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Brown Thumb beginner

Posted by RythmSis 6 NJ (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 25, 12 at 12:12

Hi! my mother has what used to be flower beds in front of the house and along one side. right now they are piles of dirt. I have no idea what to plant or where to begin. I know I would like a lot of Perennials so I dont have to plant every year. She likes Azalea bushes. the bushes we ripped out had pine cones growing and they were getting into tree size. so those were not the right kind to plant next to the house. Can someone please help guide me?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Brown Thumb beginner

There are so many options ... where to begin? Begin with site conditions:
Type of soil (sandy, clay, rich loam with lots or organic matter)
Amount of sunlight (full sun, full shade or part sun - morning or afternoon?
Drainage - does this area get a lot of water naturally, or very little, and does the water drain through fairly well or does it pool? Is it near a water source and are you willing to water when needed?
Wind exposure - is this side of the house exposed to strong winds?
Wildlife - are there deer or other animals that may want to snack on your garden?

Also, what are your expectations? What "look" do you like? Neat and tidy, lush and blowsy cottage garden, something in between? Are there colors you prefer over others? What color is the house? Do you want to try to attract butterflies, bees, birds with these plantings?

Remember that most perennials will die to the ground in the autumn, leaving the area looking pretty dull in winter. They also have a bloom time of 4-6 weeks, so you will want to choose a variety to give you a succession of bloom. Also consider leaf color and texture - these will add interest even when the plant is not in bloom and can provide a nice complement to the other plants. Also consider a few woody plants, perhaps evergreen, for winter interest.

When you're out driving, take note of what seems to be growing well in the area and which of those things you like. If you know someone who has nice plantings, ask them where they shop - a good garden center (not necessarily an expensive one) can be a good resource. Before you buy, please check out the "Do Not Buy" list at - website for the NJ Invasive Species Strike Team - you'll be surprised how many troublesome invasive plants are still available commercially.

RE: Soil Test!

How could I forget the soil test!

An annual bed you replant every year, so if the soil isn't right, it's no big deal. But a perennial bed is prepared for the long haul so should be done right from the beginning. Perennials usually take three years to reach full stride - the saying goes "sleep, creep, leap", meaning that the first year they sleep, the second they creep and the third they leap.

So ... at the very least, take a soil sample to your county agricultural extension office for a pH test - in most counties the Rutgers Master Gardeners will do this for you free of charge. They'll advise how to adjust the pH if necessary, and will have a lot of other information for you also. For a fee ($20) you can have the soil sent to the Rutgers soil lab for analysis of macro and micro nutrients, and fertilizer recommendations.

If the soil is very sandy or very much clay, amend with compost, lots of compost - it's the single best thing you can do for your garden, and the least expensive.

Prepare the bed well. Not just the top 6", but down at least 12-18". Double digging is worth the effort in the long run.

RE: Brown Thumb beginner

wow I didn't realize how much goes into this. We were just planning to go to home depot get a few plants andplant them. So since I dont knwo much here is what I can say.

I would like a neat and tidey garden. Most of the neightbors have azaleas. My mom wants those. The fron of the house faces north so it gets some sun but not all day. the side faces west and gets most of the sun all day. This is probably the side that gets the most wind.

Drainage? I can tell you the water doesn't puddle. The beds slant away from the house. we are willing to water 1-2 times a week.

as far as soil, it looks like dirt. not sandy and not clay. I can buy some compost. Mom also wants mulch. is this the same thing?

don't have much wildlife other than the typical racoon and a few bunnies.

I checked out a few thigns at home depot last night. they had some green boxwood plants and platain lily. Also saw a rhoodendron. they had a bunch of small plants but they were just called Perennials. There was a nice Orange flower on one.

The house is brick color. Don't need to attract any bugs. butterflies are ok but doens't matter.

Does home depot or lowes do the soil test?

RE: Brown Thumb beginner

can someone please help!

RE: Brown Thumb beginner

sorry, had a full day seminar on restoring native pollinator habitat on friday, just now home from coordinating a plant swap - 985 plants exchanged; have to prepare for two screenings of a documentary on honeybees and colony collapse disorder tomorrow.

i don't know of any lowes or hd that do soil tests. some garden centers carry a little kit you can purchase if you don't want to/cannot get to your county extension office.

azaleas prefer a cool, partially shaded location, so should be fine on the north side, but will probably not do well on the west side. they like an acid soil, ph about 4.5-5.5.

pieris grows well under the same conditions and will extend the bloom season by blooming well before the azaleas.

some perennials that will grow well with the azalea are: astilbe, fringed bleeding heart, ferns, foxglove, liatris,
hosta, solomon's seal, coral bells (heuchera), tiarella, primroses, epimedium, columbine, lungwort, hellebore.. also happy in acidic soil, but requiring more sun: heath, heather, japanese iris, creeping phlox, turtlehead (chelone), butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa), virginia bluebells.

the west side of the house is going to need some plants that can take the heat. the brick color will absorb the sun's heat and radiate it back out to the plants (which can be helpful in cool weather). there are many shrubs that will thrive there, evergreen or not, to provide structure even in winter. perhaps some dwarf evergreens. for perennials: bearded iris, coneflower, black eyed susan, salvias, lilies, daylilies, russian sage, lavender, coreopsis.

perennial candytuft (iberis sempervirens) is adaptable to anything from full sun to light or partial shade, has spring blossoms, evergreen foliage that provides a low ground-cover effect. spring bulbs will come up right through it. it's one of my favorites.

simple test for soil composition: half-fill a straight-sided jar (like a spaghetti sauce or mason jar) with soil. fill almost to the neck with water. add a drop or two of liquid dish washing detergent. shake well. set it down. the sand will settle out right away, silt will take a couple of hours to settle out, clay can take several hours, organic matter will float to the top. when it's all settled out, you will be able to see what your soil is comprised of.

finished compost is organic matter (leaves, twigs, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, shredded paper) that has decomposed to a nice, rich, dark material. organic mulch eventually becomes compost, but it takes a while to break down and consumes nitrogen in the process, so only use that on top of the soil, where it can take the nitrogen from the air rather than the soil. a good layer of organic mulch helps to minimize weeds while stabilizing soil moisture and temperature levels. non-organic mulches like stone are generally not recommended. bagged compost from the big box stores has always disappointed me - too compacted. get a good quality bagged compost from a good nursery, or buy it in bulk ... or make it yourself, though it does take a few to several months, depending on method.

you may not feel a need to attract bugs, but remember that they're a major food source for birds, especially the young. watching the birds, butterflies and beneficial insects attracted to my plantings greatly increases my enjoyment of the garden.

all the plants at hd should be labelled more specifically than just "perennials" - a label pasted on the pot is more reliable than a stake in the pot, which can be moved. I've bought many a plant there, as well as at good garden centers, and have usually found them to be satisfactory, especially if i can pick them up very soon after they arrive.

i hope this helps. i've got to go rest. i'm kind of "planted out" after today.


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