How does a garden grow?
February 25, 2008 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to work on my garden and lawn. I know nothing about gardening and lawn care. What are some good online resources?

In the 10 years that I've lived in my house I have ignored the lawn and garden,except for an occasional mow. This year, I'd like to start making things look a little better.

I am in the Northeast (Maine) and know nothing - NOTHING about gardening and lawn care. There are a few perennials left over from the previous owner - peonies, some p*ssed-off looking roses, shrubbery, and a grape arbor (which has overgrown to the point that it's taken up half the yard).

I'd also like to do window boxes, but wonder if that might be a bit overambitious for my first time out of the gate.

I'd like to keep things as organic as possible. And I understand that a beautiful garden doesn't happen immediately, so could really use some direction with long term planning.
posted by suki to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
GardenWeb is a definite MUST visit. These forums are loaded with people who know their stuff and can give you advice on just about anything you need. I've gone there for years and I've never not found what I needed.

The number of forums can be overwhelming, but just point out that you are new and they'll hold your hand all the way through. :)
posted by magnoliasouth at 6:44 AM on February 25, 2008

Make a realistic determination of what you want your lawn to look like and keep in mind that, the more thick, green, lush and golf-course-perfect you want it to be, the more you are going to have to rely on all sorts of chemicals and maintenance. A lawn can quickly become a junkie, dependent on weed-killers, pesticides and the like, if you take that route.

You CAN create a very nice, chemical-free lawn. It just takes proper maintenance and work.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:28 AM on February 25, 2008

If your profile is correct and you live in Maine, a great place to start is always your local Cooperative Extension.
Your local extension office will have lots of extremely good information and advice specific to your growing area.
They will be able to assist you in learning about local soil and weather conditions, soil atesting, what types of plants do best in your area and a wealth of other information as it applies to exactly where you live, not just a general 'climate zone'.

If you don't live in Maine, you can just Google ' cooperative extension' and you'll probably be set with the first result.

Alternatively you can use the main USDA Cooperative extension page to narrow down your search by State, then County.

Enjoy your gardening! You picked the perfect time of year to get interested.
posted by whoda at 7:40 AM on February 25, 2008

Check out the University of Maine's cooperative extension service. They cover everything from backyard basics to farming, and they'll be specific to your hardiness zone.
posted by headnsouth at 7:41 AM on February 25, 2008

2nding Gardenweb. A good source of inspiration is walking around different neighborhoods, with your camera, and seeing what you like about other people's yards and incorporating it into your own. Don't be afraid to do it in several stages so it won't be overwhelming. Also, it is okay to hire professionals for any and all of it if you don't feel comfortable. Experimenting is good too. Most of all have fun.
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2008

Walk around your neighborhood and look peoples gardens. If you see some that are cool, and if the resident is out working in it, stop and talk them.
Us gardeners looove showing off our scapes.
posted by ducktape at 10:09 AM on February 25, 2008

Best answer: Here are some suggestions, none in any particular order:
- Sign up to gardening forums. I’m a member of Garden Web, You Grow Girl and Dave’s Garden. Gardeners are very helpful and fun-loving people and you’ll be amazed at all the feedback/help you’ll get.
- Find blogs about gardening in your zone and post comments or ask questions. Being in Maine, you’re probably in zone 4 or 5.
- Start attending gardening events like trade shows, open houses, seed and plant exchanges, plant sales and garden tours.
- Take a one-day course on gardening for beginners and talk to some of the other participants about your garden.
- Buy or borrow beginner books on gardening and learn new stuff like different weed control styles or types of bed preparation.
- Go to your local nursery and ask a lot of questions about plants that are suitable for your location, i.e., for your local area and also for sunny/shady areas of your garden. Write down the names of plants that you are interested in and research them on the Internet to find out if they are easy or hard to grow and where they should be placed in your garden.
- See if your city/town has an information program on lawn care/water conservation and attend their information sessions. Call their help line.
- Buy seeds and try growing them. Starting plants from seed is dead easy and not something to be scared of like I was the first time.
- Try new things like getting your lawn aerated or spreading coffee grinds.
- Use tools that are really effective like spades, pruners, weed pullers, rakes and trowels. Take care of them and don’t leave them out in the rain.
- Try your hand at composting and use the fruits of your labour to make your plants healthier.
- Get a gardening friend or relative to come over to your house and tell you what type of plants you have and how you should take care of them.
- Plot our your existing garden on graph paper and see how you would want to expand it or make it better.
- Join your local horticultural society and take part in their events.
- Ask your neighbors if they want any extra plants when you are dividing your plants. Your ulterior motive is that they will offer in return.
- Take cuttings from your existing plants and make new plants to give to friends.
- Offer to help out other gardeners with their gardens and ask them a lot of questions about how they grow stuff.
- Sign up to email lists about gardening.
- Buy plants from the nursery and see how they grow. If it doesn’t work out, find out where you went wrong and do it differently next time.

Peonies, roses, shrubbery and grape vines are all pretty hardy plants and can take a beating when it comes to pruning. Cutting them back will likely rejuvenate them as it sounds like they’re overextending their growth.

Window boxes are fun as they are usually filled with annuals and can be packed with really showy flowers. I don’t really care for annuals as they die at the end of the season, preferring to put my time and energy into perennials that come back every spring.

I bought a house three years ago from a gardener and was worried about my lack of gardening skills. I was like you and didn’t really know anything about taking care of flowers or a lawn. I was scared to cut back any plant and ended up with an overgrown and jumbled area after two years. Last summer was my shining moment when I finally believed that I could pull/rip/prune any perennial and it would probably still try to make a comeback. The lilac tree was given a severe haircut, the potentilla was battled back into submission, Siberian irises were given a new lease on life and the spiderwort got the bum’s rush. The garden didn’t look so out of control, things were blooming longer and all my plants looked healthier. This spring I’m looking forward to sharpening my perennial spade and dividing that monstrous Bleeding Heart out back and cutting the hostas into smaller chunks.

Taking care of a garden or lawn, of any size, is a relaxing experience and it is fun to experiment and try new things.
posted by KathyK at 1:27 PM on February 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

As a new home/lawn owner myself I found it extremely helpful to have a friend of mine who's done a lot of neat stuff on her own yard walk around my yard with me and make comments and suggestions. I followed her around with a Moleskin and wrote copious notes. I knew NOTHING about landscaping/gardening, etc. but now I have some very specific plans and ideas. Perhaps a neighbor whose yard you admire would be willing to do the same. Plus they'd know the specifics of your area.
posted by napdynmite at 5:53 PM on May 4, 2008

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