caring for your garden


some suggestions on the installation and general maintenance for your garden.

The following are some notes on planting and taking care of your garden. Some of these suggestions may not apply to all situations, but should give you a general idea of how to care for you garden. One of the best things you can do to take better care of your garden is to walk through it once each day and look to see how things are doing. This is also a great way to help you to remember to enjoy the garden you have worked so hard for.


New plants should be planted in a hole roughly twice the width of the pot the plant comes in.  The more you can loosen the soil around the new plant at planting time, the easier it will be for the plant to push out roots as it becomes established.  If the roots are densely wrapped around the inside of the pot, cut some of the outer roots with a shovel or pruning shears to promote new growth.


Transplanting is best done in the fall or early spring when temperatures are cooler.


I recommend applying mulch around newly planted plants, and to fill bare spots in the garden.  As plants get larger less mulch should be required to fill bare spots.  Mulch is best done after the perennials have started to shoot up in late April or early May.  The goal is to ultimately only need a little bit of mulch around the edge of the bed.  Transplants and divisions can be used to fill bare spots. 


During the first year water new shrubs, perennials, groundcovers and small trees once per week during cool weather, and 2-3 times per week during warm weather (June, July and August).  Water deeply.  The goal is to thoroughly soak the top six to eight inches of soil around the new plant.  Larger trees (1.5” trunk diameter and larger) need to be watered more deeply and less frequently.  The best way to water larger plants is to leave a hose at the base of the trunk and let it run at a slow trickle for 30 minutes once per week.  Avoid watering during mid-day when the sun is brightest, as water sitting on leaves can act as a magnifying glass and scorch the plant.

After the first year, plants should only need supplemental watering during times of drought (except for potted plants, or raised beds which dry out more quickly and may need watering on a regular basis).

Over-watering can be just as dangerous to new plants as under-watering.  Plants that are constantly in water logged soil can develop root rot, which causes yellowing at the leaf tips.  The goal is to have the soil not dry out completely between waterings, but not be water logged either. You can test the soil by placing your finger in the top inch of soil and making sure it is not completely dry, but also not soggy.  If the soil is soggy, wait another day or two to water.


Weeding is especially important while young plants are becoming established. I recommend walking through your garden at least once per week to pull weeds during the spring. Once summer hits, weeding should slow down.


Perennials should be cut back at some point between when they turn brown and go dormant in the winter and before they start to grow again in the spring.  This is generally sometime between October and March.  Not cutting them back will not hurt them, it is only done for aesthetic purposes.  Many people like to leave the perennials up during the winter to keep the garden from looking bare and to provide food and shelter for birds and insects.  Perennials should be cut back to about 4” above the ground.

Any perennial that stays green through the winter should not be cut back.  This includes hellebores (lenten rose) and evergreen ferns like autumn fern and Christmas fern.

If a perennial plant is outgrowing its space, or appears to be dying in the center, it should be divided by digging it up in the fall or spring and cutting it into smaller pieces.  Replant one of the pieces in the same place.  The others may be given away or moved to other parts of the garden.


Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’ should be cut back in the winter or early spring when all of the leaves are off of the plant.  Cut all shoots to about 2’ tall. 

Shrubs that flower in the spring should be pruned after they bloom (e.g. Lilacs, Viburnum, Magnolia).  Shrubs that bloom in the summer (e.g. Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata) can be pruned in the fall as necessary to adjust their form, or keep them smaller.  If the plant has not outgrown its space, major pruning may not be necessary.  Sharp pruners will help keep the work easy and be healthier for the plant. 


Lower branches of trees can be pruned off in the fall or early spring, or in summer if necessary.  Dead branches can be removed at any time.  More information is available from the Arbor Day Foundation and this video:


Lawn should be fertilized with an organic fertilizer in fall and spring.  Avoid cutting the grass too short.  Cutting the grass to between 2.5 and 3.5” will help keep your lawn healthier and reduce weeds.

More information is available here:


Fertilizer will encourage the growth of your plants.  It is not always necessary to fertilize your plants, but if you want to encourage growth, I recommend using an organic all-purpose fertilizer in the Spring and Fall according the manufacturer’s directions.


The Missouri Botanical Garden has an excellent website with general plant information at