Books on gardening
March 10, 2006 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Garden help.

So we bought a house, and it has a yard. The yard is nicely landscaped with bushes and trees, but we want color. And maybe some vegtables. We know nothing about gardening. Any recommendations for a good book (or a website, I guess) on how to get started? What grows in the shade, when to plant, what kind of dirt, buy plants or seeds - that's the kind of basic knowledge I'm after.
posted by dpx.mfx to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Sunset Western Garden Book is great. You're in Ohio, but there's still a lot of info you could use. Borrow it from the library for a quick look, but it's the kind of book you need to own.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:56 AM on March 10, 2006

And go organic--stay away from pesticides & herbicides. Most problems have other critters that take care of them, given time. You'll be waaay ahead in the long run.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:01 AM on March 10, 2006

My two cents: look into local / "native" plants for part of the yard. Lower maintenance.

Also, the books on permaculture by Bill Mollison are not the practical guides you're looking for, but do have an interesting perspective on landscaping.
posted by salvia at 11:25 AM on March 10, 2006

Hopefully you have a decent local nursery that can advise you on the right types of plants for your soil and microclimate. Sunset actually has a Northeastern Landscaping Book. w-gp is right-I recommend the Western Garden Book to all my clients (I'm a desgner/landscaper), it's great for all the basics, but having someplace you can go for more specific advice is the frosting on the cake.
Take it slowly and realize that gardening is a big experiment. The best gardens are built over time, after you've learned the way nature influences your personal space.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2006

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible.. it's great! Thorough, colorful, easy to read, yet concise enough. Also has charts of what plants are incompatible with each other (what not to plant next to tomatoes, for example). He teaches you how to use organic methods and all natural pest-repellents and such (like cayenne pepper and baking soda sprayed on), how to make your own compost, use plants like dill to naturally moderate pest issues, etc.

There is also the Flower Gardener's Bible, which I haven't tried, but if it's like the aforementioned book, it's probably worth a look.

Also, this would be really awesome to have in a backyard! How to build your own firepit and How to Landscape around it
posted by mojabunni at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2006

salvia's point about native plants is a good one.
It's called xeriscape gardening.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: Check with OSU's Extension Office. They should have lots of information on what to grow where. And, just as important, what not to plant. There's a county extension office around somewhere, too (check the website).

Find a good local nursery, too. If you go with native/regional plants, you probably won't need to use chemicals much if at all. Whatever you plant will need to be watered for the first year until the root structure catches up with the plant.
posted by jlkr at 12:08 PM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: First off: know your zone. That will determine what kinds of plants will work in your backyard, when you should plant them, and when your first frosts will arrive. You're in zone 6.

Second: learn the difference between an annual and a perennial. Annuals are usually very colorful and pretty and fast-growing, but they die every fall so you have to replace them every spring. Perennials grow to full size more slowly, but they stay there permanently. They may not bloom as brightly or as long, though. For example, a petunia is an annual and a rose bush is a perennnial. You probably want a mix of both kinds of plants.

Thirdly, think about dirt. While it's too cold for you to plant things right now, it's probably not too early to start getting the soil ready ("preparing the bed"). Fabulous plants need fabulous soil. Find out if yours is clay (sticky, stays wet a long time after rain) or sandy; either way, you'll need to dig in compost and fertilizer (try cow poop) to make it better. This is a multi-year process; soil doesn't improve overnight. But all the Miracle-Grow in the world--and please stay away from that stuff!--won't make up for crusty nutrient-deprived soil.

Here are some great online gardening sites:

- The GardenWeb Forums - read and read and read some more, so many posts! Note that the posters' names have a zone designation next to them like "z8" for zone 8, so you can look for people from zone 6 (or 5 or 7) for advice.
- You Grow Girl - multi-author garden blog, just starting to get going again for 2006

That last one has a wonderful book version available, though it's mostly tailored towards urban gardeners who need to do their growing in pots on fire escapes, on roofs, in that strip of land between the street and the sidewalk (which is technically public property, but no one will mind if you appropriate it for some flowers), etc.

Once you think you know what you want to plant, you'll want to check out these sites to buy the plants online. Of course, there's your local garden center too, or even Home Depot, but these sites are faboo:

- Annie's Annuals - gorgeous annuals (those are the pretty ones that just live a year, remember?) to drool over. I bought and planted this combo only three weeks ago and it's already taking off in my backyard
- Bluestone Perennials - wonderful plant selection, but they won't ship to your area (zone 6) until it's warmer outside. But that's okay, it gives you more time to plan.
- High Country Gardens - mostly Xeric (low water) plants suited to mountainous, arid, and/or southwestern US terrains. I know that's not Ohio, but you can plant some of these too to create a dry-garden.

And don't neglect the fruit trees! Your zone is perfect for a lot of different types of apple trees. Get two different types of apple trees (some apples need another type of apple planted nearby to pollinate them) each grafted on super-dwarf rootstock so they will never grow too tall or take over your yard.

Finally, have fun! And it's okay if you make some mistakes, because you can always dig up the plants next year and move them around until you get it right. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 1:13 PM on March 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

Starting immediately, drive around and pay attention to what looks good to you. If you have a cameraphone or small digital camera, this is a nice way to document what you like. Date the pictures, so you know what comes up when in your area. When you see mature landscapes, pay close attention to what works for you.

My yard had an apple tree that was chopped down, and 3 new shoots came up. I ignored it for years, always planning to cut it down, and it grew into a beautiful, Japanese-looking sculptural element, beautiful when it blossoms. But it took several years, and some hard-hearted pruning. Don't get rid of your old landscape until you have a vision for the new one.
posted by theora55 at 1:35 PM on March 10, 2006

Some good advice here already, especially from asparagirl. As people have mentioned, contacting your local university extension office is a great way to get info. Or google for their web site. My state university's extension office has all sorts of publications accessible on-line. I refer to them constantly. (We bought a house with a large yard a couple of years ago, and have installed a largish vegetable garden, a blueberry patch, some grapes, a bramble arbor, dozens of roses, and more.) We, too, use the Sunset Western Garden Book (but then we're in Oregon). On thing that doesn't get mentioned often enough: grass is a weed. If you're going to enjoy gardening, you've got to get the grass as far away from your gardening space as possible. Trust me. It'll creep back!

Your best bet is probably to choose one or two types of gardens to attack each year. Maybe you want to try vegetables and some roses this year. Focus on these and get a feel for them, then move on to something else like berries or fruit trees.

Have fun! Gardening is a rewarding hobby. (I'm looking outside at my wife right now, who is plucking camelia blossoms...)
posted by jdroth at 2:10 PM on March 10, 2006

I've started my first vegetable garden this year, and have basically gone with Square Foot Gardening, which is a pretty tidy little system.
posted by claxton6 at 2:33 PM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: dpx.mfx

Actually, I have several gardening books in my "sell to Powell's" pile, including the above-mentioned excellent Square Foot Gardening. I would be happy to send them to you via media mail. Contact me if you're interested. My e-mail address is in my profile.
posted by jdroth at 6:08 PM on March 10, 2006

Lessons learned:

1. "Part sun" means at least a few hours of sun. "Part sun" plants die in "mostly-shade" exposures. There -- I just saved you hundreds of dollars!

2. With plants, you usually get what you pay for. Buying at Home Depot means getting a good price and taking a big chance. Find reliable local garden centers for the things that need to survive. Or order by mail; I've had very good success this way. Dave's Garden/Garden Watchdog is utterly invaluable as a guide to reputable companies. The above recommendation for Bluestone Perennials is seconded. Their plants are small (and thus cheap), but they are healthy and get established fast. Much more satisfying than buying a big, expensive perennial that dies before next season.

3. Inescapable fact of life for ornamental perennials: First year, sleep. Second year, creep. Third year, leap. If you can't hold out until they get their root systems established, try annuals. Big bang for the buck, and a clean slate every year.

4. Gardeners love to share info (can you tell?) and plants. Make the right friends, and you'll have an endless supply of locally hardy clippings. Good luck!
posted by ROTFL at 8:14 PM on March 10, 2006

Don't forget the Cincinnati flower and garden show.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:45 PM on March 10, 2006

Not a book, but I really like this website - The Weekend Gardener.

I really like my subscription to Organic Gardening magazine as well.
posted by nanojath at 11:18 PM on March 10, 2006

*flagged Asparagirl's answer as "fantastic"*
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2006

I'm a big fan of vegetable gardening -- it's more effort than an ornamental garden, but you can produce an amazing amount of your own food, which feels great.

If this appeals, check out books by John Jeavons (his first book was something like "How to Grow More Food In Less Space Than You Ever Thought Possible"). Another good book is Seed to Seed.

You might want to focus on soil-building, too -- adding compost, organic amendments -- depending on what your soil is like now, it can take three to five years to get very rich soil. (This is more important with vegetables, where you're always harvesting the plants out.)

But the best advice I ever got about gardening was to start small, be experimental, talk to local farmers and gardeners about the peculiarities of climate and soil. I learned much more about gardening through trial & error than from books -- you'll build an intuitive sense of the plants. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 1:32 PM on March 11, 2006

I should admit, I live in the city and grow about 3 pieces of lettuce a year right now. The "feels great" is from years past. Don't want to misrepresent myself.
posted by salvia at 1:33 PM on March 11, 2006

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