How to Choose Plants for a Garden

How to Choose Plants for a Garden

How to Choose Plants for a Garden

For first time backyard gardeners (Garden), the “rules” of what to plant, when, and where can be so confusing as to discourage an attempt. Following some simple steps will increase the chances of success.

  1. Choose the type of gardening you are interested in. Growing flowers, ornamentals, or vegetables all follow basic principles, and the choice of what you grow is up to you.
  2. Talk to people in your neighborhood who garden successfully. Even if they are not close friends, most hobby gardeners love to “show their stuff”.
  3. Check the phone book under government services. In the USA, the Dept. of Agriculture has the Agricultural Extension Service, and these folks are there to help answer specific questions about lawn and garden issues. Often, they can give up to date advice on local conditions, growing seasons, and successful plant varieties.
  4. Go for what you like. Watermelons and tomatoes come in more than the standard red colors, so if you want yellow, go yellow. The same applies to beans and peas, with “bush” type, vining, or climbing varieties available.
  5. Check for different sizes. Many plant species have “dwarf” cultivars which take up much less space.
  6. Give some thought for the location of your garden. Plants vary greatly in the amount of sun they can tolerate or require, and this information will help you decide what to buy. Tomatoes and many leafy vegetables simply won’t thrive without enough sun.
  7. Go to the outdoor or garden section of the local big box store or home improvement center, they usually have a pretty good selection appropriate for your area and the season you find yourself in. Garden supply stores and nurseries are good places to go, often offering better selection and more knowledgeable advice, but usually at a higher price.
  8. Browse around, looking at the labels of plants you may be interested in trying. Basically, they will have information about the plant including its name, the temperature zone it is appropriate for, and the amount of sun it prefers.
  9. Pick a few “container started” plants that you want to try, looking for healthy plants with a good plant size to container proportion. Large plants in small containers are likely to be “root bound”, a condition where the roots have been confined in the container so long they are simply a tangled mass which will not flourish when transplanted to the soil of your garden.
  10. Look for seeds, too, if the idea of planting “from scratch” interests you. The individual packaged variety of seeds will have information included on the label as to planting season, spacing the seeds, and depth to plant, as well as sun, soil type, and drainage requirements.
  11. Plan to start on a small scale, don’t fill up a shopping cart the first trip down to the store.
  12. Browse the fertilizer area of the store, and check out the soil amendments available. Here, it should be said, some guess work will be needed unless you consult someone familiar with your particular growing conditions. Adding a composted organic soil conditioner is more beneficial in sandy or clay soil, where rich loamy soil wouldn’t require much, if any, but nonetheless, adding it shouldn’t hurt. Fertilizer, on the other hand, can have more dramatic effects, and not always in a positive way. Too much nitrogen on legumes (beans and peas) for example, can cause a tremendous foliage growth with little fruit, so unless you are pretty confident, leave the fertilizer until later.
  13. Pick the spot for your garden, keeping it out of the way of frequently used areas of the yard. Corners, particularly those with little shade are a fairly safe bet, and mowing around the garden later will be easier.
  14. Using a shovel or garden spade, turn the soil by digging up shovel fulls and breaking the clumps, then dumping it back in the hole. Repeating this until a large enough area for your purposes is all the preparation needed, but a rotary tiller or other implement will give better results.
  15. Remove any vegetative matter like roots, branches, leaves, clumps of grass and such that the soil turning has dislodged.
  16. Add any soil amendments (compost, etc) and rake them into the top 4 or 5 inches of soil.
  17. Make rows, usually about 3 feet apart in your new “garden”, and if you are using container grown seedlings, dig holes for each one. It is better to space these out a bit wide, rather than having them crowd each other later as they grow. For peat cup grown plants, you can tear the “cup” loose around the roots of the plant, and stick the whole mess in the ground, but for plastic containers, you will need to remove the container before planting.
  18. Place your plant in the hole, keeping the bottom of the stem level or slightly lower than the soil around it. If there is excessive branching or foliage, some plants benefit from “pruning”, or removing some of this growth, which leaves the roots less mass to support until they are fully established.
  19. Dig rows for seeds if you have bought them. This can be one with a shovel handle, a hoe, or other tool, by dragging it through the soil creating a small “furrow”, or grove in it.
  20. Drop the seeds into this furrow at the spacing recommended on the seed package. Many common garden seeds have a suggested planting depth of 1/2 inch, and if the soil is kept moist until the plant sprouts and puts down a root, it should work. Take care when covering the seeds in the furrow not to pack the soil too tightly, but it should be packed down some to set the soil firmly around the seed.
  21. Water your new plants or seed beds lightly, and fairly often, depending on existing soil moisture for the first week or two. When the plants are established or the seeds are up and growing, cut back watering frequency and increase water depth to encourage the roots to grow deep enough to support the plant as it matures.
  22. Watch your new plants for healthy appearance. Yellowing or streaking of the foliage may indicate the need for fertilizer if the soil is poor. For beginning gardeners, a mixable soluble fertilizer may be better than calculating or trying to figure out proportions of a commercial type bulk material. Miracle Grow, Scott’s, and many other brands, including store brands, are easily mixed and come with fairly comprehensive instructions on the packaging. One thing to note is that the product you use contains micronutrients and trace elements, like copper, zinc, and iron, all essential for healthy plants.
  23. Keep an eye out for predators. These include anything from caterpillars to rabbits and even deer, all of which may have a taste for your new crop. Unfortunately, this article cannot cover all the possibilities, but if you see leaves that have been eaten or become spotted, you will have to address this problem.
  24. Keep the ground around your plants clean and free of weeds as much as you are able. Mulch will help, although some plants may experience disease problems if too much mulch is used or the humidity is too high in your location.
  25. Keep some kind of records of your efforts. If you find one particular variety of beans or tomatoes is more successful for you, you will want to go back to it again next year.


  • Planting certain plants will reduce insect damage without resorting to chemicals. Examples are marigolds and garlic.
  • Talk to any successful home gardeners in your neighborhood. Since gardening techniques are quite specific to different climates and conditions, the locals can give good advice you won’t find in a DYI article or book.
  • Talk to your local agricultural extension service agent or the equivalent in your area.
  • Check labels for insect, disease, and drought resistant varieties.

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