Back to the basics

Looking back, we may realize this was the year we had a surge in cultivating new gardeners and nature enthusiasts.

While most people who read gardening articles look for new tips and interesting information, there are brand new gardeners who can do without technical jargon and nuanced garden issues. So, let’s go back to the basics. Here are a few tips to be a successful new gardener.

Start small

Transforming your entire back yard into vegetables and flowers may be the goal, but it can be overwhelming once weeds germinate and plants get thirsty. Start with some outdoor pots, a corner garden or add to your existing landscaping.

Weed early and often

Before you plant, know how to attack weedy invaders. Weeds will compete with your plants, leaving them less productive. Each gardener has a favorite tool, but all ages will appreciate a shuffle hoe or Dutch garden hoe, which allows you to uproot small weed seedlings without bending over. A weeding knife gets deep in the soil to the roots of larger weeds. If weeds get too big, mow or whack before they flower and seed.

Check your garden daily

Be diligent and pay attention to the plants. Have fun watching them grow and caring for them. Know that watering in the summer is more intense as the plants are bigger and the temperatures are higher.

Be persistent

Don’t give up if they don’t grow well or fail to give you the produce you hoped for. Sometimes plants fail and sometimes they surprise you. Many factors can be out of your immediate control – not the right plant for the location, not the best soil or best weather, not enough water or too much of it. Most gardeners with lush gardens won’t tell you how many plants they had to kill to get the impressive show. Start with easy-to-grow vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, leafy greens and herbs, or annuals (continuous blooms all summer) like dragon wing begonias, zinnias, sweet alyssum or marigolds.

Track the rain

Most plants require an inch of rain a week and prefer two inches in hot, dry weather. Long, slow, deep waterings are the best for preventing heat stress, preferably in the morning when water loss from evaporation is less. Water at the driplines of trees and shrubs, not at their trunk. Water slowly so there is no run-off, and the water slowly permeates into the soil with the goal of wetting the ground to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Basically, use the shower setting, not the jet setting, on your hose head and the water will absorb slowly.

Plant native Illinois plants

Most native plants are adapted to our soils and our environment and will thrive with little effort on your part. They are key in contributing to wildlife like butterflies and birds. Visit

Seek advice and ask questions

Adopt the new perennial theory with Roy Diblik, author of “The Known Maintenance Garden.” Diblik encourages tested plant combinations that interact with each other in self-sustaining communities that enable them to live well with minimal input. These plant communities eventually knit together forgoing weed issues. Roy also questions tilling, mulching, adding compost, and gives great tips on managing weeds and watering in the first three years of the perennial bed.

Contact your local Extension office for resources. Most offices have horticulture specialists and master gardeners that are committed to helping you solve any of your gardening woes. Look for gardening Facebook groups in your area. Many of these groups will answer your questions in minutes and a consensus will be made.

Be creative and add your own artistic flare.