Spring garden maintenance for the unitiated
March 9, 2022 5:57 AM   Subscribe

I like puttering in our lovely garden and would like to do a good job of my spring garden pruning and cleanup, but I don't know exactly what plants we have in the garden and how best to care for them. What is a good resource for plant care that would be helpful both when we know what something is, and when we don't?

For example, we have some lovely tree hydrangeas that I know flower on new growth and put out those new branches very quickly. In the fall or early spring we always prune back to the first bud or so on each branch and have a beautiful tree in the summer.

But, as another example, what should I be doing for our smoke bush? What should I be doing for our witch hazels?

And, moreover, what do I do about that random (but beautiful) thing with red branches in the back that really doesn't seem to be a red twig dogwood? Or that thing I think had a Greek name?

Gardeners of AskMe--how do you know what you should be doing with your identified and your random plants? And I mean specific care guidelines, not "trim off dead branches" etc. We're already devotees of Gardener's World. Also, FWIW, we're in Massachusetts, USA.

posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For just identifying various unknown plants around my yard, the Seek by iNaturalist app has been incredibly helpful. It’s not always 100% accurate, but it often is or at least points me in the right direction.
posted by bananana at 6:10 AM on March 9, 2022

Alternative recommendation: I've tried the Seek app and find that the PlantNet app usually works better. Highly recommend at least one of these for the unknown plants! Although they both work better when the plants have leaves (and even better when they flower) so might not be too helpful this time of year unless you have older photos you can use.
posted by omnie at 6:15 AM on March 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

I recently read The Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (Timber Press) and she gives plant by plant, season by season guidance on dead-heading, pruning, fertilizing, etc. for each perennial species. It’s a fairly thick book (400+ pages) with color photographs and about a page of instructions for each plant. After you’ve identified what you have (see above, or use the photos in the book) you pop the instructions in your annual maintenance calendar during each season and see how they do.
posted by cybrbananapeel at 7:10 AM on March 9, 2022

Gardening is really local. The Cooperative Extension office near you will have a list of Master Gardeners who can answer lots of questions.
posted by theora55 at 8:02 AM on March 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

My best resource for the discovery aspect of this has been to join Facebook gardening groups from my specific neighborhood. Folks post pictures asking for identification, but it’s also a great resource for sharing chip drops, free plant swaps/shares, and other gardening advice. If your local plant nursery has a social media presence that’s beyond just marketing, some of those educational resources can be really useful. So basically, my advice is to think locally.
posted by matildaben at 8:07 AM on March 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Local meteorologist Dave Epstein also has an internet presence as "Growing Wisdom"which you should check out - he covers local gardening topics. I think he has a YouTube channel, personal website, and Twitter account.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:46 AM on March 9, 2022

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