We get technical at Plant Specialists – you sometimes forget that some people have no idea on what is involved in a garden, or even where to start.

So you want to start digging but don’t know where to begin? Here is Plant Specialists basic tips for any Gardening Newbie.


Start by Volunteering !


We do a lot of work with Socrates Sculpture park ( www.socratessculpturepark.org ) which is an incredible Sculpture Park which is locally funded and sustained by companies and individuals like Plant Specialists. It’s a large community garden here in Long Island City.

We have run classes there for local residents and students to teach them the art of gardening.  It offers a chance to learn and at the very least it gives them a tiny taste of the beauty ( and necessity of gardening ). Just imagine all you will learn !



NYBG                     https://www.nybg.org/about/work-with-us/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities/

Brooklyn BG        https://www.bbg.org/support/volunteer

Queens BG            https://queensbotanical.org/volunteer/



Learn about your Hardiness Zone


Your Hardiness Zone is a guide so you don’t plant trees, shrubs, and perennials that won’t survive conditions in your area. You’ll also get a better idea of when and what vegetables and fruits to plant in your area. Copy/past the link below on to your search bar:





Prune spring-flowering shrubs, such as lilacs and large-flower climbing roses and Hydrangeas  immediately after the blooms fade. They set their flower buds in summer and autumn on last year’s growth. If you give them a haircut in fall or winter – you remove next spring’s flower buds.

Tip:  Google – “when to prune what” – and you will get endless information 


limelight hydrangea – a favorite in our gardens – prune in the fall


Use the proper compost


When adding compost or manure make sure that what you are putting on is composted material that has had at least six months to decompose. Fresh manure is too high in nitrogen and can “burn” plants.  It may also contain pathogens or parasites.

Fresh manure from pigs, dogs, and cats should never be used in gardens or compost piles because they may contain parasites that can infect humans.


a well composted happy Plant Specialists garden


Be aware of plant size and age when purchasing


Perennials need a bit of time to settle in and really show significant growth.  Sometimes several seasons if you purchased small or young plants through the mail.   Don’t despair if it does not look like what you thought it would by the picture you saw on the internet ! It takes time for them to hit their full potential.

Then again you could purchase mature plants – its may save you time but they usually costs a lot more ! And it also means a trip to a local nursery !!!


Heuchera, heucherella and hakonechloa all take several seasons to flush out fully


Plan for the winter look too when purchasing


Its not always going to be warm enough to grow flowers.  Winter is coming ! Learn how long your growing season is—your last frost in spring and first frost in fall. And plan a winter look.


beautiful winter look in window boxes out front


Planting done? – now is the hard part 


A well kept garden is a happy one – maintenance is paramount.  If you want an abundance of flowers then you need to also dead head. Because the goal of annual plants is to flower, set seed, and die, removing the old blooms tells annual plants to produce more flowers.

Removing spent flowers also encourages plants to place energies into stronger leaves and roots instead of seed production.

Just avoid deadheading plants grown especially for their fruits or pods, such as citrus, apple, figs, strawberries, blueberries etc. – basically anything fruiting.


this bounty is from one of our client’s garden – all grown on a rooftop in containers !




How much light do plants need?

Most fruits and vegetables need to be in a location that gets at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Otherwise they do not perform well. Same for fruiting trees.

Low light situations are not very good for growing fruits or vegetables – a hard fact 


a plethora of container grown veggies and salad goodies on one of our rooftop gardens




You need to keep the weeds down – weed early and weed often – when pulling weeds get the roots – it will save you time in the long run. You can also mulch to reduce weeds. Otherwise they take over, eat all the nutrients in the soil and starve the plants you are hoping for.


no weeds here !


Spring bulbs


If you are planting spring flowering plants like Tulips, Muscari, Daffodils, Crocuses, & Hyacinth, you need to do so in the Fall before the soil freezes.  Learn how deep each type likes to be planted.  In generally its about three times the size of the bulb into the soil.

But when planting in Containers – you must keep a good 4-6 inches between the bulbs and the outside of the pot to avoid them freezing solid and turning to mush !  


tulips and daffodils !








Every time you plant something put little stakes into the ground just to remind you that you have planted something there.  As time goes by, or as Fall turns to Spring every year it’s easy to forget.  Then when they begin to emerge you pull them out thinking that they are weeds ! 


love these little blackboard labelling stakes


Mulch everything all the time and in every season


Mulch over the garden in the Fall –  it will protect the roots of the plants for you.  Although in ground soil only freeze from the top its always a big help. 

In containers they are freezing from the top, the sides and sometimes the bottom. This can damage or kill your plants. Mulching acts like a big woolly blanket on the top of the soil and reduces the risk of winter damage.

More importantly for either in ground or containerized – mulching helps to keeps the plants dormant in case there is a sudden winter warm up.  This scenario is what kills most plants in late winter or early Spring – a warm spell followed by a sudden freeze.

In summer, mulch reduces evaporation and keeps the soil from overheating. It also helps with weeds !


a well mulched garden is ready for any season 




Fertilizer alone is not the answer to growing the best plants – soil quality is. People think the more you fertilize the better off the plant will be – this is not the case.

The amount of natural elements like compost or manure in the soil is what is important. The best soil structure is lightly crumbly, absorbs water easily, fairly easy to turn or dig. This combination offers the perfect environment for your plants to take nutrients and oxygen through their root systems.


a multi layered containerized garden in full sun with automatic irrigation needs food quite often !


Dividing perennials


As plants grow and your skills are blowing all of your friends away – you may need to divide some of the plants. We divide plants to encourage growth.  And of course to get more plants ! It is very easy to do.

In general it should be done in Fall – but this can vary depending on the plant. Always use a sharp sterilized blade when dividing. Cut across the large mass in the center.  Pull the two halves apart and plant separately. Voila !




this Hosta grouping needs dividing every few years




Water – one of the essentials for all of us ! Your garden needs water – some daily some twice daily some once a week – it depends on the plant.  It also changes based on the environment, the temperature and wind, and the zone you live in. Google is your best friend here.

If you are using a watering system – be sure not to plant water loving plants in the same spot as arid loving plants. Lavender and Birches look lovely together but have opposite watering requirements.

you can also place low water needs in pots not connected to your irrigation system


So that is a basic guide to gardening. You may not need to spend endless time on books – but having some basic gardening guides does help a lot. 


no time to garden ? – no problem !!!

Our team of talented gardeners can take care of everything for you!

For a beautiful looking garden call us today!






Article written by our Staff Horticulturist, Peter B Morris, BSc, MSc, MBA

All photographs used with permission @SHUTTERSTOCK and some Plant Specialists gardens