 101

Oh Sh*t, I Have A Yard

Leaving the city means no longer pretending to be satisfied with a solitary window box. But once you have more space, what do you even do with it?

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Many years have passed since Carrie Bradshaw declared “I don't do plants” while complaining that her new live-in boyfriend Aidan Shaw “brought a living thing” into her apartment. Millennials love their plants so much that the industry doubled in value between 2016 and 2019, and Gen Z isn’t far behind them (Vox reported in August that #plantsofTikTok has 3.4 billion views on the app). But there’s a big leap from a windowsill collection of planters to a garden of your own.

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Creating and maintaining your own outdoor space requires effort and know-how, especially if you want to do it without synthetic fertilizers, which can harm water supplies and kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Luckily, by snooping, studying, and playing ball with the seasons, your first backyard can still be a joyful endeavor.

Look At Your Neighbor’s Lawn

“Talking to neighbors or a garden center employee is the best way to learn what works in your local climate,” says gardening expert Mary Jane Duford. You may also want to consider getting a soil test. The average cost is $1,360, but it can alert you whether the soil’s acidic or alkaline, and what kind of plants will work best.

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Learn Your Hardiness Zone

The U.S. Department of Agriculture carves America into 11 zones of “hardiness,” determined by the lowest annual average temperature. It’s not a perfect tool, but learn your number and it’ll help you when thinking about nonseasonal plants, trees, or flowers.

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Use Perennials

If you’re on a budget, when thinking about flowers, consider investing in perennials instead of annuals. “Perennials will grow back the following year whereas annuals only last a season,” says Tammy Sons, owner of Tennessee Wholesale Nursery. Look for perennials that fit with your hardiness zone to make sure they’ll see you through, and remember, not all of them need to be cut back come autumn.

Focus On Trees & Shrubs First

You may be eager to plant flowers and veggies, but it’s worth pausing. "It makes much more sense to invest in long-lived plants like evergreen privacy hedges, feature trees, and ornamental shrubs like hydrangeas," says Duford. Sort that, then fill in the rest.

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Clean The Garden Seasonally

“In the spring, trim down any dead plant foliage,” Duford says. “As things warm up, consider adding new plants. In autumn, rake leaves and again remove any dead foliage. Winter is a good time to prune many trees and shrubs as they are dormant.” Hate raking leaves? Mow over them when you do the lawn, turning them into a mulch for the soil.

With Veggies, Start Small

“It’s so much easier to start growing veggies in a small area that you pass by frequently,” Duford says. “At least until you get more comfortable growing in the conditions of your new space.” That way, you’re more likely to water them frequently. You should also plant them at a time that makes sense seasonally, and beware of any signs of flowering (it means it’s “gone to seed”).

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Invest In Essential Tools

Every gardener needs a handful of quality, effective garden tools like a hand trowel, a long-handled shovel, and a leaf rake. “Invest in durable tools made of long-lasting materials, and you’ll use these for decades,” Duford says.

And Finally...

  • Plant flowers close together — sparse never looks good — and buy in units of 3-5 so you get a nice dense volume.
  • Create routes behind your border so you can get in to do your work without trampling over your new blooms.
  • Find a good nursery with good topsoil (the top 6-8 inches of your border where all the good stuff happens).
  • Investing in a water butt can help you water your plants all year round (and it’s better for the soil than tap water).
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