Don't Know Much About Botony
February 5, 2010 1:55 AM   Subscribe

I've moved into a house. It has a lawn, a yard with some trees and bushes, and some rosebushes as well. Problem: I don't know the first thing about gardening/lawn maintenance. Where to begin so I don't murder all my plants?

I don't even have equipment or terminology. I don't even know when to start watering or mowing the lawn. If anyone can point me to some good "I haven't a clue but I want to learn" material, or give me some tips on how to help my current plants survive and thrive, that would be much appreciated.

(I've also seen the post titled "My First Yard! (tm)" from 2007, but am asking this because I was wondering if there might be some new info and ideas to consider in 2010.)
posted by thisperon to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Something that worked for time (city gal single parent with a shortage of time and nature knowledge) was I hired a landscaper to come over and walk me through how to cope. It was well worth $100 consult to get an idea of how to care for my new yard and plants. He gave me a list of what to buy, when to do things in the yard, and it's been hassle-free since then.
posted by dzaz at 2:27 AM on February 5, 2010

You could make it easier by letting us know where you are or what the climate is like there.

Nothing much has changed in gardening since 1907, let alone 2007.

Lawns are, unless you live in a really dry climate, easy to look after. That's why people have them. Mow the lawn when it's in its growth period. For a lot of places that means not touching it over the winter. When it gets going in the spring, don't be too harsh on it. Let it get to a couple of inches before cutting it back to an inch or so. After that, cut it as it needs cutting; how short you keep it is up to you. Personally I don't go for the super-short effect that some people like because it makes your lawn vulnerable to dying off in the heat. And letting it get too long makes it hard to cut next time. Get yourself some lawn food, organic or other, and follow the directions for feeding your lawn. If you get a weed or moss problem, there are various means to fix that, but cross that bridge when you come to it. In a dry climate, water your lawn regularly - keep an eye on how often your neighbours water theirs (or ask!) to help decide what's appropriate for your location.

As for shrubs, trees, bushes, roses... just water them every few days when the soil is dry, and forget about them the rest of the time. An occasional feed (a few times a year) with a general purpose garden plant food will keep most things healthy. Prune bushes and shrubs as they need it to maintain their size and spread. Anything that produces fruit or flowers needs more consideration when pruning; for that, you'll need to look up the particular plant online or at the library.

Equipment-wise, for simple maintenance you'll need: a lawnmower, a pair of secateurs, and a hose or watering can.

Ideally the plants in your garden should be appropriate to your climate. Anything that requires a lot of attention or excessive watering should probably be removed or replaced, as much for your own sanity as for the sake of environment.

If, like me, you're lucky enough to have older neighbours who seem to do a lot of their own gardening, strike up a conversation. Gardens are a fantastic way to get to know who's who in the houses around you.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:41 AM on February 5, 2010

Oh, and never mow your lawn when the grass is wet (with rain or dew). It's twice the work.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:42 AM on February 5, 2010

Be aware of the climate where you live; a long dry spell is probably the most likely thing to actually kill such plants. Beyond that, figure out what kinds of trees and bushes you have, so you can look into appropriate care.

Learn about pruning, which is done with different methods and at different times of year depending on the species. Don't waste your money on cheap pruning tools.

When working around the roses and other smaller plants, try not to compact the soil any more than you can help it.

Don't go dumping synthetic fertilizers all over the place.

If it turns out that you have a lot of smaller plants that pop up in the spring, identify as many of them as you can and either draw a map or put little labeled stakes in the ground next to them. My house included a flower garden that was beautiful the first season, but in the second season the weeds took over because I wasn't sure what was and wasn't a weed until the weeds were thriving and the intended plants were overwhelmed.
posted by jon1270 at 2:44 AM on February 5, 2010

The Sunset Western Garden Book covers just about everything.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:41 AM on February 5, 2010

I found the Gardening Guides, particularly the Gardening Basics at useful. For taking care of your lawn, like fertilizing, watering, aerating, and seasonal care take a look at I know you will do well. Gardening is one of life's simple pleasures..
posted by netbros at 4:53 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever a gardening question comes up I suggest contacting the cooperative extension service for your state or county. They can generally answer questions from how often you you should water in your area to teaching you a master gardening class. As an example of the sort of information they provide, here is a lawn guide (PDF) from my state office.
posted by TedW at 5:12 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Initially, you should find a good landscaper from your area, one who knows what does well where. Every site is different, and even different in different parts, and they can help you figure out what to do. I suggest you look for someone that promotes native plants and fewer chemicals but isn't rigidly so; not because I'm totally anti-chemical or non-natives, but because a well-designed landscape will require less maintenance. Talk to a few and feel them out to see if they seem knowledgeable and sensible. Have a good arborist look at your trees, if they're of any size at all. Trees can be the largest and longest-lived elements of a landscape, take good care of them if you want them to stay around. A certified arborist is generally good, but not a guarantee of quality; you should to talk to a few and feel them out, also. You'll just have to hope you can come across some quality people in your area. For smaller trees that you might want to work on yourself, check this site for some information.

Le morte de bea arthur:As for shrubs, trees, bushes, roses... just water them every few days when the soil is dry, and forget about them the rest of the time. An occasional feed (a few times a year) with a general purpose garden plant food will keep most things healthy. Prune bushes and shrubs as they need it to maintain their size and spread. Anything that produces fruit or flowers needs more consideration when pruning; for that, you'll need to look up the particular plant online or at the library.
As to watering, trees especially require infrequent but very deep watering over a large area when the weather is dry. The soil moisture needs to be recharged to a depth, and roots extend a great distance from trees. Frequent shallow waterings can cause problems in the long-term. Also, I would discourage people from indiscriminately "pruning" things to maintain their size, I think the advice to look for information on particular plants should apply to any plant you want to work on yourself.

Get some help at first, and hopefully you'll get excited by the prospect of working on your own landscape and learn more about it. It can be extremely rewarding.
posted by Red Loop at 5:30 AM on February 5, 2010 has a lot of regional forums as well as plant-specific ones, where you can probably find locals to guide you through the specifics of your area.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:35 AM on February 5, 2010

Prune your roses now or soon depending on where you live. I live in L.A. and I just pruned mine.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:46 AM on February 5, 2010

The cooperative extension of your nearest state university will have a huge amount of general and specific information about gardening and landscaping. Planting, fertilizing, irrigation, weed control, balancing acidic or alkaline soul, pest control, mowing... you won't believe how much lawn and garden stuff is on a typical extension web site.
posted by wryly at 10:37 AM on February 5, 2010

dzaz and TedW have the best advice. If you really want to do this yourself, have someone local come out to look at your yard with you. General garden advice will not stand in for specific information about your plants, soil, and climate. For instance, if the last person pruned your roses in the fall (as many people do in certain areas of the world), you're not going to want to prune them now.

Nothing much has changed in gardening since 1907, let alone 2007.

While I agree about 2007, a lot has changed in gardening since 1907. Not only techniques, but attitudes, tools, and resources (such as modern fertilizer). I don't know many people these days who propagate softwood cuttings in a box of sand or cut their lawn with a scythe. People in California have learned that emulating the English style gardens of the East Coast is a giant waste of time and water, and using horticultural techniques that might be appropriate to wet summer climates or cold winters are not applicable to Mediterranean climate gardening. Unfortunately, many people still do rely on old techniques, and then do stuff like buy steer manure in a bag as fertilizer. Unfortunately, cattle farming has also changed in the last hundred years, and manure that is available is usually from feedlots that give catlle excess salt to plump them for butchering. Gardeners then end up dumping vast amounts of salty manure in their gardens. So it is a good idea to pay attention to agricultural extensions and universities for the most recent information on local gardening information.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2010

There's some good advice here already, but let me just share that it's nearly impossible to kill rose bushes. I bought a house with 4 rose bushes, didn't like them, and figured we'd kill them with neglect. Fat chance. They grow vigorously without any fertiliser or watering beyond what falls out of the sky, which has kind of earned them my respect.

They do get all twisty if you don't prune them properly though, so it's worth learning how to do it right. Once a year we cut ours back until they're barely more than a slim trunk with two or three forked branches, and yet within a few months they're covered in glossy leaves and putting out fat flowers all over the place.

A horticulturalist was telling me that there's a reason Aussie country graveyards often have nothing but rose bushes growing in them, it's because they're the only thing hardy enough to survive the neglect.
posted by harriet vane at 7:55 AM on February 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, which would all be marked "best answer" if it didn't highlight the whole page.

I also just realized I must truly not know anything about botany, including how to spell it correctly.
posted by thisperon at 5:28 AM on February 8, 2010

« Older You eat a drumstick and your brain stops tickin'   |   UKickstarter? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.