Four experts tell you everything you need to know to get growing—even if you don’t have a green thumb.
Know Your Region
It may sound obvious, “but not everything grows everywhere”, so what you plant is determined by where you live. “Take a look at the characteristics of your garden area—from the climate to sun exposure,” says Brian Sullivan, Vice President for Gardens, Landscape, and Outdoor Collections at The New York Botanical Garden. “It’s the most important thing to start with because you’ll want to understand the limits and the possibilities.” Talk to someone who works at your local garden center about the best native plants for your region, says Chris Lambton, professional landscaper and host of DIY Network’s Yard Crashers. “These will perform the best with less maintenance.”
Test Your Soil
To get a thorough reading of your soil’s pH and nutrient levels, send a sample to your local nursery or cooperative extension, suggests garden expert Christy Dailey of christy gardens. (There are also at-home testing kits available at Lowes, Home Depot, or any gardening store.) The results will tell you how acidic or alkaline your soil is, which affects how plants absorb nutrients. Since different plants thrive best in different pH levels, this test will help you decide what to plant or indicate how you should treat the soil.
Examine soil texture, too. “It should be easily shoveled and crumble in your hands,” says Annette Gutierrez, owner of Potted in Los Angeles. “If your soil is super hard or clay-like, it will be difficult for most plants to grow roots. Add fresh soil, mulch, and compost, being careful to aerate as much and as deep an area as you can before planting.”