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Easy No Dig Flower Bed – Create a Garden Right Over Your Grass!

Easy No Dig Flower Bed – Create a Garden Right Over Your Grass!

The first time I heard about creating a garden bed right over the grass… my mind was blown. Then, the skepticism set in… this CAN’T really work… can it? Although It sounds too good to be true, the method I’m about to explain to you actually works. I use it all the time and actually have garden beds with less weeds than if I were to remove the grass and till the soil.

So, let’s get into how you can create a brand new flower garden bed without having to dig up all the grass.

Before we get started I should mention that although this is called the “no dig” method… there’s actually still a little bit of digging you’ll have to do. But believe me when I say that it’s WAY LESS than you’d be doing otherwise.

What is “no dig” gardening?

No dig gardening is a method created by… well… no one actually knows. It’s thought to have originated centuries ago, though! If you want to learn more about the method, Charles Dowding is your man. He has done years and years of testing the results of a no dig vegetable garden vs. a tilled vegetable garden. The results are quite amazing, actually.

The theory behind this method is that when you till the garden you’re actually affecting the soil structure and bringing up lots of weed seeds and other things to the surface. If you keep the soil undisturbed, it is actually better for all of the microorganisms and living creatures within the soil…. all the things that help to make the soil fertile and good.

You can hear more about the no-dig method from Charles Dowding himself in this super quick YouTube video: No dig explained in 3 minutes.

And, while Dowding speaks of this method mostly related to vegetable gardening, the same methods can be used to create a brand new flower garden bed pretty much anywhere. This is a great method to use if you want to create a new garden bed where there isn’t one yet. For example, in a patch of grass.

Here’s a great resources I wrote if you’re really interested in all the mechanics that go into improving your soil, It will help you to understand why this method works so well.

Materials for no dig flower bed

  • Rolled cardboard, recycled cardboard or lots of newspaper
  • hose with nozzle
  • tape measure (to measure your space and calculate mulch and compost amounts)
  • spade shovel
  • garden gloves
  • compost
  • mulch

Not such a bad list of materials, right? Notice I didn’t include landscaping fabric. This method is way better than using that crap anyway. But… mostly I didn’t include it because you CAN’T use it for this method. The fabrics don’t allow for organic matter decomposition into the soil. And, that’s how we make a great, nutrient rich garden bed.

So, if you’re currently using landscaping fabric… your soil is probably in rough shape underneath it. And most weed seeds drop from above via birds and the wind so you’ll still have weeds. Try this awesome method instead.

Steps to create a no dig flower bed or garden

Still interested? Great… now lets just find a patch of grass where we want our new flower garden bed to be and we’ll get started. Here’s a quick list of the steps that I’ll talk about in more detail throughout this post.

  1. Measure the bed and calculate materials needed
  2. Clear the bed area
  3. Edge around the bed
  4. Pre-plant larger trees and shrubs
  5. Lay paper over the no dig flower bed
  6. Cover the paper with compost
  7. Top the compost with a layer of mulch
  8. Plant flowers

And just for some extra clarity, here’s a diagram to show you how this will work.

No Dig Flower Bed Diagram - how it works
This diagram explains how to assemble the layers of your no-dig flower bed.

1- Measure the bed and calculate materials needed

The first step is to figure out exactly how large your new flower garden bed will be. Measure the length and width of the space using your tape measure or a flexible landscape tape (I use this one by Komelon).

With dimensions in hand, head over to this website to determine how much compost and mulch you’ll need to fill your new bed. It will also give you estimated costs related to the materials.

As an example, if you had a bed that’s 10 feet long by 10 feet deep, the website will give you this information:

  • 250 square feet of cardboard— or approx – 0.3 rolls of standard recycled cardboard (4’x250′) which range from $50-110/roll. Alternatively you can gather your own cardboard.
  • 0.4 cubic yards of compost— to cover a depth of about 1.5″ which ranges from $25-$50 per cubic yard. You can also use your own compost if you make it.
  • 0.9 cubic yards of mulch— to cover a depth of 3″ which ranges from $15-$35 per cubic yard. You can use a variety of different kinds of mulch as long as they are natural and will degrade into the soil. So… no rubber mulch or stone or anything like that.
  • The estimated material cost is $90-$195…. or  $40-$85 for just the mulch and compost.

Quick Tip: Before we even get started with this project… if you’re a total newbie at flower gardening, you should read this post first so you can learn answers to the questions you didn’t even know you should be asking…. yet. Then, you’ll really be ready to get started.

2- Clear the bed area

In this step you should clean out the area within the flower garden bed. I honestly skip this step a lot… especially if it’s just covering the grass. However, if you’re converting a rougher area you may need to remove noxious weeds (ivy, blackberry, bermuda grass, oxalis, etc) to give yourself the best start. Also remove any larger sticks, rocks and other items from the area.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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3- Edge around the bed

This is the only digging you’ll have to do, so now let’s get it out of the way! All you need to do is create an edge around the perimeter of your garden bed.

Using a sharp spade, cut a straight line around your bed to at least a 4” depth. Then, from inside of the bed area, cut a diagonal line at least 6” from the perimeter down to the depth of your first pass to create a “V” notch. This will keep all of your soil and mulch inside of your bed. It also helps to prevent your grass from growing into the garden bed area.

Edge the flower bed
After measuring, you should edge out the perimeter of the bed with a shovel. This isn’t me… or my garden space, by the way. It’s just some random guy edging.

Some proponents of this method recommend creating a “trench” that’s about 3-4″ deep and about 8-12″ wide. So, you can make the trench wider if you’d like to. Creating a trench will allow you to build up the height of the inside of your bed without the mulch and soil, etc. falling into your lawn.

4- Pre-plant larger trees and shrubs

Before we cover the area with the cardboard, you’ll want to “pre-plant” any larger trees and shrubs. I would say anything that’s 5 gallons or larger you can plant now (yes, right into the grass). Be sure to plant these trees and shrubs slightly above soil level because later you’ll be adding about 4.5″ of organic matter to your bed. Also keep any mulch away from the base of your plants or trunks of your trees and shrubs.

This is also a good time to wet down the entire area with your hose. This will water any plants you just put in. It will jump start this whole process.

5- Lay paper over the no dig flower bed

Finally it’s time to lay the paper. If you are using rolled cardboard, it’s best to do two layers since it’s much thinner than recycled cardboard boxes. I like to do this in a crosshatch pattern. So, lay rows horizontally, then do the same vertically.

If you’re using recycled cardboard, make sure that it’s not coated. Also remove any shiny plastic or tape. I would recommend using heavy cardboard if you’re concerned about weed pressure. However, you can also use uncoated newspaper.

I do one layer of heavy cardboard or 8 layers of newspaper, or a mix of both. Whichever paper you use, be sure to overlap your materials at least 6-8″. Make sure that every square inch of your new bed is covered very well to prevent weed pressure.

You may be wondering if the ink on your cardboard boxes is safe… but rest assured the industry standard for ink on cardboard is soy-based and will not hurt your plants or soil.

Lay newspaper over the grass
Lay 4 layers of newspaper or a layer of cardboard over your grass to start your no dig flower bed.

Saturate the paper layer with water. This will hold it in place and also start the decomposition process. The water may roll off the paper at first. If that happens, wait a few minutes, then go back and saturate it again. Repeat as needed.

6- Cover the paper with compost

Next you’ll just spread the compost right over top of the cardboard. Usually at this point I try not to walk on the bed too much. I would start in the middle with the compost and work your way out to the edges. Put a layer at least 1.5″ thick. You can use even more compost if you’d like to. And, if the area had a lot of weeds when you started you may want to do a little bit thicker layer to keep them in check.

Garden bed no dig with paper, compost
Here’s what it looks like after you cover the paper with 1.5″ of compost. Not too shabby, right?

Saturate the compost layer with water.

7- Top the compost with a layer of mulch

Now we’ll add mulch to the top of the pile. I usually spread about a 2-3″ layer of mulch if I’m just covering up a basic lawn. Again if you had a lot of weeds when you started you can go thicker.

Garden bed no dig with paper, compost and mulch
Here’s what it looks like in the end. A layer of paper, then compost, then mulch and you have an instant no dig flower bed.

It’s recommended that you use coarse mulch for this process. You can try using arborist or tree trimmer mulch. This is usually a mix of wood chips and leaves and will work very well. Another option is pallet mulch, which is what you’ll usually find at the hardware store. This is made from untreated pallet wood and either dyed a color or left natural. Then, saturate the mulch layer with water.

8- Plant flowers

Finally… you’re ready to plant your no dig flower bed. Many people get to this point and then say… wait… I can plant right now? And the answer is yes. IF you have smaller plants, you can actually plant them right into the compost layer. As they grow their roots will break through the decomposing paper.

If you have something larger to plant, you can poke a hole through the cardboard layer and plant. Just be sure that you add some organic matter to the hole when you do this. But… likely you already pre-planted your larger plants in step 4.

Quick Tip: If you’re new to flower gardening, you may want to check out this post about how to make your flowers bloom more (and longer)!

Bonus Step: Look into lawn conversion rebates with your water company

The other thing you should do is contact your local water company. Many water companies offer what’s called “lawn conversion rebates” so you should find out if you’ll be eligible. You’ll need all of the size and area specs for them so be sure you have that handy.

Wrapping Up

Well, that’s the easiest way that I’ve learned in my many years of gardening to make a new bed from scratch. It’s really a lot less labor-intensive than having to remove all of the grass, then tilling up the soil, then tilling in the compost, then ending up with a ton of weeds. This process used to be so frustrating for me and actually stopped me from enjoying gardening. But now… I’m throwing newspapers all over the place and starting beds without much effort at all.

What’s been your experience with no digger flower gardening? Do you have any tips or tricks to share that I didn’t include in this post? I’d love to hear about them!


More Gardening DIY’s You’ll Love

Step by step NO DIG flower bed Pinterest image
Don’t forget to pin this post for later!
Flower Gardening For Beginners – the Secrets No One Tells You

Flower Gardening For Beginners – the Secrets No One Tells You

As many of you already know I used to suck at gardening. I didn’t know what to plant ,how to plant it, where to plant it… nothing. Over time, I learned. It just took a lot of time (way too much time). 

So I decided to put together a beginner’s guide to flower gardening to give you the answers to the questions that you don’t even know you need to ask, yet. I’m going to cover everything from gardening zones, to basic plant terminology, to sun and shade requirements, to how to care for your plants… and much more. 

  1. Gardening Zones
  2. Perennials, Annuals and Biennials
  3. Sun Requirements
  4. Soil Types
  5. Plant Spacing
  6. Caring For Your Plants (water, food, shelter)
  7. Planting Your First Plant

Let’s get started!

If you’re looking for recommended products to care for your new garden, check out my Amazon Storefront.

1- Where you live matters… a lot; know your gardening zone

USDA Gardening Hardiness Zone Map

I’ve come across so many new gardeners that are baffled when I ask, what’s your gardening zone? So, if you aren’t sure what a gardening zone is, I’m happy to introduce you to this VERY IMPORTANT piece of information :).

Gardening zones are determined by the USDA in order to have a universal way to determine what plants will survive in different regions across the United States. There’s a handy gardening zone map that you can use to figure out what gardening zone you’re in.

Quick Tip: If you go to the USDA website’s zone map, you can type in your zip code and it will tell you what gardening zone you live in!

The Zones in the USA go from Zone 1 all the way to Zone 12. Each Zone number changes based on a 10 degree temperature difference in how cold it gets in that region. So if you are in Zone 6 that means that it gets 10 degrees (Farenheight) colder where you live then someone who Gardens in Zone 7. 

Why is your zone important? The biggest reason is because plants cannot survive in ALL conditions. Some plants are better suited for where you live than others. So, when you know your gardening zone, you’re able to choose plants that will survive (and hopefully thrive) in the climate where you live (i.e. how cold it gets). 

This is especially important if you’re doing research for plants or purchasing your plants online. Because, if you are just Googling the phrase “plants with purple flowers” you’re going to get results that may or may not work for the region in which you live. Once you know your zone, you can begin to narrow down the plants you can grow. 

Most gardening websites will provide a zonal range for you to go by if you come upon a list (like in many of my plant list articles). If you like a particular plant in the list and it says “Zones 5-7″, this means that you must live in a region that falls into Zones 5, 6 or 7. Otherwise it’s either too warm or too cold for you to grow that plant outside all year round.

What if you don’t live in the USA? You can always google “Gardening Zone for X” with X being where you live. Other countries don’t have the standardized zones like we do in America, but there are a lot of websites that will be able to tell you what it would be if you were to live in the USA.

2- There are different classifications for plants; perennials, annuals and biennials

no fuss perennials to add color your garden

The next thing that you need to understand is the difference between perennial, annual and biennial plants. These are just fancy terms that explain the life cycles of the plants and flowers that you may want to grow.

What are Perennial Plants?

A perennial plant is a plant that comes back year after year. So you plant this once and each year it may or may not die back but then it will grow again in the next season. Most shrubs (and trees) “come back” each year like perennials do, even if they lose their leaves over winter. There are also many perennial plants as well as flowers that come back year after year and this is a great way to create a low-maintenance landscape that you don’t have to replace every spring.

Check out some of my favorite perennial plants and flowers.

What are Annual Plants?

Annuals are pretty much self-explanatory. If you plant an annual it will grow and bloom in the year that you’ve planted it. So most annuals you’ll want to purchase and plant in the spring or early summer. At the end of the growing season you’ll have to dig this plant up and throw it in your compost pile. It will not come back next year for you, even if you leave it in the ground. 

Annuals are great to fill in your garden because most annual plants bloom longer and more prolifically than a lot of perennial plants and flowers. 

Some annuals are even “self-sowing” — which is something to be aware of. These are technically annual plants but they produce seed before they die and the seeds drop and create new plants in your garden next spring. This can be great or it can be really troublesome, depending on your situation. 

Read my article on self-sowing annuals for beginners to learn more about it!

“Perennial” and “Annual” is dependent upon your gardening zone

Another interesting thing about annual plants is that a plant may be grown as an annual plant where I live, while considered a perennial where you live. Again, it goes back to gardening zones. The correct term for this is “tender perennial” but it basically means that the plant will not survive the cold temperatures in a particular climate.

So how can this happen? Well I live in northeastern Pennsylvania and I garden in Zone 6. It gets pretty cold here in the winter and the cold winter may actually kill a plant that can’t take that cold weather. But if you live in a warmer climate like Zone 8 or 9 it’s possible that a plant that would not survive the winter here where I live actually would survive winter where you live.

That’s another reason why gardening zones are so important. The zonal range will tell you whether a certain plant or flower can survive the coldest winter temperatures where you live. If you are in Zone 5 and purchase a perennial that is hardy in Zones 6-9, there’s a very high chance it will die in the winter and not come back for you.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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What are Biennial Plants?

Biennial is another category of plants that you should be aware of. However, biennials are much less common than perennials or annuals. Biennial plants will come back every OTHER year. So, it will grow the year you plant it, then the next year it won’t grow, but it will come back the year after that. They are tricky little buggers and I always forget that I planted them! it’s best to just focus on easy-care perennials and annuals for now since you’re new to gardening.

3- You can’t grow plants without sun… and they all need different amounts.

creating seasonal flower and plant groupings
Some plants need a full day of sun (6+ hours)… and some only need a few hours.

Another thing I really wish I knew when I started gardening is that different plants require different amounts of sunlight per day. So, if you have a sunny garden you’ll have to choose plants that thrive in the sun. If your garden is a little shady or really shady you’ll have to choose much different plants. Note that different areas of your yard may receive different amounts of sunlight each day!

You can’t mix shade plants with plants that grow in full sun. If it’s too sunny, the shade loving plants will struggle. And visa versa.

So, just watch the sun in that particular area (for a full day) and try to determine how many hours of sun the area gets. You’ll quickly realize that the sun gets blocked by lots of things like large trees, your house, the neighbors house, etc. 

  • Full Sun: the area gets at 6 hours or more of sun each day.
  • Part Sun: some people divide part sun and part shade into different categories but I like to keep it simple. So, any area that gets between 3-6 hours of sun in a day is considered “Part Sun”. 
  • Shade: If the area gets 3 hours or less of sun each day.

Once you know how much sun or shade the planting area gets, you’ll be able to narrow down your plant choices!

4- Pick plants based on your soil contents… don’t modify your soil to suit your plants.

Amend your soil with compost to improve the quality

Different areas and regions of the world have different soil contents. Your soil could be very sandy, be very rocky, have a high clay content, or a combination of all of the above. 

And, there’s different plants that will grow and thrive in the soil conditions that you have. And, these “ideal” plants are the ones that were looking for because we want to keep things easy on ourselves and we don’t want to have to struggle. So it’s always a good idea to learn about the type of  soil that you have. 

Improve your soil with a pH test kit

You can purchase a soil test kit online and it’s very easy to do. Some test kits allow you to test the soil right at home (like this one).

There are also test kits where you provide a sample of your soil and then mail the kit out to the lab (like this one). It’s pretty similar to using those DNA test kits to figure out where your family is from! Also, a lot of local gardening extensions will also perform a comprehensive soil test for you for free or a small fee.

Don’t over complicate this. Even if you don’t want to test your soil right now, you can still get an idea about its contents today. Just take a shovel and dig into your soil (told you it was easy). Grab a handful of the dirt that’s a few inches down and rub it in your hands. You can learn a lot from doing this!

  • Very sandy, grainy soil will drain well. So, plants that need good drainage (like lavender) will grow well here. But plants that need a lot of water (like hosta) will probably not do well in your soil unless you’re willing to water it often. 
  • If you the soil clumps in your hand and makes a big sticky ball, it likely has a lot of clay content and won’t drain very well. So, plants that like good drainage, like lavender, won’t grow well here. But, plants that can handle having their roots a little wet, like hostas, will thrive!

These are the types of things that you’re looking for when you “test” your soil.

And, it is true that you can “amend” your soil in order to grow certain plants. But I’ve honestly found this to be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s better to choose plants that are already suited for your conditions unless you want to pick a fight with mother nature. So, learn more about your soil contents so you can pick your plants accordingly.

Right plant, right place is the motto here.

Quick Tip: You may like my favorite soiil improvement tips article that goes into a whole lot more detail about the importance of soil. ! 

5- Simple math will help you to space your plants properly.

I think the biggest issue for me when I was new, was figuring out the spacing of my plants. It seemed impossible to me that a tiny little plant I purchased at the nursery could possibly grow to 8-12 feet high and wide. What I see so often is new gardeners planting monster shrubs like this about 1 foot from the foundation of their home and way too close together.

And I’m not trying to embarrass or discourage any new gardeners, here. I made these same mistakes when I was a beginner and it cost me years and lots of money because I had to remove so many things.

It’s definitely worth reading the plant tag and doing some research on the particular shrub you’re looking at before doing so.​

Here’s a post I saw in a gardening group recently that it very typical.

Hydrangeas planted along a brick home very close to the foundation.
Here, the hydrangeas are planted very close to the foundation of the home. It’s a common mistake, but can be a costly one.

My concern with this planting is that even if these are dwarf hydrangeas that only get to be 3-4′ high and wide, they are still incredibly close to the foundation of the home. And, most of the non-dwarf common varieties can reach anywhere from 6-12′ high and wide. If that’s the case, these shrubs have the potential to affect the home’s foundation. And, they will definitely grow over the window and block out natural light from the home. So it’s something to take into consideration for sure.

So, how to do you space out the plants correctly?

If you have a shrub that will grow 4′ high and 5′ wide according to the plant label, but you plant from the trunk or center of the plant, you would really only need a 2.5′ circle around the entire shrub because the radius is 2.5′. When it comes to a foundation planting, I would definitely add another 1-2′ if I had the space to do so. So, the shrub’s trunk would be planted approximately 3.5-4.5′ from the home, with a minimum of 2.5′ around it on all other sides. Just try to picture the shrub at full size and draw a line in the dirt to mark that off.

Here is a guide for how to space 4’H x 5’W shrubs along a 25′ foundation. 

Illustration of planting plan with minimum spacing from home
Minimum plant spacing of 5’W shrubs in foundation planting. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

As a minimum, you would want at least 1′ of open space between the full sized plant and the foundation. From shrub to shrub, you’d want a minimum of 5′ from trunk to trunk when planting. Here, the shrub foliage would touch the plant next to it, but would not become so overcrowded that the shrubs would suffer.​

Illustration of planting plan with ideal spacing from home
Ideal plant spacing of 5’W shrubs in foundation planting. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

In an ideal world, we would make our beds larger and plant even further from the foundation, leaving about 2′ of space between the full grown shrub and the foundation. This would mean planting the center of the shrub 4.5′ from the foundation. Spacing 5′ shrubs 6′ apart from trunk to trunk will allow them to grow to full size without touching one another.

And, if you’ve planted too close together or too close to your foundation, you can always move your shrubs and other plants. But, it’s much easier to do this while they are still young and the weather is cooler to reduce the risk of shock/losing your shrubs.

6- You need to water, feed and shelter your plants (just like babies).

Watering plants

It’s really no secret that plants need water to survive. Most of us know this, right? But, exactly how much water do they need? A good rule of thumb is to water your plants and flowers regularly when you first plant them, for at least a few weeks. If they are larger trees or shrubs you’ll want to consistently water for at least the first year. Once your plants are established, most need about 1” of water each week… and this amount includes the amount of water from the rain, too.

Rain Gauges

So how do you know how many inches of water you’ve received? It’s simple — a rain gauge! They are very inexpensive (buy on Amazon). And, if you empty it out once a week, you’ll always know how much water your plants received. If it’s less than 1” of water, you’ll have to supplement the watering the garden hose. Otherwise, mother nature did the work for you.

Calculating Watering Time

So how do you know how much water is 1″ of water? Great question! A nifty trick is to use an empty 1″ can (like from tuna fish or cat food). Place the empty can next to the plant you need to water. Set a timer and begin watering using the hose or your watering can. When the can fills up, stop your timer. You now know how long it takes to provide 1″ of water using whatever method of watering you prefer.

Feed your plants

When you put a plant in the ground, especially if it’s a flower with ongoing blooms, it’s going to need to be fed. Plants feed themselves through a process called photosynthesis. In basic terms the plant absorbs the suns light through the leaves and turns it into food. This is why it’s so important that your plant gets the right amount of sun. But when a plant is flowering or blooming, it uses a lot of that energy. The best way to keep the plant going is to feed it! 

Types of plant food/fertilizer

There are many different types of plant food you can try… many are specific to the plant (like rose food or fruit and citrus plant food). There are also general fertilizers that you can use on most of your plants. I like Espoma’s Plant Tone (buy on Amazon) for an all-around good general fertilizer. Compost is also a great option. Plus you can make it yourself with kitchen and yard scraps or purchase a few bags at a very reasonable price. Providing this extra food to your plant will give it the energy and strength it needs to be super pretty for you. So… be sure to nurture it. 

How much to feed?

Wondering how much food your plant needs? Most fertilizers will give you instructions right on the package so always follow the instructions, there. For compost, a 1-2″ layer around your plants each spring will work. Even if you just work a little bit into the soil each spring it’s better than nothing.

Quick tip: If you want to learn more about caring for your plants, check out my article, How to make a flower bloom more (and longer).

Sheltering your plants

You may also need to provide shelter for your plants. Many beginners don’t think about this. But plants don’t have feet or legs. Wherever you plant them, they must stay and they can’t escape that area. So, there are times when plants may need some kind of protection.

Wait for the right time to plant

First things first DO NOT PLANT until the last frost date of the year in your region. Even if you are planting perennials that are suited to handle cold winter conditions, you need to wait. As your plant matures it will be able to handle more severe temperatures, but when it’s tiny and new, a frosty night is enough to kill it.

The Farmers Almanac website has a handy frost date tool that will tell you the approximate date of the year that you can expect to have overnight frost where you live. So, now you won’t plant  too early! 

Delicate plants

When the plant is on the “edge” of your gardening zone, it may require some extra protection. If you choose a plant, shrub or tree that’s on the edge of your gardening zone (i.e. if you are zone 6 and the plant is hardy in zones 6-9), I refer to it as a “delicate” plant.

So, if you want to risk planting something that’s not quite suited for your conditions, you may need to provide a little extra TLC. Sometimes, enough shelter and protection can be achieved by planting it in a protected area — like near the house or where it’s not completely exposed to the cold and wind. In other cases, you may have to cover delicate plants when the temperatures are extreme (see below).

Shelter from extreme temperatures

Even if you’ve waited until after the last expected frost date, sometimes Mother Nature can be unpredictable. If you’re expecting unseasonably cold temperatures (like an overnight frost), you may need to cover your delicate and newly planted friends to keep them warm and safe.

You can purchase plant frost protection cloth (buy on Amazon) to cover your plants in the frosty weather. Other things work too, like creating a tent with a stick or stake and draping a blanket, sheet or even some burlap over the plant for the night. Just make sure you cover your plant before it gets cold so that you trap some of the heat from the day into its cover. 

Putting your first plant into the ground: planting basics

So by now you’ve probably chosen a plant and you want to actually plant in your landscape. But I bet you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, nervous, anxious… wondering if you’re doing it correctly.

Well, you’re in luck because if you’ve followed everything in this post then you are going to be just fine.

And I also have another post that you can read that will walk you step-by-step through planting your first plant into the ground. You can follow these instructions whether you are starting a completely new garden bed or just planting your plant into an established garden bed.

If you’re looking for recommended products to plant your garden, check out my Amazon Storefront.

Planting is not permanent; so don’t stress

Lastly, I want to point out that this does not have to be permanent. So if you are worried about making a mistake, it’s best to plant your plant now instead of leaving it in its plastic plant pot from the store. Choose a location for your plant and get it planted in the ground as fast as possible.

If you don’t like how it looks, you can always dig it up and transplant it later (in the spring or fall is the best time). You can move most of your plants… even if they’ve been in the same location for years.

But, if you’re planting larger shrubs or trees you should try to site them correctly the first time… they can be a bit more difficult to move later (although it can be done).

So, don’t get nervous. Just pick a spot, plant it and see how it goes.

Wrapping Up

I think we’ve successfully covered a lot of important things for beginner gardeners. We learned about gardening zones, some plant terminology, the importance of soil, tricks for spacing out plants and even how to feed, water, shelter and plant your plants.

So, what is your favorite gardening tip? You know… that thing you wish you knew before you got started gardening? I’d love to hear from you!

If you liked this article and this is all new to you, you may want to check out my free gardening video training. I’ll teach you some of my big gardening “secrets” so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did! I’ll see you over there!

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Why Choose Native Plants Instead of Non-Native Invasive Plants In Your Landscape

Why Choose Native Plants Instead of Non-Native Invasive Plants In Your Landscape

If your new to gardening, you may not even know what a native plant, a non-native plant or an invasive plant means!

And, to be honest, I didn’t know either when I was new to gardening.

While I’m not an expert on the topic, I believe that it’s important. That’s why I’ve educated myself to understand the differences. And, I hope to break this down for you in a simple way and also provide you some resources to continue your research and understanding of native vs. invasive plants.

First lets just understand the difference between native, non-native and invasive plants on a very basic level.

Native plants are plants that belong in the particular region that you live in. That means they grow there naturally, provide habitat and food for wildlife and don’t cause any harmful effects on the environment.

Non-native plants are plants that are “brought in” to your region in some way; by a person, by accident, etc. If it weren’t for this action (whether it was deliberate or not), they would never be growing in your area.

Invasive plants are always non-native plants. Sometimes, when non-native plants are introduced to a new habitat, they can “take over”, causing a lot of problems for your local ecosystem. This includes negative affects on wildlife, insects, forests, trees, plants… and much more. In short: they are bad news.

Now that you understand the basic differences, lets learn a little bit more about native and non-native invasive species.

Native Plant Definition

A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs and trees.

Native plants have adapted over long periods of time with the regions soil and climate and in tandem with other native species like plants, animals, fungi and bacteria. Native plants exist as part of naturally-forming communities and have an important ecological role to play.

The significant difference between native and non-native plants is that native plants support native insects. Insects that have evolved with native plants can combat chemical defenses of some plants and know to avoid the ones they cannot. But when non-natives are introduced, insects often cannot use them for food.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

There are also many insects – at least in the larva stage – that can only feed on one specific plant or a small number of plants. The monarch butterfly is the perfect example. In its larva form as caterpillar it ONLY consumes milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

By adding some native plants to your garden, you are supporting native wildlife at all stages of life. So, if you want to attract bees, butterflies or birds to your garden, the answer is to plant some natives. Once you do that, you’ll see your garden almost immediately transform into a vibrant, dynamic space! It truly is amazing.

Benefits of native plants

Native plants are adapted to the growing conditions where you live. Because of this, they are often easier to grow, require less maintenance and are less susceptible to challenging conditions than non-native plants . There are many benefits to planting native plants in your garden:

  • Natives are better suited to our climates, conditions and diseases.
  • They provide erosion control due to deep and varied root systems.
  • Natives provide food and shelter for wildlife, especially birds and the insects they depend upon.
  • They also contribute to biodiversity, ensuring successful ecosystems for the future generations.

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Common misconceptions about native plants

Natives AND non-natives both provide shelter and food for wildlife

Non-native, non-invasive plants can ALSO provide shelter, nesting opportunities and some food options for wildlife. However, native plants generally support a greater diversity and number of wildlife. This includes the bees, butterflies and birds we love to see in our gardens.

Native plants can also be aggressive

Some native plants can also be vigorous growers that can cause many issues. But, the proper term for these plants is aggressive, not invasive. Some gardeners call these more aggressive plants the “thugs” of the garden.

Invasive Plant Definition

An invasive plant is a non-native plant that negatively impacts the region where it’s been introduced. Because invasives are non-native, they have been introduced to the new region, usually by direct or indirect human intervention. In other words, they don’t grow there naturally.

Consider Invasive Plants Slide
The easiest way to understand invasive plants is by this example. Squirrels are native in the United States, but giraffes and lions are not. So just imagine that someone brought one of these animals to the USA. The lion is likely to do some harm in the USA (killing other animals, taking over habitat, etc.). The giraffe may cause problems, too. Or maybe giraffes would get along just fine here? We wouldn’t know the real answer unless it actually happened and we could assess the damage.

Invasive plants can reduce populations of native plants and the insects that depend on those plants… and even the animals the feed on those insects, etc. Over time, invasive species can permanently alter your local ecosystem functions.

The label “invasive” is reserved for non-native plants only. A native plant can be aggressive… but never invasive if you are using proper terminology. However, lots of people mix this up so just be aware of that!

Invasive plants have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts. When invasives take over, it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to control or remove them. This is especially true if the invasive plants are established over large areas. Invasives disrupt both natural and urban ecosystems. They are problematic in other ways, too:

  • They outcompete, weaken, or kill native plants that are needed to support local wildlife.
  • Invasives have the potential to reduce the amount of food for animals to forage on, which can affect the production of food that we eat, too.
  • They often don’t provide the habitat – food, cover, nesting sites – that native plants provide.
  • They can also impact water quality and quantity; both effects of erosion and sedimentation caused by invasives
  • They are expensive to control; millions of public and private dollars are spent in attempt to control the problem. Money is spend on things like labor, plant replacement costs, chemical usage, and all of the other costs involved in maintaining public parks as well as private properties (like your home).

Common misconceptions about invasive plants

There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about invasive plants so I wanted to cover the major ones.

Invasive plants aren’t “bad” plants

Invasive plants aren’t bad plants… they just aren’t suited for the environment they were introduced to. When that particular plant is in its “native” region, it may be a great plant.

Plants aren’t bad. It’s the conditions that the plant was introduced to that are causing the problem. Often times when a plant is introduced, what’s NOT introduced along with it are all of things that kept the plant in check back where it came from. These are things like insects, disease, predators and other natural controls within its native environment. So while that may be a fine plant where you live, where someone else lives it can wreak havoc. Make sense?

People who mention to you that a particular plant is invasive are not trying to hurt your feelings. They are not talking smack about a plant you like. They are simply stating a fact… and it’s a fact that’s non-negotiable. It’s not up for argument.

Some cultivars of invasive species plants are safe for your landscape

It’s true. Horticulturists are always trying to create cultivars of beautiful and desired invasive plants that are safe for the environment. Usually they do this by reducing the fertility of the plant so that it doesn’t seed and spread as profusely.

However, proceed with caution. Without years of research to back up these claims, it’s been found that some of these cultivars with “reduced” fertility will often still be invasive. Dr. Tiffany M. Knight is an expert in field of causes and consequences of exotic plant invasions. In an article from BioScience, a journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Dr. Knight states that,

“…reductions of even 95 percent in the number of viable seed will leave a long-lived species quite capable of spreading — and many of the new cultivars do not achieve even that much of a reduction.”

Dr. Tiffany M. Knight (BioScience, October, 2011)

Dr. Knight notes that only completely sterile cultivars can be considered truly safe without further testing and recommends a “conservative approach” when it comes to using these cultivars in your landscape. She adds,

“A cultivar should be considered guilty until proven innocent. And horticultural scientists should conduct more thorough breed and demographic studies on cultivars so that they are not marketed as safe before the science is complete.”

Dr. Tiffany M. Knight (from Washington University in St. Louis article, ‘Non-invasive’ cultivar? Buyer beware)

Garden centers do regularly sell invasive plants… it’s true

Not all plants that you pick up at the garden center are created equal, my friend. It’s really unfortunate to know that garden centers and nurseries commonly sell invasive plants right along side of the native ones. Here are just a few common invasives you’ll see:

  • Bamboo (Phyllostachys spp.)
  • Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
  • Wintercreeper / Creeping Euonymous (Euonymus fortunei)
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Japanese Honeysuckle vine (Lonicera japonica)
  • Winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
  • Nandina/Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica)
  • Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense)
  • Callery/Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana)
  • Common periwinkle / Vinca (Vinca minor)
  • Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
  • Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis ternifolia)

So, it’s up to you to learn the difference between the two. Armed with this information, you can practice your gardening hobby in a more thoughtful manner. And, you’ll also be able to contribute in a positive way to solving global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss… which is a really cool and exciting thing to be a part of.

A non-native can be invasive in one region and ok in another

Another common misconception is that if a plant is considered invasive in one region (like the state of Pennsylvania), it must be invasive everywhere else (like South Carolina, Texas, Florida, etc.).

This simply isn’t true. Conditions vary wildly from region to region. A non-native plant that’s capable of swallowing the South may be incapable of spreading very far in the North, and vice versa. There are many factors that can cause a plant to be invasive in one region and not another (like climate in this example).

I know… it can get really confusing. So, you need to always do your research!

Not all non-native plants are invasive

It’s important to understand that the majority of non-native plants are NOT invasive. Many nonnatives are beneficial to society and non-threatening to native biodiversity; others are benign. Only a few are invasive.

Head over to the article Is Non-Native and Invasive the Same Thing? to learn more about the differences between non-native and invasive plants.

What you can do to curb the spread of invasives

None of this information is helpful if I don’t provide you with some action steps to take, right? So, if you want to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, here are some things you can do:

  • Learn to identify invasive plants in your area.
  • Once you’ve educated yourself about invasive plants, consider reaching out to your family, friends and neighbors to share what you know. It truly takes a whole community to keep these plants at bay!
  • Report invasive plant sightings to your county extension agent or local land manager (you can find yours here).
  • Remove any invasive plants in your own garden (& replace with native plants, if you’d like to).
  • Talk to your local nursery before selecting plants for your garden.
  • Volunteer at removal efforts.

Resources for Native Plants

You’lll have to do your research in order to determine whether a particular plant is invasive in your area. A great place to start your research is on the USDA website’s Introduced, Invasive and Noxious Plants page.

You can also find a State and Master Gardener Extension Program near you so you can talk to an expert in your particular region.

In addition, most state government websites will also have regional resources available to you. Check for the .gov at the end of the domain name for these resources.

Resources for Invasive Plants

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Facebook Gardening Groups – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Facebook Gardening Groups – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Facebook gardening groups are a great way to learn more about gardening, share your ideas and get some advice on your latest landscape project. But, these groups are not the be all end all of gardening advice.

So how can you get the most of these groups? And, how do you avoid the inevitable overwhelm that will happen if you aren’t quite ready to crowd source for ideas.

If you’d prefer, you can just watch the video below to hear me talk about this instead!

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more gardening videos!

Facebook gardening groups sharing and crowd-sourcing gardening ideas… it’s all the rage right now.

This is a topic that I’m surprisingly passionate about. I’m in a lot of these public Facebook groups and I just wanted to talk a little bit about why these groups are probably not a good idea for beginner gardeners.

At PrettyPurpleDoor.com I help beginner gardeners create landscapes that are uniquely you. I have diploma in garden design and maintenance and I’m also a professional graphic designer and I teach garden design online through my four season garden design course.

Why gardening forums can be bad

I actually really love public gardening groups on Facebook, reddit and other forums because I get to see other people’s gardens, chat about ideas and talk all things gardening. But, what I see far too often are beginners posting their “blank slate” landscapes and crowd sourcing for generic advice about their yard.

bad landscaping questions for facebook groups
These are really vague and ineffective landscaping questions to ask in free gardening Facebook groups… the answers will only lead to more overwhelm.

This drives me insane!

There’s a common thread among the screenshots above: there’s basically ZERO information.

It’s just a picture of the person’s landscape. You have no idea where this person lives. You don’t know what their style is, you don’t know what their goals are for their garden.

This is really common in gardening groups I am in. What’s equally as common is people giving incorrect information in the comments. To keep yourself out of trouble you should understand:

  • not every person leaving a comment is an expert… in fact… 99% of them aren’t.
  • many people will give you advice even if they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • getting 100 ideas on what to do when you’re already feeling overwhelmed is just going to make your situation worse.

Maybe some of the ideas and the comments you get are really good. I’m not saying that there aren’t valuable comments in these groups. But more often than not there are better ways you can go about landscaping from scratch that doesn’t involve crowd-sourcing a bunch of strangers with no credentials. So let’s get into what can do instead because I really don’t want to see anybody get bad advice and then spend a lot of money and a lot of time on these avoidable mistakes.

Good questions to ask in Facebook gardening groups

I thought I’d send you off with some really great questions you can ask in gardening groups. Or, how to get the best advice from the people in the group so that you can gain clarity about your project rather than being overwhelmed by a bunch of contradicting responses.

Here are some really great questions you can ask. They all have a common theme: specificity. Being specific in your post is the most important thing you can do. When you are specific… you will be more likely to gain the attention of a professional that knows what their talking about. I won’t answer questions in groups if there’s not enough information for me to provide any expertise… and I know I’m not alone in that.

You know who WILL answer? Roy…

Roy loves to sit on Facebook and tell other people how much he loves his hostas and post a million pictures of his hostas. It doesn’t matter what you ask, Roy will always be recommending hostas as a solution… even if your yard is full sun and you live in the deep south where hostas won’t grow.

So… be careful for the “Roys” out there.

Ask a specific question. Only ask ONE question at a time. Provide a photo and also give the group information about the conditions, your location and the outcome you desire. This is the only way you’ll get me to answer you :).

Here are some great posts I’ve seen recently in gardening groups so you have a few ideas.

good landscaping questions for facebook groups
These questions are specific and are great to ask about in Facebook groups.

The best Facebook groups to join if you love to garden

Now that you know the right types of questions to ask, I wanted to share some of my favorite public Facebook groups. If you are beyond that initial “starting from scratch” stage of your landscaping project, check out one (or many) of these great Facebook communities filled with passionate and friendly gardeners:

Facebook gardening groups
Group NameDescriptionMembers*Posts/Day*
Gardening, landscaping, decor and design tipsThe title of the group pretty much says it all here. Learn how to garden, how to landscape, how to care for your houseplants, get helpful hints, tips and ideas. Most of the posts in this group are photos of other members’ gardens along with many questions from gardeners who are stuck on a particular project or trying to identify the right plant or the right decor for their space.60K
Show Me Your Plants Garden And YardThis group is filled with photos of members’ gardens and also a lot of humorous gardening posts. Anyone in the group is welcome to share their plants, garden pics or flower pics.35K
DIY Garden and LandsapeA social group encompassing all things DIY gardening and landscape. Contribute cool finds, finished projects, planting tips, ideas and support. 3K
DIY gardening ideasThis is a nice group where members can post any DIY gardening ideas and talk with other gardeners.20K35
The frugal weekend gardenerCreative ideas for the garden that don’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. Everyone in the group is welcome to share their “frugal” gardening ideas.2Klow
Garden Answer GroupiesFilled with amaetuer gardens who love the Garden Answer website/YouTube channel. This is a nice place to share your garden projects, ask for help, IDs and have plain old fun with like-minded gardening friends! 80K600
Gardening for BeginnersThe group owner is a complete newbie to the world of gardening and started this group so other beginners could share what their learning and all progress together.130K500
Creative GardeningA fun gardening group where members share creative tips, suggestions and ideas for your home garden. 100K8,000
Square Foot GardeningIf you’re interested in vegetable gardening in small spaces, this is the gardening group for you!50K150
PPD – 4 Season GardenersI’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention my very own Facebook group! But– my group is a private members only group for those who have taken my 4-season garden design course. So, if you’re interested in becoming a member of this great community, you’ll have to take my course first! Or, you can head over to the Pretty Purple Door Facebook page to enjoy some of my funny gardening memes and entertaining gardening posts. It’s not a group but it’s still pretty fun!small and private N/A

*Total members and posts/day change all the time. These are estimates taken at the time of writing this post.

Wrapping Up

If you’re just starting your landscape from scratch and you’re expecting to find a landscape designer to give you advice and draw you free plans in a public Facebook group, you’re going to be disappointed. I don’t know why someone would expect that from a free group.

In my opinion, there are two paths you can take to get your dream garden… and neither of these paths involve crowdsourcing on Facebook. You either need to

  1. hire a professional and pay them for their work, or,
  2. take a DIY approach to landscaping your yard from scratch.

Choosing #2 means you’ll have to take the time to understand all the pieces that go into your landscape and how to make it unique, creative and show off your personality.

But don’t worry! I really believe that any home gardener CAN do this yourself and have a lot of success with creating your own garden from scratch by yourself with your own ideas.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, I invite you to take my free video masterclass training that covers the 3 biggest mistakes that home gardeners make that prevent them from getting their dream garden. It’s completely free and will really energize you to start this process off on the right foot!

We also talked about how public Facebook groups can be a really great source of ideas, inspiration and community for any home gardener. But, you have to ask the RIGHT questions to get any value from them. So, before you post, make sure that you’re including really specific information and that you’re only asking one question in your posts. This will attract the best group members to reply to your question.

What is your experience with Facebook gardening groups? Love them? Hate them? Never even tried them? I’d love to hear what you think!

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The Best Self Sowing Annuals for Beginners

The Best Self Sowing Annuals for Beginners

Today I wanted to share just a little bit about what’s called “self-sowers” or “self-seeders” in the garden. Self-sowing annuals are plants that will drop seed in your garden before they die and will germinate on their own the following year. So, they return year after year like perennials, but from seeds, not from their roots. Like magic!

Self sowing annuals are a magical solution to the biggest problem that beginner gardeners face: having enough money to purchase the tons and tons of plants needed to create your dream garden. Instead of having to buy full-sized perennials, you can spend a few bucks on some seed packets and have a lovely, magical flower show year after year!

The Best Self Sowers for Newbies

These annual self-sowers are great options to try if you’re new to this concept or new to gardening:

  • Flowering tobacco (nicotiana langsdorffii)
  • Borage (borago officinalis)
  • Dill (anethum graveolens)
  • Califonia poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Bachelor’s Button, Cornflower (centaurea cyanus)
  • Sweet alyssum (lobularia maritima)
  • Feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium)

These are great self-sowers for newbies because:

  1. they are really pretty and low-maintenance
  2. they will add an element of surprise to your layered landscape beds
  3. they can easily be controlled by hand pulling… i.e. they won’t be an aggressive nuisance to you.

Flowering tobacco (nicotiana langsdorffii)

Flowering Tobacco (nicotiana langsdorffi)i
Flowering tobacco (nicotiana langsdorffii)

Hummingbirds love the floral wind chimes of tobacco as their beaks a perfect match to the dangling, chartreuse blooms with striking blue anthers. Introduced from Brazil in 1819, flowering tobacco grows from a tiny seed very quickly once it gets going, its sticky, 10-12″ deep-green leaves and sturdy upright stems support the cascades of bloom from summer through fall. Tobacco looks lovely with perennial grasses or against a dark leafed perennial or shrub. A weak perennial in mild climates (zones 10-11), tobacco is generally grown as an annual. Beware because all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested in large quantities. Goes from seed to bloom in 10-12 weeks.

Perennial in Zones 10-11, Half Hardy Annual | 2-3 ‘H x 1-1.5’ W | Full Sun-Part Sun | from seed to bloom in 10-12 weeks | Purchase seeds

Borage (borago officinalis)

Borage - Borago officinalis
Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage was introduced into North America from Europe as an herbal and ornamental plant; it is native to the Mediterranean area.  It blooms from June to August with showy, star-shaped, bright blue flowers. The stems and leaves are covered with bristly hairs and the gray-green leaves can reach 6”. They also taste and smell like cucumbers.

Half Hardy Annual | 1.5-2.5 ‘H x 1.5’ W | Full Sun-Part Sun | from seed to bloom in 10-12 weeks | Purchase seeds

Dill (anethum graveolens)

Dill (anethum graveolens)

Dill is a self-sowing annual from the celery family that is a great plant for both the herb and ornamental garden not only for its aromatic leaves and seeds but also for its attractive foliage and flowers. The small yellow flowers of dill are borne in small open umbels, followed by light brown seeds. The soft, alternate, blue-green leaves are finely divided, giving a fern-like appearance. Half-Hardy Annuals will survive a very light frost but are planted in the open at the last spring frost date or a little later. They can also be started 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost.

Half Hardy Annual | 2-4′ H x 2-3′ W | Full Sun | from seed to bloom in 10-12 weeks | Purchase seeds

Califonia poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

Califonia poppy 'Mikado' (Eschscholzia californica)
Califonia poppy ‘Mikado’ (Eschscholzia californica)

You’ll find the seed of the self-sowing California poppy in a lot of wildflower mixes, but you may have better luck growing it on its own. The ‘Mikado’ variety has deep, satiny orange petals with scarlet backs that sit on airy, fern-like sea-green foliage that bloom from spring through fall.​ Native Americans used this plant for toothache, and today it is recommended for its analgesic and mild narcotic properties. Cut back if bloom slows for another flush of flowers that continue until a hard freeze. 

Hardy Annual | 8-12″ H x 6″ W | Full Sun | from seed to bloom in 8-10 weeks | Purchase seeds

Bachelor’s Button, Cornflower (centaurea cyanus)

Bachelor's Button, Cornflower (centaurea cyanus)
Bachelor’s Button, Cornflower (centaurea cyanus)

It’s hard to beat the blue flower color of the bachelor’s button. This self-sowing annual got the name “cornflower” because it grew as a weed in cornfields, but you may welcome it in your garden. ‘Emperor William’ variety has cobalt blue single flowers that bloom abundantly on top of the strong many-branched stems, the silvery green narrow foliage a perfect foil for the brilliance of the flowers.

Quick to bloom, they can be sown again in June for fresh blooming plants in early fall. A unique heirloom that once was offered in many an early seed list, it’s the essence of innocence and simplicity. Bachelor’s Button does spread, but it is easy to pull out any extras. Its seeds are also loved by goldfinches and other small seed-eating birds​.

Hardy Annual | 2-3′ H x 1′ W | Full Sun | from seed to bloom in 10 weeks | Purchase seeds

Sweet alyssum (lobularia maritima)

Sweet alyssum (lobularia maritima)
Sweet alyssum (lobularia maritima)

‘Benthamii’ sweet alyssum has tall clusters of honey-scented, bee-attracting blooms that are perfect to soften garden edges and spill from pots and window boxes. This self-sower attracts beneficial insect hoverflies, honey bees and butterflies. Alyssum loves cooler weather and can be sheared down and fertilized in mid summer for quick rebloom. You can resow it anytime in the season; it comes to bloom in 8-12 weeks.

Hardy Annual | 10″ H x 6″ W | Full-Part Sun | from seed to bloom in 8-12 weeks | Purchase seeds

Feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium)

Feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium)
Feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium)

Feverfew is a bushy self-sowing hardy annual with pretty, white daisy-like flowers with yellow button centers that bloom in clusters above its earthy-scented bright green parsley-like leaves. Its pungent foliage effectively repels pests and has a long history of medicinal use, and now we also appreciate its ability to attract beneficial insects– however it repels bees so don’t place it near plants that rely on bees for pollination.

Feverfew is low-growing and forms a nice carpet for the front of borders. Plant in full sun for the best flowers.​ This member of the aster family behaves like an annual in cooler zones, a perennial in some areas, and can be evergreen in the South.

Perennial in Zones 5-10, Hardy Annual in colder climates | 2′ H x 1′ W | Full Sun | from seed to bloom in 8-12 weeks | Purchase seeds

Where to buy self-seeding annuals

If you’re looking to buy some of these options, you can usually get the seeds and plant sets locally at the garden center. Or ask some of your gardening friends to save some for you.

Online, I like to shop for seeds at selectseeds.com because they have a great ‘selection’ (lol). Seed packs vary in the number of seeds but most of them will cost about $3.00.

When to sow your seeds

With some self-sowers you can just spread the seeds right into your garden beds in the fall and have lots of flowers the following summer. But, this isn’t always the case as some of these seeds are more finicky than others. Always follow the instructions on your packet of seeds to have the most success with self-seeders.

Since we are discussing annuals, here’s some information to keep in mind about sowing times:

  • Hardy annuals can stand some frost, so sow in the open ground well before the last spring frost date, or, in warm winter areas, sow in the fall.
  • Half-Hardy Annuals will survive a very light frost but are planted in the open at the last spring frost date or a little later. They can also be started 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost.
  • Tender Annuals are warm weather plants that cannot withstand any frost and prefer warm nights. Tender annuals with long weeks to bloom (16-18+) should be started indoors 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost.
  • Always follow the directions on the packet so you don’t sow the seeds at the wrong time.

Why try self-sowing annuals?

If you aren’t convinced that self-sowing is for you, here are some great reasons to give them a try.

  • They’re cheap… you just need to buy a packet of seeds for a dollar or two to get tons of beautiful, flowering plants. (see more tips for gardening on a budget).
  • They will fill in the gaps between perennials and other plants and make your layered garden look lush.
  • If you don’t like them, you can pull them up before they go to seed. Or if you missed the chance to do that you can pull them up in the spring as they start to grow.
  • They cut down the amount of time you’ll spend planting and maintaining your gardens.
  • They make your garden more sustainable by allowing natural selection to “favor” the plants most suitable to the microclimate of your garden.
  • They bring a sense of surprise and whimsy to your garden… and who doesn’t love that?

The key to successful self-sowing

Some gardeners do not have success with self-sowing. One problem can be that the seeds have been “stolen” by the birds or that they simply have blown away into other areas. Sometimes, the seeds simply do not take. To give yourself the best chance at success, follow these tips:

  • Stop deadheading in late summer so that the plant can form seeds that can drop.
  • Use gravel in the area surrounding to encourage your self-sowers.
  • Make sure your soil around your self-sowers is loose and rich in nutrients (like compost).
  • Do not mulch the area with wood chips or shredded bark, which can prevent casually dropped seeds from germinating.
  • In spring, weed carefully. It’s amazing how many times I’ve personally “weeded” my own plants! So, keep an eye out for seedlings that look like the annuals you grew last year. Rather than weed right away, you may need to let things grow a bit to make sure. Refer to the photos you took the previous spring of your young plants to help you remember what they looked like.
  • Before choosing your self-sowers, do your research; some hybrid varieties will not come up true to seed so you may end up with a completely different flower next year. Even the color can change!

How to remove self-sowing annuals from your landscape

Sometimes, self-sown plants pop up in unwanted places, but it’s easy to transplant them to a better spot. Dig up the seedling with a trowel, taking care not to disturb the roots. Replant to the same depth in prepared soil and water well. If you find that you don’t like the plant so much, the trick is to deadhead all of the spent flowers to prevent it from self-seeding.​

With the suggestions above, you can easily hand pull the flowers that show up in unwanted places. They aren’t aggressive and can be removed easily in the spring as you see them pop up.

Wrapping up

Self-sowing or self-seeding annuals are a great plant type to try if you are new to gardening because they have the characteristics of both annual and perennial plants. First, as annuals, they typically bloom for longer periods of time. And second, like perennials, they will come back year after year in your garden.

The one thing to remember is that they don’t really “come back.” They drop seed to the ground after blooming and new plants “pop up” in the garden. So it’s not really the same as a perennial plant. The problematic thing about this is that they can pop up in places that you did not expect… and where you may not want them.

Luckily, all of the self-sowers presented in this article are easy to pull out in the spring if they show up in unwanted spaces. So, they are worth a try for beginner gardeners.

While self-sowing isn’t fail-safe, it’s always a wonderful surprise to find last years’ plants reappearing in spring; even if it’s not in the places where we expected them to be. So, if you like a bit of serendipity in your garden, the random appearance of self-sown plants may be the ticket!

Happy gardening!

More Gardening Posts to Check Out!

Best self sowing annuals for beginner gardeners to try
Don’t forget to pin this post for later: self sowing annuals for beginner gardeners
How To Prevent Weeds From Sucking the Life Out of Your Garden

How To Prevent Weeds From Sucking the Life Out of Your Garden

i.e. What to do about garden weeds.
i.e. How to prevent weeds and permanently remove them from your garden.

Weeds are the antagonist of every gardener’s story. How can we conquer and defeat this relentless enemy? How can we be the hero gardener who has finally solved this incredibly frustrating problem?

Well… I’m being a little dramatic here, but preventing weeds is definitely a subject of passion for every gardener. That’s because weeds are in every single garden. In every single climate. They can be the vein of your gardening existence if you let them. But — you won’t have to!

To prevent weeds in a garden bed, don’t till the soil as little and block weeds from water and sunlight. Plant tightly and use groundcovers and mulch to smother weeds. Stick to a regular weeding schedule to keep weeds in check.

If you’re looking for the best tools to tackle weeds and grow healthy plants, you can check out all of my recommendations in my Amazon Store.

If you already have weeds taking over your peaceful gardening colony, you’ll find my favorite techniques and tools to exile your weed enemies once and for all!

Here’s the process I use to remove weeds from large areas of the garden and keep them from coming back. You can tackle this task in small chunks and get your whole garden back in order.

Why weeds are a problem

Other than the time-consuming task of having to remove weeds from your garden, weeds can actually cause much bigger issues. An overabundance of weeds in your garden leads to what’s called weed pressure. Some problems caused by weed pressure are:

  • Nutrient depletion: Nutrients in your soil are consumed by growing weed, leading to less nutrients for the plants you actually want to grow.
  • Shading: Weeds typically grow much faster than the crop plant and the weed canopy can become dense enough to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches your plants.
  • Water diversion: Just like any other plant, weeds need water for growth. If the weeds are using up the available water in your garden, it reduces the amount of water available for your plants and crops.

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As you can see, weed pressure is kind of like an infestation — basically the weeds grow at a rate faster than your plants do. When this happens, the weeds end up overtaking your plants and make it really difficult to manage the problem.

But no worries here! Follow some of my simple tips and techniques to prevent weeds from growing. And in the unfortunate case that you already have a weed problem, I have some advice for that, too.

Prevent weeds in your garden

It’s always better if you can prevent weeds, rather than having to remove weeds. So, in a perfect world, if you’re just starting out, follow the guidelines below to keep your garden free from weed pressure. Once the buggers start growing it will be much more difficult to resolve the problem. That’s why proper planning of your garden beds is key to a healthy, low-maintenance garden.

Don’t be digging too much

Digging and cultivating your soil will bring hidden weed seeds to the surface. Tilling your soil will actually bring all of these weed seeds to the surface. Once they hit sunlight they will germinate into weeds. So, it’s best not to disturb your garden if at all possible.

If you must till your garden, or add some compost and other nutrients to your soil, it’s not the end of the world. Just know that tilling will sprout weeds and that you’ll need to stay on top of them for the next few weeks. Pull out any new weeds you see right when they pop up.

When you are digging out weeds, keep the disturbance of the soil around the weed to a minimum. Some gardeners recommend using a sharp knife with a narrow blade to slice through weed roots rather than digging them out and disturbing even more soil.

Another method you can try after tilling a large area of the garden is to wait until a lot of weeds are sprouting, then till just the surface of the soil again to kill the new weeds. You may have to do this two or three times before you’re able to actually plant that area.  

My favorite method for reducing weeds is the no dig method. The jist of the “no dig” method is to cover the area (grassy or weeded) with a layer of cardboard or several layers of newspaper. Then you wet the paper, add 1.5″ of compost then add at least 2″ of mulch to the top. Water this well and the microorganisims from your soil will come to the surface and till the soil for you. The paper will also smother any weeds you have growing in your garden.

I use this method pretty much every spring. I lay some fresh newspaper down around my plants, cover with more compost and top with mulch. It really works wonderfully and I’ve seen a significant decrease in the amount of weeds in my garden! I explain the whole thing in this post. Try it out!

Do not water the evil weeds

According to Fine Gardening Issue 127, depriving weeds of water can reduce weed seed germination by 50-70%.  So, how can you deprive the weeds of water but still get plants the water they need? The easiest way is using a drip irrigation soaker hose system. This is a good solution for watering your plants and not your weeds. Watering your garden by hand works, too, but it’s often tedious.

The only drawback is that deep-rooted perennial weeds like bindweed & nutsedge tend to pop up quickly when a soaker hose/drip irrigation system is used.

Maintain healthy soil that weeds will hate

Enriching your soil with organic matter every chance you get can move your garden along down the weed-free path. Soil scientists aren’t sure how it works, but fewer weed seeds germinate in soil that contains fresh compost and organic matter. So, be sure that you are keeping a healthy garden and you’ll be on yourway to reducing weeds.

Plant tightly so weeds won’t stand a chance

Planting your garden tightly is one of the best and easiest ways to prevent weeds. Weeds will grow anywhere there is bare space. So, if you plan out your garden so that your plants are touching each other you will leave a lot less room for weeds to grow.  Just be sure that you don’t overcrowd your plants.

If you have plants that are still growing into their full size, try filling the areas in between your plants with a low-maintenance annual, like impatiens. This will fill in your garden and give your perennials the space they need to grow.

Use groundcovers to smother your weeds

Groundcovers are another amazing technique for reducing the amount of weed growth. Groundcovers will spread and fill in the areas underneath your plantings, thus eliminating the sunlight that will get to any weed seeds. If weeds do happen to sprout, often times the groundcovers you plant will choke out the weeds and eliminate the problem for you.

Quick Tip: See my top perennial groundcover recommendations here.

Mulch: the ultimate weed preventor

Mulch is a great way to add nutrients to the soil. It also keeps your plants cool, retains moisture and creates a barrier that will make it difficult for weed seeds to sprout!

Mulch with a layer 2-3 inches deep. If you have a serious weed problem, you’ll need to mulch even deeper — to about 6”. Be sure to leave a little space around the crown of your plants so you don’t hurt them.

How to stop weeds from growing in mulch

Unfortunately, some mulch that you buy is laced with weed seeds… seemingly making your weed problem worse. There are a few things you can do to combat this common problem.

  • Use organic mulch:  Organic mulches can host crickets and carabid beetles that will devour thousands of weed seeds. You can purchase organic mulch locally.
  • Mulch alternatives: You can use wood chips, leaves or even grass clippings to mulch your beds. A rubber tree ring used around your trees acts as a mulch, too. By depriving your weeds of sunlight, they won’t be able to grow. So, these are all great alternatives to traditional mulch.

Quick Tip: Check out my article, Landscaping on a budget, for more details on low-cost mulch alternatives.

Prevent weed growth with landscape fabric

Using weed barrier landscape fabric, sometimes called groundcover sheeting, on top of the soil will create an extra level of protection against weeds.

The thing is… this isn’t my favorite method. And most people that have tried it really regret doing it later. So… do your research beforehand. The reason I don’t like this method for traditional garden beds is because of what I spoke about before: weeds don’t grow in good soil. If you are actually preventing any nutrients from getting into your soil by having a permanent layer on top of it, how can your soil be healthy?

You know what else is underneath that weed fabric? the roots of your plants. How can your plants get food and moisture properly if you are covering them up? Well, they really can’t. So, if you are planting in the area I’d really stay away from the weed fabric.

So when would you use weed fabric? The only time I personally would use it is for underneath a patio or a walkway. Adding landscape fabric beneath your hardscape can help to prevent weeds from growing. It still wont stop birds and wind from dropping their seeds from above, but it will solve half of the problem.

Other alternatives to traditional landscape fabric include cardboard, newspaper, or even burlap. I’d recommend these over the weed fabric if you’re growing any kind of plants.

Quick Tip: Don’t forget to check out my post on the no dig flower garden bed. This is a great solution to many weed problems you’ll experience as a new gardener!

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Weeds are inevitable

Did you know that every square inch of your garden has weed seeds? Yes, it’s true. So when people ask me how to prevent weeds I usually chuckle a little bit on the inside. The truth is, you can’t.

Weeds are pretty much inevitable.

Even If you put a weed barrier under your mulch, you will still get weeds from seeds dropped by birds or carried in the wind.

Obviously, there are many things you can do to keep weeds at bay. But this is likely a war you will never truly win. So… don’t obsess over killing weeds so much. Weeds are just a part of gardening.

Change your mindset around weeds

I like to think of my weeding time as a time that I can get up close and personal with my plants. A time to check them out, see how they’re doing and appreciate their beauty while I pull weeds. I enjoy this time in my garden and I believe that you can too. It’s all about your mindset!

Removing weeds from your garden

In an ideal world, we would all follow these techniques to prevent weeds from growing in our garden. But… as you know… life happens. So, if you do find weeds popping up, attempt to get rid of your weeds right away. If you wait until the weeds take over your garden, it’s obviously going to be much more difficult to eliminate them. With that said, you can use some of the techniques below to get rid of weeds.

Once you are done removing the weeds, I’d recommend jumping back up to the “Preventing weeds in your garden” section. Use some (or all) of the recommendations in that section to keep the little buggers from coming back.

Commit (and stick) to a weeding schedule

If you’re a new gardener—or you’re working in a wild and weedy space—the first season will likely be a rough one. My best advice is to commit (and stick to) a weeding schedule. If you have more weeds than you can handle, keep weedy areas mowed until you’re ready to conquer them. You don’t want to take on a bigger area than you can handle!

“Pull when wet, hoe when dry”

So when is the best time to actually yank these buggers out of the ground? And how do we go about doing this? Great question!

If the soil is wet, you can usually pull weeds by hand or with a weeding tool. The best time do hand weed your garden is when the soil is moist, like after a rain. Check out the next section for some of my favorite weeding tool recommendations.

If the soil is dry, it’s much easier to hoe your weeds rather than pulling on them. A sharp loop hoe or a lightweight scuffle hoe are good tools for this. Slice the weeds with the sharp edge of your hoe. This cuts off the weed from the root and also creates what’s called “dust mulch” which can help prevent new weeds from germinating.

Sweep your hoe just below the surface of the soil. Make broad, sweeping motions (like how you would row a boat) to slice the tops off the weeds. Try hoeing your garden early in the morning, before you water the plants.

Tools for pulling weeds

Here are some of my favorite nifty tools for pulling weeds. These slayers will make your weeding job way easier… and maybe even fun (GASP)!

Personally, I am a huge fan of Dewit garden tools. While a bit on the expensive side, this brand is pretty much all I use in the hand tool department. They have a lovely 3-piece weeding set that will take care of all of your weeding needs. This a beautiful set… one that you can give to your neighbor with a serious weed problem. They will get the hint but they won’t even be mad at you because these tools are so pretty.

I also find this little hand weeding tool really useful. It has little prongs on the end so you can grab the root of the weed and pull up, giving you a better chance at getting all the roots out. You can conquer the world with this little tool in hand. Or, at least you’ll feel like you can.

If you’re looking for a long handled weeding tool, you can’t go wrong with the Fiskars long handled weeding tool — its fantastic. Just make sure you purchase the newer version of this tool with the orange handle in the CENTER of the handle… it’s much easier and faster to “eject” the weeds with this one.

By the way, ejecting weeds has to be one of the most satisfying gardening tasks I’ve ever completed. Stomp… lift… eject into bucket. Without bending over. Amazing.

As mentioned earlier, a sharp loop hoe or a lightweight scuffle hoe are both great options for eliminating weeds in dry soil. Remember… hoe hoe hoe your boat (use the same motion you would if you were rowing a boat with an oar).

Check out this video below to see the most popular long-handled weeder gadgets put to the test by the Crazy Russian Hacker. It’s a really entertaining, but thorough, garden tool review. I think I laughed approximately 37 times.

Treatment options: killing weeds without killing plants

Weed treatment is always a last resort for me. I’d much rather do the work to prevent weeds in the first place or handle what I can by hand. But I know it’s not always practical to get rid of your weeds without a chemical treatment.

At the beginning of the growing season you can use a weed preventer treatment to stop weeds in the first place. All you do is sprinkle on the treatment and water it in to prevent weeds for up to six months. It’s like magic in a bag.

Just note that this little bag of magic isn’t really magic. It contains a chemical called Pendimethalin, an herbicide that stops the growth of “certain” young plants. It’s intended to keep annual weeds like crabgrass and dandelions from sprouting and growing. While it shouldn’t affect established plants with mature root systems, I would still be cautious when sprinkling this magic dust any delicate plants or anything you are going to eat.

If you have pets, keep them away, too. They won’t get it.

Treating invasive vines with herbicide

A couple years back I had the nastiest, most invasive vine in my front garden bed. It was so aggressive and popped up everywhere choking out most of my flowers and even larger perennial plants. I pulled and pulled at this weed every day. No matter what I did, it got worse. Every time I pulled a piece of the vine out, three more tendrils would sprout up in other areas of my garden. It literally killed my entire garden. I cried a lot, but don’t tell anyone.

As a last resort, I had to use an herbicide to kill this invasive vine. I used Compare-N-Save Concentrate Grass and Weed Killer, 41-Percent Glyphosate. It’s really, really strong so please use with caution. This stuff will kill everything in its path. I really hate that I had to use it but if you are on the vine struggle bus like I was… this is going to do the trick.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Please wear gloves and even eye protection while handling the herbicide.
  2. Pour the herbicide into a shallow, plastic bowl.
  3. Sit down in your garden and cut the vine a little bit above ground level.
  4. Use a sponge paint brush to very carefully “paint” the herbicide onto the exposed vine.
  5. Be sure to set the exposed vine onto a piece of plastic or a rock so that the herbicide doesn’t touch anything else in your garden.

Seriously, don’t let the end of the vine with the herbicide on it touch the soil at all. This sh!t is strong and it will contaminate your soil if it touches it.

Anyway, to kill my vine from hell it took about 3 applications over the course of a couple weeks, then another application the next year. Eventually I won the battle!

Wrapping Up

While weeds are inevitable and a part of gardening, they don’t have to take over your life. There are many preventative measures you can take to set your garden beds up for success. In the event that you do find weeds, be sure that you only pull the weeds when the weather is wet. Hoe the weeds when it’s dry. Only use herbicides and chemicals as a last resort. Remember that the what you put in your garden can affect all of wildlife around you. Not to mention your pets, your family and yourself if you are out in the garden or eating from your garden. Please use caution when working with any of the tools and chemicals suggested.

Did I miss anything? Tell us your favorite techniques or tools for weed prevention and removal by leaving a comment below!

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Garden on a budget: how to save money on plants

Garden on a budget: how to save money on plants

Love to garden, but find that you can’t garden as much as you’d like because buying plants is so darn expensive? I’m with you… purchasing plants for your garden can get really pricey if you don’t have a plan. These tips and strategies will help you to garden on a budget. Now you can create a beautiful garden filled with lovely plants– without sacrificing your entire paycheck to your new hobby.

Garden budgets require good planning

When you garden on a budget, you must avoid a case of the “onsie-twosies.” What does this mean exactly? It means that you need to stop buying one-off impulse purchases of your flowers and plants. We all purchase plants on a whim at the garden center because they are beautiful. But, you need to think about where you would put this new plant in your landscape first. Also, do you have the proper conditions for this plant so that it will thrive with a minimal amount of maintenance like fertilizing, watering and amending your soil?

Think about good planning and design before you plant is the key to creating a garden on a budget. Plants are the very last step, especially if you are looking to create a budget-friendly low-maintenance landscape.

When you’re on a budget and plan out your project you’ll also be more perceptive of sales on hardscape materials and even plants that you want to include in your project. Perhaps you can buy these items off-season to save money. Without a plan you won’t be able to benefit from seasonal sales and discounts.

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Simplify your planting design

The simpler your garden design the more money you can save in your budget. And if you take the time to plan out a design with beautiful native plants that can be propagated over time, you’ll be able to fill up your space without draining your bank account.

Choosing plants that will take up more space in your garden is another way to leverage a simple design to garden on a budget. Choose plants like classic groundcovers and ornamental grasses that will spread and take up more space over time. Be careful about choosing plants that are not vigorous or invasive because they will take over.

Choose the right plants

Choosing the right plants is so important when creating a garden on a budget. With a bit of planning you can create a low-maintenance landscape, which means that you’ll be creating a budget-friendly landscaping as well.

Think about what is right for the plant that you are choosing. Do you have the right growing conditions and water requirements for this plant? Make sure that the plants you choose will be happy and healthy in the conditions that you already have. This is one of the easiest ways to save money and time. Here are some resources for choosing the right plants for your environmental conditions.

Plant databases

Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder – sort through plants that will grow in the US by tons of different filters… like color, soil, light needs, deer-resistant, etc. etc.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Plant Database – plants that can grow in a lot of conditions across the US.

Quick Tip: Check out my posts on landscape layering to get more recommendations for great plants you can try in your landscape.

Consider drought-tolerant plants

Choosing desert or drought-tolerant plants will save you money. This is because the cost of irrigation can be expensive. If you are starting from scratch or redesigning your landscape, think about the maintenance and watering needs of the plants that you choose.

Divide plants to get more plants for your budget Garden
Propagate plants to create a beautiful, full garden without breaking your budget.

Propagate your plants

If you are trying to save money on your landscape and gardening projects you should learn more about how to propagate plants. In addition, purchase plants that are known to be easily propagating.

There is a trade off with propagation and that’s time. While you will save money doing this, it can take a year to several years for your plants to grow before they are ready to be divided. You’ll also have to invest the time in both learning how to do this and actually taking the steps to propagate the plants. But again if budget is an issue this is a great option.

There’s several ways that you can propagate plants to get more plants.

What Blooms with What?

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Propagate by division.

Check out my post on how to divide daylilies to learn how you can divide your plants. This same technique can be used on many herbaceous perennials. Most of them are quite hardy so it’s a great first option to try if you are new to propagation. This can significantly reduce your expenses when buying plants.

How to divide daylilies and other perennials with one tool – step by step

Just make sure you plan ahead of time so that you know how many plants you have room for. Remember that it does take longer to bring your landscape to a mature level when you do this. Every time you divide your plants they’ll be small again… and you’ll have to wait for them to grow to their adult sizes before your landscape will look full and complete.

Pro tip: You can also propagate your bulbs. So, if you have been growing flowers like daffodils from bulbs, after a few years you can dig up that bulb and you’ll see a large mass of bulbs. These can be broken apart into pieces and replanted as separate flowers! OMG, right!

Propagate from seed.

There are a lot of beautiful perennial flowers that produce seeds that you can use to make more flowers.

Growing seeds from your coneflowers is a great option to get more plants when you garden on a budget.

Think about the center of a sunflower or a beautiful coneflower. At the end of the growing season, you can take the time to pull out these seeds in order to make more flowers! At the end of the growing season take the seeds from the center of the coneflower to make more plants for next year!

I like to start by growing these in an egg carton with a little bit of dirt. Once the seeds sprout into a plant and it’s established enough to plant, you can put them back into your garden to have even more plants.

Growing more plants and flowers from seeds is a great way to garden on a budget. Image Source

Propagate from cuttings.

Many perennials– even shrubs– can be propagated from stem cuttings. One of the best things to use in this case is something called rooting hormone. If you snip off a piece of the plant and dip it in the rooting hormone, you can stick the plant right into a pot filled with soil and it should turn into a new plant.

For other plants, you will have to take a cutting and stick it into a glass or mason jar filled with water. Once the bottom of the cutting starts to grow some roots you can take it out of the water and transplant it into a jar. Before you know if you’ll have tons of beautiful plants when you only purchased one! It’s a great money-saving tip for budget gardeners.

Grow any plants from cuttings using natural rooting hormone | Garden on a budget

Purchase smaller plants

Purchasing smaller plants is another tip for creating a lovely garden on a budget. If you buy smaller plants, you’ll spend less money on your plants. This is because the nursery didn’t have to invest as much time to grow the plant. Again there’s a trade-off with time because you’ll have to wait longer for your plants to grow to mature size. But it’s a great tip to try if you really need to get started but are limited on money.

What I tend to do is invest more money to buy large evergreen shrubs and main focal point plants in my landscape. Then, I’ll sacrifice size for price for my other plantings. It’s all about balance and what you are able to/willing to spend and how long you are able/willing to wait to see the results. There are a few different ways you can purchase these smaller plants:

Buy small.

Garden on a budget by purchasing a smaller version of the plant you love.
Garden on a budget by purchasing a smaller version of the plant you love. Image from Lots of Plants

Usually at the garden center they will have a plant in multiple sizes. So, if you come across a plant you really like but it’s large and too expensive, take a stroll around. You may find a smaller version of same exact plant in another area of the store and you’ll save half or even a third of a cost.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Purchase bare root.

These are a lot younger versions of potted plants or balled in burlap trees. Although these “bare root” plants will be smaller, there are benefits beyond cost-savings.

garden on a budget by purchasing bare root

Bare root plants and trees are usually much more resilient to transplanting. So, you run less-risk of having your plant or tree die when you put it into your landscape. Image Source

Grow from plugs.  

If you go to the garden center, most of the plants you’ll see are potted. But, typically these plants are purchased wholesale as small plugs— not seeds. The garden center or nursery then grows these plugs into plants and sells them to you for a profit.

Garden on a budget by purchasing plugs

There are now options for individuals to purchase plugs wholesale online so you can “skip the middle man” and save some money. Plugs are actually really inexpensive– you can find them for less than $5. Image Source

The Pollen Nation is a great place to start shopping for beautiful, native plugs. Keep in mind that when you are buying plugs wholesale like this you’ll have to purchase at least 25 plugs per order.

Wrapping Up

There are plenty of ways to garden on a budget while still enjoying beautiful plants and a lush landscape. Create a plan so that you know what you need. This will help you to purchase plants and landscaping materials when they are off-season or discounted. Creating a simple planting scheme and considering your conditions will help to save you money. The less plants you kill, the less money you will need to spend replacing those hard-to-grow plants!

You can also save money by purchasing smaller plants or low-cost bare root or plug options. This helps you save money without sacrificing how many plants you can have. Also try choosing plants that can be propagated and split into more plants. This is a great way to save money! With these budget-friendly plant tips, you should be able to create a beautiful garden without having to worry so much about how you’ll afford it.

What did I miss? What are your favorite ways to garden on a budget and save money on plants?

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Garden on a budget: how to save money on plants
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The Garden Pyramid for Planting Success

The Garden Pyramid for Planting Success

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you use this garden pyramid for planting success. Start at the top and work your way down. Add more of each type of plant as you move down the pyramid.

My Garden Pyramid Guide will help you to visualize how many of each plant type you should include in each garden. I can’t even tell you the value for this one because you literally can’t get it anywhere else.

As we move down the garden pyramid from the narrow top to the wide bottom the number of each type of plant increases. Because the lowest-level plants are the smallest you can have more of them and use a greater selection!

Using this pyramid we’ll be able to create mixed borders in our favorite garden style. And, because the borders will be filled with a variety of plant types, your landscape will be brimming with interest all year round!

The Layered Planting Pyramid
It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this planting pyramid. You need to start at the tippy top with some structure with trees and evergreen shrubs. As you work down the pyramid you can include more and more of each type of planting. Mixing all of these layers up in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Garden Pyramid Checklist

Following this garden pyramid is the key to taking your garden from amateur to magazine-worthy. I’ll go over some areas you should check when diagnosing your own garden.

Are you missing any layers of the garden pyramid?

First, take a look at the pyramid and make sure you aren’t missing any of these categories. Take note of any categories you are not addressing. Then, you can start to plan your garden to incorporate these layers.

Do you have the right proportions of plants?

You also need to make sure your planting is balanced. You should have more plants in the categories near the bottom of the pyramid than those at the top. You don’t have to be crazy accurate… this is just a guide. But you should have a lot more plants, flowers and grasses than you do shrubs. A lack of plant balance in the garden creates problems for many beginner gardeners.

As an example, lets say you have one tree and three evergreen shrubs. Well, that’s a great start and you have the bones or structure of your garden in place! Now, how many deciduous shrubs would you need? Obviously more than 3, right?

As you work down the pyramid you should include more and more of each type of planting.

Quick Tip: This post will give you more information about creating balance in your garden design.

Are you mixing the layers together?

Now, you’ll need to make sure you are mixing the layers of the garden pyramid together properly in your garden. This is how landscape layering works.

Your garden should have at least three layers: a foreground, a middle-ground and a background. Tall plants go in the back, medium in the middle and shorter ones near the front.

Once you have that down, you should try to “weave” plants in and out of the layers to create more depth. Move a couple shorter plants to the middle-ground. Some of the medium plants can move to the foreground… or even the background.

Mixing up the layers in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.

Quick Tip: To learn more about weaving your plants to create depth in your garden, read my post about landscape layering.

Can you create contrast and interest with plant texture?

This is another great way to add interest to your garden. As you are mixing up your plants, you can certainly plant multiples of the same together. Groups of 3, 5 or even 7 plants will create a lot of interest in the garden. But next to that drift, be sure to create some contrast with another plant.

You can create contrast by choosing plants of a different color. You can also look at the characteristics of the plant like the shape and form. Or the overall texture. Or the leaf size. Try mixing up these elements as much as you can to create an interesting layout.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more about creating interest and contrast in your garden, check out my post about using plant texture.

Understanding Each Layer of the Garden Pyramid

I have complete posts on the blog about each layer of the garden pyramid. You can read, in detail, about each using these links:

Tips for Using the Garden Pyramid

  1. First put in the evergreens.
  2. Then plan the deciduous trees and shrubs
  3. Place the walls and fences.
  4. After that, the rest will fall into place.

Think about the following when you’re creating your layered landscape:

  • What is the plant’s overall form and how does it combine with other plants around it?
  • How will the plant’s branching structure and growth rate/full size affect affect nearby plants?
  • Will the plant’s foliage (leaves) contribute to the garden even when it’s not in bloom?
  • When does the plant bloom and what color are the flowers?
  • How will the flowers look with the colors of nearby plants and hardscaping?
  • Will the tree/shrub bark add color and interest during winter?
  • How does the tree/shrub bark texture combine with the rest of the garden?

Struggling to find the right plants to create amazing 4-season interest in your garden? I’ve got you covered. Keep reading to see some of my favorite example trees, plants, shrubs, flowers, vines and groundcovers that you can use in your landscape.

planting pyramid pinterest image

Keep Reading…

In my perennial garden plan, I’ll go over landscape layering and give you some suggestions for each of the 5 layers:
Layer 1: Ornamental Trees
Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs
Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs
Layer 4: Perennial plants and flowers
Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this planting pyramid. Start at the top of the planting pyramid and work your way down. Add more of each type as you go.

As a rule of thumb, start with your evergreen trees and shrubs, then add your deciduous trees, shrubs and hardscaping (like fences and walls). After this, the rest will fall into place.

Have fun with the bottom of the pyramid, as this is where you can add the most color, variation and interest in your garden to create a beautiful, unique 4-season landscape with lots of layers.

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Improve Your Landscape in 5 Simple Steps (Beginners Guide)

Improve Your Landscape in 5 Simple Steps (Beginners Guide)

I’ve been teaching garden design for a long time now and I’ve noticed that most homeowners can tell when something is “off” in their landscape.

But, they usually don’t know what is off… or why it feels off… or how to actually fix it.

It’s definitely a frustrating problem to deal with. You can’t improve your landscape because you don’t know what needs fixing.

Instead of learning more, I find that most gardeners will brainstorm a bunch of excuses as to why they don’t love their landscaping…

I don’t have a clear vision for the space…
Nothing grows in this awful soil
The deer will eat anything I plant anyway...

The truth is that these excuses are all symptoms of the actual problem… that no landscape exists in a vacuum. So, in order to improve your existing landscape, you need to

(1) figure out what’s causing the problem and

(2) develop solution(s) based on your climate, conditions, personal taste and a level of maintenance that suits you.

Yes… I know it feels like a lot.

You probably need a hug and a glass of wine. Hit me up… I’ll be right over! Then, we’ll get to work!

Let’s walk through some common scenarios and my simple process for seeing your garden with fresh, new eyes 👀 (spoiler alert: this is the KEY to everything).

Then, you’ll be able to troubleshoot problem areas and come up with a plan to make your garden beautiful. Sound good? Cool.

Common Landscaping “Problem Scenarios” Facing Home Gardeners

Most beginner DIY gardeners I talk to are dealing with one of these common scenarios. They’re likely what’s stopping you from having the beautiful 4-season landscape you’ve been dreaming of. Which one do you resonate with?

Scenario 1: You bought a new home and have to deal with an existing, sucky landscape.

Even if you purchase a new home there are likely already trees, shrubs and hardscaping in place that you have to work around. Or maybe all of it is ugly landscaping that you wish you could change. Or you simply have a different style than the previous home owner.

Scenario 2: Your landscape used to be nice but over time, things went really south. Now you hate it.

If you’ve been living in your home for some time, maybe your landscape used to be beautiful and harmonious… but it certainly isn’t now. Perhaps over the years some plants changed in size or shape, trees grew up, or the harsh winters killed some of your plants and left you with lots of empty spaces to fill.

You’re left wondering what happened to your beautiful landscape. And, although you don’t want to start from scratch, you’re not sure how to tie the new plants into your landscape with what’s already there.

This scenario can be a bit more difficult to deal with than that of a new home owner simply because you’re attached to your home and the nostalgic moments you may have had in your garden throughout the years. But… no worries… it’s certainly fixable.

Scenario 3: You have a brand new house or no existing landscaping and you don’t know how to get started.

If you are starting with a blank slate, this post isn’t for you. Hop over to my article about landscaping from scratch to get help with starting from ground zero.

Or, if you’re ready to get it done right, you can dive right into my Design Your 4-Season Garden course. This will give you my step-by-step approach to designing a beautiful landscape that looks great all year… without all of the trial and error and years of waiting for your landscape to “eventually” look great.

Some good news:

Regardless of whether you’re updating someone else’s landscaping or trying to tame your own unruly garden, the approach is the same!

So how do you fix and/or expand upon your landscaping when you really don’t know… anything… about landscaping? Just follow my simple 5-step process.

And, if you are still feeling overwhelmed, I’ll share some other ways that I can help you at the end of this article.

Step 1: Edit the Noise

My advice to all beginner landscapers as you tackle a new landscaping project that feels really daunting, is to EDIT. As E.E. Cummings said,

“To destroy is always the first step in any creation.”

E.E. Cummings

So, editing is the very first thing you are going to do.

You have to destroy that familiarity blindness that makes us not actually “see” what’s going on. Only then can you see your landscape the way that other people see it. So, take a walk around your landscape and remove anything you possibly can.

This means removing all of the noise.

All of the garden tchotchkes, wind spinners, gnomes, fountains, benches, planters.

Remove anything that’s distracting that you can physically pick up and move. Set these items aside so you look at just the plants and the hardscaping (like walls, paths, fences, trellis, etc.).

And, that’s it for step 1. Not so bad, right?

Step 2: Remove Unnecessary / Dying Plants

remove the dead, sick and unnecessary plants

Removing ANY plants can be a difficult step for a lot of gardeners, including myself. That’s because gardeners (like us) are nurturers… caretakers.

And, I’m sure that with some extra TLC we can “save” our struggling plants and bring them back to life. Nurture is half the battle with gardening. But, trust me on this one and save yourself the headaches.

So, remove all of your unnecessary plants; i.e. plants that are half dead, plants that are struggling and even the plants you don’t really like.

I like to think that if you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener

It may be hard to “destroy” your landscape, but you will feel so much better when it’s done. It’s kind of like decluttering your closet or your dresser drawers. Once you get rid of all the crap you’ll be able to find the good stuff.

You don’t want to be on the next episode of “Garden Hoarders” do you?

I’m just kidding, that’s not really a show… yet 🙃. 

Ok… we’ve gotten rid of all of our trouble plants… leaving lots of space for new plants and making things BEAUTIFUL!

Next, I’ll show you a trick for figuring out WHAT to improve.

Step 3: Take Pictures of Your Garden

Now that you’ve removed all of the garden accessories and the struggling and/or ugly plants, you need to take some pictures. This is a very fun and easy step.

From this day forward, your camera is your new best friend.

It doesn’t matter what type of camera you have. Whether it’s your camera phone, an old digital camera collecting dust in your drawer or even a polaroid.

Simply walk around your landscape and take photos of the parts in your garden that you feel could be improved.

If you’re trying to fix an existing landscape, the key is to break your landscape down into smaller pieces so its less overwhelming. Your camera will do this for you. So, don’t take pictures of your  whole garden, or even an entire garden bed. Just take pictures of sections of your garden beds. Closeups… if you will.

The other cool thing about “freezing your garden in time” is that it will eliminate all of the distractions around you. You know… the barking dog down the street, your neighbor popping over to chat… those weeds here and there that you will unconsciously begin to pull.  

All of these distractions are preventing you from really seeing your garden. But, once you take some pictures, you can really focus on your landscape and see it in a new way.

You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to look at your garden through photos when you have a few peaceful moments to do so.

You may be wondering what, exactly, you’re “looking” for in these photos. Well, let me show you!

➡️ Quick Check In: Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed?

👋Hi there… I see you! And, I know that feeling. Sometimes binge reading articles and watching zillions of gardening videos can make things so much worse. So I’m just here to remind you that gardening is supposed to be FUN!

Honestly, I didn’t start seeing success in my gardening efforts until I stopped piecing together all of the wildly differing approaches I found in gardening books, online articles and YouTube videos. 

As much as I love free resources (& create many of them myself), this hodgepodge learning didn’t get me ANY closer to realizing my dream garden.

So, if you’re tired of hearing different approaches and conflicting opinions and you just want to know the exact steps to take… please check out my online courses. I created them to cut through all of the online noise and give you a clear path forward so you can find success faster!

Step 4: Analyze Your Pictures

Analyze photos of your landscape
Turn your photos to black and white and use a colored marker to circle any boring, empty or blobby areas.

Next, you’ll need to print out the photos or pull them up on the computer so we you can take a good hard look at what you’re dealing with.

When I’m doing this step, I turn the photo to black and white. This sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Removing the color removes even MORE distractions. It will improve your focus. So, print (or photocopy) your photos so they are in black and white. Or, use a computer program or your phone to change them to black and white.

Then, just “go to town” and circle/highlight all of the parts of the photo that could use improvement.

Don’t overthink this.

And, I’m aware that you’re a beginner… so please don’t be worried about how you’re going to fix the areas you’re circling. Just circle anything that looks empty, drab, blobby or unappealing to you. This is more than half the battle!

Knowing exactly what areas to focus on is much less overwhelming than staring down an entire yard and trying to “guess” about what to do next!

Step 5 – Come up with a Plan

Now that you know what areas to focus on, you’ll need to come up with a plan of attack. As you’ve learned, turning photos to black and white make the problem areas of your garden abundantly clear.

Do you know why that is?

Because it shows you where you need CONTRAST. If you have too many plants of the same color, texture or form it blurs together and you lose the magic.

When you can’t distinguish shape and form in the garden, your eyes don’t have anything to focus on. It can be unsettling to look at a garden like this… and it’s likely why you don’t like your own landscape.

Adding Contrast

Choosing plants or structures that will contrast these “blobby” areas will bring more clarity to your garden. Here are a few ways you can use contrast in the garden:

  • Color contrast: Combine plants with dark colors and light colors. This can be through blooms (good) or foliage (better)/
    Note: color contrast can be effective (sometimes) but it definitely isn’t a fail-proof method as we learned with ‘black and white’ test.
  • Size contrast: Please little leaves next to big leaves
  • Texture contrast: Pair plants with fluffy foliage and spikey foliage
  • Form contrast: Put a vertical plant form next to a horizontal one.
infographic of how to use contrast when combining plants
The easiest way to combine to plants is by choosing contrasting features. Some of these features are color, texture, leaf size and plant form. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more, check out my article on using texture in the garden.

The Secret to Beautiful Landscapes

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The key to a beautiful landscape is not actually plants. It’s not color, either. It’s not the hardscape. It’s all the things. It’s what we call “harmony” in the design world!

It’s the bumpy, knotted, old oak tree standing tall and proud, even in the most cold and desolate days of winter. It’s the sound of ornamental grasses rustling in the breeze, stirring up the lovely scents of nearby sage and rosemary. It’s the pops of hot pink poppies in a sea of pale yellow dailies, inviting you to come over and join their party. It’s discovering a beautiful stone sculpture nestled deep into the forest green foliage around the bend.

Ah, harmony in the garden is like an absolute dream come true. Can you see it?

When improving your garden, try to consider the whole space when you make every choice. How do different elements combine & contrast with others? Try to come up with ways to accentuate the positives and diminish the negatives. Try to tie different areas together. Remember: no garden exists in a vacuum! So, you have to consider your space as a whole with every decision you make!

Quick Tip: If you’re ready to start planning your dream landscape, check out my online gardening courses to get a head start.

Finding the Perfect Plant

Always remember that the perfect plant will not ‘cure’ your landscape. When you start to look at your yard as a whole design, instead of as individual plants, that’s when you’ll start to understand that garden design is a form of art and a way to express your creativity.

Gardens are always evolving. They are 3D in nature and can be seen from all different angles in all different seasons. Trees grow up and create shade where there was once sun. Plants sometimes struggle and all of them will eventually die. Your own likes and needs will change. So, you’ll have to work on your landscape over time. And, as these things change you may need to revisit this list, again.

And, that’s the beauty and magic of gardening… so don’t let its impermanent nature discourage you! Create a space that’s as unique as you are. One that makes you smile when you see it. One that changes with the seasons and brings you joy and peace.

What’s Next?

Following the steps above, you’ll be able to uncover the “true” problem areas in your garden. Armed with a plan, you should be in a much better position to update your existing landscape!

If you enjoyed this article and you’re looking for the next steps, I’d highly recommend watching the 3 Gardening Secrets free video training or enrolling in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course.

Here are some articles that may help you, too:

Happy Gardening!


Learn 4 simple, actionable steps to improve your existing landscape, even if you're a beginner at gardening and don't know where to start.
How to start landscaping your yard when you don’t know anything – Pin it for later!
Choosing the Right Tree For Your Front Yard

Choosing the Right Tree For Your Front Yard

Finding the perfect front yard tree can be an overwhelming and difficult process. With so many options and so many factors to think about, how can you be sure you’re making the right choice?

Choosing a front yard tree will impact your curb appeal and property value. Consider factors like aesthetic appeal, purpose, ecosystem/wildlife benefits, size, shape, root system, overall heath and disease resistance.

After going through the process when choosing my own front yard tree, I’ve put together some tips that may help you find the best tree option for your own front yard.

Cornus Florida dogwood
This multi-stemmed bi-color dogwood is white and pink because it is a grafted tree and a root sucker from the rootstock (the white flowers) has been allowed to grow up with the part of the tree from the scion (the pink flowers).

This is the biggest question to ask when choosing a front yard tree. And the answer may be two or three-fold.  Some “purposes” to consider:

Trees that Provide Shade

If you want a shady spot to sit under, you’ll need to choose a tree that is larger and likely faster growing. If the tree is slow-growing, you may not be around to enjoy the shade of it’s canopy. However, faster-growing trees can come with their own issues like more aggressive root systems that can affect your home’s foundation or pipes. Faster growing trees can also be more susceptible to disease(s) and limb breakage. It’s very important to do your research before selecting a shade tree.

Some medium sized trees are also appropriate to use as shade trees in your front yard. Be sure you select a tree with higher limbing tendencies. If you choose a tree that starts branching 14″ from the ground, you’ll never be able to sit under it.

Trees that Create Privacy

Are you trying to block your bedroom window from the neighbors view, or hide an ugly view FROM your window? You’ll need to choose a very full tree whose limb height will be sure to match up with the height of your window.

If you are looking for privacy, you may need to search for an evergreen or conifer tree. This type of tree, like a pine tree, will not lose it’s needles in the winter months. I have several articles about narrow evergreen trees and evergreen shrubs if you’d like to learn more about trees used for privacy and screening.

If you have a considerable privacy issue, take a look at my tips for regaining privacy from second story neighbors.

Trees that Attract Wildlife

Do you want your tree to attract birds, butterflies or other animals? This can be a great way to enjoy some bird watching and help your local ecosystem.

The easiest way to attract wildlife is to select a tree that is native to your location. Try googling “native trees of Pennsylvania” or whatever state you live in. Native trees play a very important role in providing food, shelter and habitat to the local wildlife.

Learn more about native vs. invasive plants and trees.

Trees with Aesthetic Appeal

There’s no denying that trees that you choose for your front yard need to have aesthetic appeal. But there are so many different characteristics of trees that in can be hard to really determine what to pay attention to. So, here are some things you should consider once you have a few tree options in mind. Compare your options to see which tree is the best fit for you.

Shapes of Trees

There are many different types of tree habits, or forms, such as weeping, conical, pyramidal, vase-shaped, oval, upright, broad-headed, erect, fastigiate, bushy, shrubby, nodding, spreading, wind-shaped and more. What looks prettiest to you?

illustration of tree habits and forms
Illustration of tree habits and forms (source unknown)

There are several terms used to describe the shape, form or habit of a tree. This particularly describes the direction that the branches of the tree will grow. 

  • Spreading: horizontal sprawling branches, usually wider than high.
  • Compact: tending to grow tightly and close together within itself.
  • Upright/Erect: distinct upward growth, vertical configuration.
  • Weeping: long, narrow branches which tend to droop downward.

When you buy a tree at the nursery, it may not look exactly like it will when it matures, so it’s important to find out how big the tree will get and how the branches will spread.


If you’d like to select a flowering tree, decide on the color of the blooms and what season you’d like it to bloom in. While many trees flower, there are a lot that only flower for a very short time. So also consider how long the tree stays in bloom for.

Make sure you also find out how the tree smells… I know that’s weird, but some trees (such as pear trees) have a really unpleasant odor. Some flowering trees (and flowers in general) are too fragrant for my taste. In addition, some flowers attract pesky insects or bees so you’ll want to consider that if you’ll be walking by your front yard tree each day.

Foliage / Leaf Color

Do you like leaves that will change color in the fall, or leaves that remain green? Do you want something that will keep it’s color, even through the winter? If so, you’ll have to choose an evergreen.

Tree Bark

I think this is a really important consideration when you’re choosing a tree for your front yard. This is especially true if you’re selecting an ornamental, deciduous tree. This means that the tree will lose its leaves in the winter months if you get cold weather. So, your tree may be bare for a majority of the winter months. It’s important to consider what the tree will look like when it’s naked.

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry Tree in Winter
This is what the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree looks like in the winter months.

Some trees, like the birch, have amazingly showy bark that peels and looks really neat. Other trees have a craggy, gnarled looking trunk… which a lot of people like, but others really don’t.

The key is to do some research about the tree’s bark, trunk and branching structure (more on this below) to see what appeals to you.

Trunk and Branching Structure

Some trees have a single stem branching structure, while others have multiple stems (or some trees have both options). A lot of times the multi-stem options look more like a shrub, while the single trunk options look more like a tree. Multi-stem options sometimes are created due to grafting the branches onto the trunk near the base, and this can result in some really neat hybrid trees (such as the dogwood to the right that has both white and pink flowers mixed together!)

Seasons of Interest

If you have a small yard like I do, you’ll want maximum impact.  I would advise finding a tree that will flourish over several seasons, like my Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry.

Quick Tip: You may want to read my post about landscape layering to better understand this concept.

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry, PrettyPurpleDoor.com
The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry boasts 4 season interest. From flowers to berries to firey red to beautiful bark, this tree gives you a lot of bang for the buck. Buy it here or check out my full post for more info on this awesome 4-season front yard tree.

But, interest in every single season may not be your main priority. Maybe you’d prefer something that blooms in late summer, because that’s the time of year that your garden needs a punch. Or maybe you are looking for something that will bloom in conjunction with other plants in your garden? Maybe you just want something that will provide a backdrop for other plantings? It’s really up to you, and your individual needs.

Other Considerations When Choosing a Front Yard Tree

Beyond the c

Tree Size when Full Grown

The most important thing to consider is how much space you have for your tree.  Sure it looks cute now, but how big will it get in 30 years? Do you have the appropriate space for that type of growth?

Tree Root Systems

A good rule of thumb is that a tree’s root system can be 1-2 times the size of the canopy of your tree. So if you choose a tree that’s 20′ high x 20′ wide, the root system of this tree can be 20-40′ wide. So, you’d have to plant this tree at least 50′ from your home.

If you plan to plant the tree close to your home, make sure you choose a tree that’s an appropriate size and that has a non-invasive or contained root system. Root systems of trees are NOT created equal. Some tree have very shallow and non-invasive root systems. Other trees are known for having very destructive roots.

There are many horror stories across the internet of people who chose the wrong tree for their space and ended up with a significant amount of damage and extensive repair costs. So be sure to consider this important factor.

Trees with extensive, aggressive root systems can do some damage to your home’s foundation or even the sewer and water lines that are running underground to your house.

Light Requirements

Will your tree get full sun, or be in a very shady spot? As a standard rule of thumb:

  • Trees requiring “full sun” will need 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Trees requiring “full shade” should receive less than 3 hours of sun per day.
  • Trees requiring “Part Sun” or “Part Shade” conditions require somewhere in between 3-6 hours of sun per day.

Some smaller trees that you may be considering for your front yard are actually called understory trees. These are trees that grow underneath the canopy of large shade trees of the forest.

Many deciduous ornamental trees (like dogwoods) are understory trees and will grow best in the high dappled shade provided by taller trees. So, if your front yard is wide open with little canopy for shade, a dogwood is probably not the best choice.

Tree Maintenance & Care

When choosing a tree for your front yard, consider how much maintenance it will require. Some trees require special fertilizers, pruning and/or protection from weather and disease. Always seek out the advice of a certified arborist when you need to assess your tree.

First, decide if you are willing to keep up with the maintenance required for the tree you plan to purchase. Or, would you rather select a tree that requires less maintenance?

Determine if the tree is cold-hardy in your growing zone. If you get a tree that’s hardy in zone 6 and you live in zone 5, there’s a potential that the cold weather/frost in the winter months will severely damage or kill your tree unless you take a lot of extra precautions.

Pruning a tree can also be expensive and time consuming. This is especially true if you choose a tree that too large for your space. Many non-experienced tree-trimmers use a technique called “tree topping” which can be very harmful.

Growth Rate

Growth rates are a really tricky consideration when trying to choose a tree… especially for your front yard. Here are some factors to consider:

  • In general, trees that grow slowly are less prone to disease and breakage than fast growing trees.
  • Because the tree will be in your front yard, you may need to invest money to purchase a larger, older tree.
  • Planting and establishing an older tree is much more difficult than planting a sapling. Larger trees require more water and a lot more care and maintenance… at least for the first two years after transplanting.
  • According to the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr, author of 12 books and a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, tree growth rates are distinguished as follows:
    • slow growing trees: 1-12″ of growth per year
    • medium growing trees: 13-24″ of growth per year
    • fast growing trees: 25″+ growth per year

Native to your Region

Trees that are native to the region where you live tend to be the healthiest and will attract local wildlife like bees, birds and butterflies. So, do your research if you’d like to plant a native, healthy tree in your front yard.

Soil Conditions

Does it match up with the conditions of your soil? Well drained, clay, etc. Make sure you find a non-fussy tree or something that will thrive in your soil type…. or adjust the soil to your new trees needs before you plant.

Read my soil improvement tips and information about soil health.

Health / Disease

What kind of disease is the tree prone to?  Some trees are very prone to disease and some are very resistant.

Often times, hybrids of trees are created to give you the best of both worlds: the beauty of the one tree with the disease resistant characteristics of the other.

Hybrids kind of reminds me of a mom and dad tree having a baby tree. Don’t we all hope our kids will get the best of both parents, and grow up to be their own unique person with distinctive traits of their own?

One example is the Cornus Florida. These beautiful trees were under serious attack from insects and diseases in the 1970’s and the future of dogwoods used by landscapers was in jeopardy. 

To address concerns for use of dogwoods in landscapes, a plan was developed by Rutgers to cross-breed the native American dogwood (Cornus Florida) tree with the hardier Asian species, Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Kousa).

Cornus ‘Stellar Pink’ is a cross-breed the native American dogwood (Cornus Florida) tree with the hardier Asian species, Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Kousa). It was bred to be more pest and disease resistant than the Cornus Florida.

The result? A a new and unique hybrid tree, the Stellar Pink Dogwood.

Another example is the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) which is a hybrid cross between two native serviceberries, namely:

  • Downy Serviceberry (A. arborea), and
  • Allegheny Serviceberry (A. laevis)

Resources for choosing front yard trees


The internet is a great source to get started. Go on an arboretum website, or just google “small tree for zone 5” or something along those lines. You’ll be well on your way to finding suggestions and forums where you can ask question. However, with online research you always need to be careful about misinformation. So, be sure that the website or person you’re getting your information from is reputable. A few things to check are:

  • Does the website have an about page and easy to find contact information?
  • Is the author listed on the article with his/her credentials?
  • Does the article cite information and sources… or is it purely opinion?

As I always recommend, create a Pinterest board of your favorites so you can go back to it.

Books and Magazines

Books and magazines about gardening can be a great resource when researching front yard trees.

I recently purchased a book called The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color and just dove right in. I get tons of ideas from my new book, which I tend to carry around with me like a bible. It has a lot of suggestions for trees with 4 season interest (among many other landscaping suggestions). I highly recommend it, especially if you garden in the Northeast area of the U.S.

Here are some of my favorite gardening books and other resources.

Ask Experts

Seek out gardening experts in your community to get great tree advice and suggestions. A few places to look for experts are local reputable plant nurseries (not big box stores) and local botanical gardens or arboretums.

Contacting your local Master Gardener Extension will also put you in touch with trained volunteers that can assist you with all types of questions about gardening. Nearly all Master Gardener programs in the U.S. administer training through a state land-grant university and its Cooperative Extension Service. Extension Master Gardeners receive and recommend university and research-based information through the Cooperative Extension System

Ask Friends

You can also ask your friends for advice. If they live locally, they may have had good/bad experience with particular trees. Or, they may have mature trees in their yards already that you can go take a look at and see if you like them.  My biggest help was in speaking to an arborist friend of mine who maintains a national arboretum nearby. He was able to give me really good suggestions for our particular zone (Zone 6) and help me choose a tree that would grow easily, give lots of interest and actually “fit” in the small space I have. (Thanks Mark!)

Take a Walk in Your Neighborhood

I have a doggy, so we walk every day anyway. But take a stroll through your streets and see what others in your neighborhood are planting. I started my search in the winter so I was able to determine which I didn’t like once they lost their leaves. The spring is so beautiful! Every time I take a walk there are new trees blooming and other ones changing. It’s quite magical.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Front Yard Tree Suggestions

Here are some small tree options that I would suggest if you have a small front yard. You can find your hardiness zone here. This will tell you which trees will grow in the weather conditions that you have in your particular region of the U.S.

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry Tree

Multistemmed Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry
Multi-stemmed Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)

A hybrid cross between native serviceberries, the ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry is an ornamental tree that grows in full sun to about 20′ tall and wide. It can be purchased as a single-stem or multi-stem variety and is adaptable to most soil types. It’s also fairly drought tolerant once established.

Autumn Brilliance blooms VERY early with showy white flowers in late April before the foliage appears. Edible berries (juneberries) taste great and attract birds and wildlife in June. Great autumn color of fiery orange-red will light up your fall landscape. An attractive branching habit and silvery-grey bark truly make this a tree for all seasons. 

Full-Part Sun | 20-25′ H x 15-20′ W | Zones 3-8 | Buy it Here

Yoshino Cherry Blossom Tree

full frown Japanese Cherry Blossom Trees
Yoshino Cherry Blossom Tree (Prunus × yedoensis)

The Yoshino cherry is considered both a flowering tree and an ornamental tree because it’s typically planted for both its visual interest and profusion of white to pale pink spring flowers. An early spring bloomer, the blossoms arrive before the foliage of the tree even fills in. In the summer, this tree will remain a highlight in the yard because of its oriental branching pattern, glossy bark and dark green leaves.

Washington DC actually has an entire festival dedicated to this beautiful tree… also referred to as the Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree.

Buy it here or check out my detailed post all about this beautiful flowering front-yard tree.

Full Sun | 40-50′ H x 25-40′ W| Zones 5-8

Snowdrift Crabapple Tree

snowdrift crab apple tree
Snowdrift Crabapple Tree (Malus x ‘Snowdrift’)

The Snowdrift Crabapple’s is a beautiful, hardy ornamental tree with visual impact during all four seasons. The Snowdrift variety grows to about 15-20′ high and wide and can be purchased as a single stem or a multi-stem variety. It prefers a sunny location and can tolerate a lot of different soil and moisture conditions.

A tree that brings color and interest in all four seasons, Snowdrift has a dense, rounded foliage habit that adds to its  standout appearance year round. It can also be purchased as a multi-stemmed or single trunk tree.

In April-May, its pink buds form into snowy white blossoms. Glossy, deep green summer leaves change to yellow in the fall. 3/8″ -1/2″ round, orange-red crab apples will have birds flocking to your yard from late spring through the winter. 

Full Sun | 15-20′ H x 15-20′ W | Zones 4-8

Kousa Dogwood Tree

Kousa dogwood front yard tree
Kousa Dogwood Tree (Cornus kousa)

The Kousa Dogwood is a beautiful and hardy ornamental tree grows 15-25′ H and a horizontal branching habit that will extend this tree to about 25′ wide. The Kousa Dogwood can be grown in full sun, part sun or even shade which makes it a great choice for any home owner.

In spring, Kousa Dogwood bursts into action with showy white blooms that last from May to June. In late summer, Kousa produces an abundance of edible berries that can be used to make wine. The 1-2″ round pinkish-red berries have a nubby texture that also add interest. Purple to scarlet foliage adds intense interest to your fall landscape. And lets not forget its beautiful exfoliating bark and interesting branching habit that will stand out in any winter scene.

Full Sun – Shade | 15-25′ H x 25′ W | Zones 5-8

Bloodgood Japanese Maple Tree

Bloodgood Japanese Maple
Japanese Maple Tree (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’)

The Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a features attractive foliage with burgundy red coloring turns brilliant scarlet in fall. The interesting red-black bark provides striking interest in winter. This slender, airy tree is well-suited for use as a small lawn tree or for patios and entryways. One of the hardiest of Japanese maples, with good sun tolerance. Deciduous.

Native to Japan, China and Korea Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a small ornamental tree that grows slowly to about 25 feet tall and wide. It’s a slender, airy tree making it a great option for a front yard tree that adds year round interest to any home landscape.

Bloodgood can be grown in full to part sun and prefers moist, well-drained lightly acidic soil. ‘Bloodgood’ is a very common form of Japanese Maple with excellent burgundy colored foliage year round. This tree shines in fall when its foliage turns bright red.

Full – Part Sun | 20-25′ W x 20-25′ H | Zones 5-9

Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple Tree

Japanese Maple 'Inaba Shidare'
Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple Tree (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’)

The gorgeous ‘Inaba Shidare’ Japanese Maple is a small weeping tree that has a shrub-like appearance. In spring, the leaves are a deep reddish burgundy and only get more brilliant through the year. In fall, the leaves turn a bright fiery red.

Full-Part Sun | 10-15′ H x 8-15′ H | Zones 5-9

Japanese Lilac Tree

Japanese lilac tree (ivory silk)
Japanese Lilac Tree (Syringa reticulata)

Native to East Asia, the Japanese Lilac is a beautiful tree that grows to about 25-30′ tall and 20′ wide. It can be purchased as a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree (pictured above). It grows in part sun, but produces more blooms when provided with a full sun location. 

At its best in early summer, the Japanese Lilac blooms for about 2 weeks with huge (10″), fragrant creamy white clusters that are similar to lilac bush blooms but much larger. After the flowers fade, attractive seedpods will attract songbirds to your garden.

It’s attractive form, disease-resistance and non-invasive root system make this a great tree near a patio or porch where you can watch the songbirds and enjoy the fragrance up close and personal.

Full-Part Sun | 25-30′ H x 20′ H | Zones 3-7

Other Trees for your Front Yard

I have many other suggestions for trees in other articles. These are some of my favorite ornamental trees that provide 4-season interest. If you have a small amount of space, you may want to consider a narrow, columnar tree for your front yard. And if you want privacy, here are some skinny, evergreen privacy trees you may like.

View all of my articles about trees here.

And, if you’ve chosen your tree and you’re ready to tackle the next step in your landscape, check our my guide for landscaping your yard from scratch in 7 steps. Or, head over to this article if you’re just looking for ways to improve your existing landscape.

Wrapping Up

Deciding on the perfect tree for your front yard means you have to know what the main purpose of your tree. Consider things like shade, privacy and aesthetics. What makes a tree “look” pretty in your eyes? Is it a tree that blooms or bears fruit, the leaf color or texture, interesting bark or trunk structure, or maybe even the overall shape of the tree?

When choosing a tree for your front yard you need to analyze whether the tree will not only survive but thrive in that location. Is it native to your area and can it tolerate the sun and soil of your front yard? Do you have enough space for it to grow to its full size?

There are also many resources to find some excellent trees for your own yard. Try searching the internet, reading books and magazines, asking family and friends, or simply taking a walk to see what you like in your own neighborhood. Once you consider all of these important factors you should have no trouble deciding on the perfect tree.

This article was originally written in February, 2018 and has been updated to provide more robust and accurate information.

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