Add some color to your backyard

Begonias are annual flowers that do well in partial sun and in some cases full sun. They are great for both gardens and containers

Salvia “May Night” is a pollinator-friendly perennial that blooms from early to late summer. This plant needs full sun to mostly sun to grow

Coleus is a leafing plant that comes in a variety of color combinations. They are easy to grow and can be added to flowerbeds and borders but also thrive in containers.

Yarrow “Strawberry Seduction” (below) and Aclepias “Butterfly Weed” (above) are other pollinator friendly plants.

Plants that are daisy like are good pollinator plants. Minnesota is home to more than 350 native bee species.

If you want to start a garden, make a trip to your local garden center. The folks there will be able to answer any questions you may have and help you pick the best flowers for your yard.

Flowers like Sedum attract wildlife like bees.

For some, gardening is a lifestyle. For others it’s a casual summer activity. And then there are those folks who have tried gardening once or twice and ended up feeling like they will never have a green thumb. 

If you’re someone who has had a garden in past years, you’ve probably already begun your prep work for this growing season. 

If you’re thinking of planting a garden for the first time, keep in mind the following tips, and you’ll be well on your way to developing that coveted green thumb.


A trip to the garden center

Your first stop after deciding you want develop a garden should be to your local garden center, but come prepared to answer some questions.

Decide where you want to plant your flowers. How much light does the area you want to plant in get? What type of light does it get?  

If you’re planting in heavily shaded areas or spots that only get morning sun, rely on greenery like hostas or ferns. 

If your plot gets four or five hours of morning sun, impatiens will thrive and provide continuous color.

Once you know what the level of sunshine you have, you can determine what annuals and perennials have the best chance of succeeding in your new flowerbed.

The folks at the garden center will also want to know your soil content. Is it clay, sand, peat or black dirt? The experts say flowers will grow in most soils, except for dense clay.

“If you’ve got a clay soil, we’re going to have to fix it. You’ll have to dig out some clay and it’s hard work because clay is very difficult,” says Brian Pletscher of Pletschers’ Greenshouses.

Tell the people at your local garden center as much information as you can about where you are putting your plants. This will help ensure the plants they give you have a chance of surviving once in the ground. 


How to keep plants alive

The biggest reason most plants don’t survive is because of water. Either they are being under watered or over watered. 

When getting ready to plant for a new season, clean off the area you will be planting in. Also make sure the moisture stays even in the area you will be planting in. 

Kathy Harrell, the garden center manager at North Heights Hardware Hanks, says when planting, flower should be watered well, especially if there hasn’t been much rain in recent days. After that, water the flowers about once a week, especially during dry spells and hot weather. She says it’s important that the soil doesn’t become too dry.

An easy way of determining if you need to water is gently poking your finger in the soil around your plants. You want about one to two inches of dry soil before you water again.

When watering, get as close to the roots as possible. Strong plants come from strong, healthy roots. If you’re watering deep every few days, the plants will have a better root system.

But remember that plants shouldn’t be sitting in water. If a plant has wilted but the soil is wet, this means you probably over watered and the roots drowned


“Deadheading” produces more blooms 

Many varieties of flowers will rebloom if you cut off their faded blooms. “There’s a benefit to it. You can’t over deadhead,” Harrell says. 

Fertilizing can help with reblooms as well. You should fertilize your flowerbeds every two to three weeks all summer.

If you’re having issues getting a plant to survive in a space, try moving it somewhere else. Once you find a place that works, remember or write it down so you can replant it there next year. 


What’s new in gardens?

Container planting is becoming increasingly popular. Mark Armstead of Beisswenger’s says people are now picking corners and sections to garden for containers and pots of varying heights. 

The baby boomer generation is beginning to move into condos and townhomes, and making the switch to container gardens.

There are more options of flowers that can be planted in containers and more varieties of planters than in the past. If you are considering growing outdoor plants in containers, make sure there is adequate drainage. Without drainage holes, water sits in the bottom of the pot and the plant roots will rot.

More people are starting to plant herbs in their containers for their beauty and to eat. Pletscher says 25 years ago his greenhouses were barely selling any herb plants, but now they have really taken off.


Everyone’s talking pollinators

Something else gaining popularity is growing plants that attract bees and butterflies.

The decline of the honeybees and other pollinators has been making news headlines in recent years. If you want to give these important species a helping hand, try growing native plants. 

Native plants are already conditioned to everything Mother Nature has to offer in Minnesota and adapt well to changing weather conditions. 

Different native plants that are beneficial to bees and other pollinating insects are common and swamp milkweeds, monarda (bee balm), butterfly weed, salvia and coreopsis. Flowers that resemble a daisy are generally good pollinator plants, the experts say. 

There are some hybrid plants that are good pollinator plants as well. Ask your local garden center staff for suggestions. 


What if you want it to be edible?

If you have a hankering to start a vegetable patch, keep in mind that veggies need full sun.

The size of your garden can determine what you can plant. Some plants, like pumpkin or squash vines, require lots of room. Other vegetables like tomatoes and peppers don’t require as much room because they grow upright.

One reason you may not have had good results in the past is your vegetables were too close together. Overcrowding causes them to compete for sun and water.

Cole crops can be planted when the soil is still a little cool. Cole crops include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions and potatoes. These plants grow better in the cooler weather and soil. More energy is put into root crops with cooler temperatures. This means bigger and crisper radishes. Cool temperatures produce more sugar.

If you plant cole crops when the weather is too warm, you risk bolting.  When bolting happens, edible parts of the plant go bad and become mostly flower based instead of leaf based. 

Other vegetables should be planted when the soil is warm like tomatoes and peppers.

Planting times depend on soil temperatures and the likelihood of frost, but cole crops are generally planted around the beginning of May, and warmer crops planted closer to the end of May. 

When planting vegetables, switch what side of the planter bed you had them on each year. If you planted corn on the right one year, plant it on the left side the next year.

If you planted vegetables in the past and had disappointing results, it might be because you applied fertilizer too late in the season. You should fertilize a couple weeks after you planted the crops and one more time, around June. After that, leave the fertilizer alone.

You also want to plant your crops so that you are harvesting throughout the growing season. This is another reason to start with cole crops and wait on the warmer crops. Armstead says that if a vegetable garden is planted all at once, everything reaches maturity at the same time and people get a “harvest dump.” 

He recommends staggering when you plant crops. For instance, he suggests planting two feet of a crop, waiting a couple weeks and then planting another two feet of the same crop. This way you have fresh veggies all season long.

Most of all enjoy your time gardening. Plants aren’t people so don’t be afraid to try something new. The experts say that by doing little bits of work at a time and keeping these tips in mind, you can have a colorful, thriving garden this season without wearing yourself out.


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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