Very basic questions for a beginner.

Panoply76(8)May 30, 2013


I am in my 3rd season of butterfly gardening. I've questions that are so basic any one of you more experienced gardeners can answer. I'd very much appreciate it.

Question 1) When should I water my plants? What time of day? Water them like rain would (getting the whole plant wet) or watering at the base. I've always believed, and so someone must have once told me, to water after sunset and at the base of the plant.

Question 2) When opening new space for gardening, what are some basic steps to follow. I'd like to build one for my mother but would have to start with just basic lawn. Do I just rent one of those machines that 'plow' up soil and plant in to the resulting grassless area? Spray an herbicide to kill the grass then use that machine? Should I add anything to the soil?

Question 3) I recently put in four kinds of plants into my garden and one into my yard. Of the garden ones, the Lantana and Daylilies did fine; w/ coneflowers had one die and two live but with butterfly bush (Buddleja) all 3 died. The plant I put in my yard was a Dwarf Bottlebrush. It too is dead. These deaths happened IN A WEEK! I put in 2 12" b-bushes last fall and now they are about 8' high. Same yard, same nursery. My theories are: the soil is exceptionally clay-y and so holds water. It rained off and on for 2 days riht after planting them. The ones from last season have the benefit of having been planted underthe eaves of my house and so were protected from this. Also, it has been very hot (i'm in baton rouge, louisiana). Is that a likely explanation? Any ideas how to deal with this much clay?

Question 4) If heat affects how a newly planted plant will do, is my planting 'window' now closed?

Thank you for helping this beginner. My previous gardening skills were putting in new trees when we lost 13 (!!!) 60-80' trees during hurricane Gustav. They were all but one of them pine trees - which I've never cared for. So I was able to start from scratch using interesting trees - mostly fruit plus gingko and dawn redwood and why I'm bothering you with this I don't know. I do know I have no use for annuals. It seems like an incredible waste to keep buying plants each year. I'm hooked on gardening but have no idea what I'm doing.


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My initial response is to suggest you contact your local extension office to tap into those resources for gardening in your zone/location. Next would be to visit local botanical gardens to see what does well in similar conditions to what you have to offer the plants & how well your soil/growing conditions meet their needs. After that, check out some gardening books from the library and do your homework--I did tons of research before I ever stuck a spade in the dirt to design my beds and I was a fairly experienced gardener when I started out.

Don't lose track of the wealth of information that's available to you thanks to the Internet. Here at GardenWeb are many voices of experience that, if you heed them, will help you avoid lots of common mistakes the rest of us have made (sometimes repeatedly) over the years. Read old threads and learn from our mistakes.

I hit the jackpot when I moved here--my folks practiced organic gardening for 50 years before I came so I'm blessed with amazing soil conditions + lots of healthy, plump worms. First lesson I learned was to avoid chemicals--they're marked 'poison' for a reason. Poison the weeds & you poison the bugs & you're poisoning the earth. For every garden situation, there is generally a non-toxic, earth-friendly alternative. For example, I pour vinegar on weeds & poison ivy rather than spraying them with weed killer.

Check out a book called 'Trowel & Error' by Sharon Lovejoy--you won't regret reading it.

Watering may or may not be an issue given your soil type and zone but again, it doesn't hurt to ask questions of the neighbors or local garden experts. There's generally a garden article in our weekly local paper so it's often a good thing to read those. One tip I can offer is that when you do water, it's best to water at the base of a plant but only when it needs it. A recycled plastic milk jug set close to a plant & with a pinhole an inch from the bottom will slowly let out a stream of water so the plant gets watered at the base. Generally speaking, watering the entire plant during the growing season isn't recommended.

IMO grass is the worst invasive plant on the planet. If you just grind it up when starting a new bed, you may never live long enough to eradicate it. I dug up the turf in sections and removed it before planting a new bed. Looking back, it was one of the smartest things I ever did even when I didn't know what I was doing.

Did you buy the butterfly bushes or grow them from seed? Did you tease out the roots before setting them in the ground? The roots of nursery-grown plants tend to start growing around and around inside their pots because there's insufficient depth/room for them in the pot. If you don't tease them loose before planting, they'll continue to grow in a circle which ultimately means the plant dies. Ask me how I learned this.

While I don't amend my soil (thanks Mom & Dad), many on the forum will recommend you add compost to the soil.

Your planting window may or may not be closed at this point but that's a zone-specific question which I'll leave to those more familiar with your growing conditions. I can pretty much plant right through the season except for the extreme heat/dryness of mid-summer where I am but generally consider each plant's unique requirements before doing so.

Like you, I have zero interest in annuals other than pansies--got to have pansies as soon as they're available from the nurseries. My focus the past 7+ years has been perennials that perform consistently in the garden with little to no help from me and which attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Keep in mind Mother Nature has kept the planet green for a few million years without our help so take whatever tips you can from what she's accomplished & do your part to keep it going.

One last note--check out the Winter Sowing forum. You can grow lots of perennials from seed for virtually zero cost and quickly fill your garden with healthy plants in a short space of time that way. My own garden beds are now filled with perennials I grew from seed via WS. As a result I've achieved my garden goals far more speedily than I ever would have anticipated.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 2:26AM
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lola-lemon(5b East WA)

I agree with everything gardenweed said and I'd like to add more emphasis to the part about not plowing the grass to start a new bed.
I am expanding a bed into a grassy area and It's actually pretty easy to rip sod off. Well, it takes strength, but not a lot of skill.
I take it up in strips. I use a small saw tool to cut out the area I plan to pull up. then I use a shovel to begin to lift the edges of the strip. then I get hold of it and tug and roll it back. Scalping the sod right off. Then I turn the dirt and prepare the area.
Don't forget to add an edge barrier to keep the grass from growing back into the new bed.

If you use a rototiller I think you will have to sift your dirt, which IMHO would take much more time.

But, If you are not in a hurry and don't mind things looking trashy for a while-- you can lay plastic sheeting or cardboard over the grass you want to remove and then let it die. (month or 2) then you can rototill.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 9:22AM
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gigim(8A SC)

I have a question related to the response from gardenweed- the recycled milk jug idea for watering. I have a Tamukeyama japanese maple that was planted last fall that needs to be kept moist since it is in full sun. The plants around it do not need as much water - would this be an idea for the JM. It would sure be easy! Thanks and sorry to Panoply for hyjacking your post! :-)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 1:15PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

As usual, good advice from gardenweed! I would add that not ony should you water at the base of the plant, but I've heard its good to either water early morning or in the evening. In reality, my garden gets watered when I can water it, lol, although I do try to do it earlier or later in the day.

Also, as far as a new bed, I make all my beds using the lasagna method. It's great, IMO. I have never removed any grass, just makingthe bed right on top of the grass, and I personally have never had an issue with the grass coming up in the beds. Others might have. (My problem is after the bed is established the lawn wants to creep into the bed because I don't keep up with my edging!)

I also highly recommend winter-sowing. Its the only way I start seeds now. And personally, I also garden only organically. Compost, shredded leaves, manure - who needs chemicals? :)

Good luck with your garden, and feel free "to bother us" with anything, lol! Let us know how you progress!


    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 2:08PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

First thing is to figure out where you are.

Second thing is to figure out where the people you are listening to are. If it isn't the same, put your fingers in your ears.

It is nice that people want to be helpful, but it is easy to get off on the wrong foot when people on both sides are making assumptions that just aren't correct. Good local advice is going to skip that step. I don't know how many times I've had to 'unsay' advice from other parts of the country, and somehow it never manages to leave the conversation. Years later it seems to still be lurking beneath the surface.

I am far from an expert on southern gardening, but I do know that most warm season grasses are not going to give up territory to a garden easily. So for example, if you are trying to get rid of Bermuda, you need to talk to somebody who knows how to get rid of Bermuda, not somebody who knows how to get rid of fescue.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 4:16PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Yep, that's the first thing gardenweed suggested:

"...My initial response is to suggest you contact your local extension office to tap into those resources for gardening in your zone/location. Next would be to visit local botanical gardens to see what does well in similar conditions to what you have to offer the plants & how well your soil/growing conditions meet their needs..."

It's always a good idea to start with local people. Folks in, for example, CT, don't necessarily know the conditions in uh, well, wherever in zone 8 the original poster is, and vice versa. I'm sure Panoply saw that great bit of advice above.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 5:30PM
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lola-lemon(5b East WA)

I put my fingers in my ears sometimes even when we share the same zone. There are many different types of gardeners. The 2 rosarians in my town are fun to visit with because they do everything almost opposite.

I don't think anyone suggested anything so far that would change regarding zones..... Some gardening advice is universal. I believe taking out a fescue or Bermuda grass lawn - the methods are the same. Bermuda goes deeper and so you are going to have a deeper dig- but the method is the same. If you use covering/plastic/lasagna to solarize it- you might have to wait longer (and you might not get all the rhizomes in bermuda). Bermuda seeds can linger -- but other than chemicals, the method remains the same, I believe, in whatever zone you have the lawn.

This post was edited by lola-lemon on Thu, May 30, 13 at 17:57

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 5:43PM
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Hey Y'all,

Thank you all so much, especially Gardenweed. Gigi, I don't mind at all.
There was a woman at the nursery who helped me locate all of the things on my list. She seemed very helpful and said she also gardened for butterflies. As I'm returning all of these dead plants (the returnable ones-i'm pretty sure buddlejia is a shrub abd certain dwarf bottlebrush is) this weekend I'll hit her up for more information. Clay, I'm finding as I talk with family and neighbors, is a big problem in Baton Rouge - especially in the old neighborhoods. The water table is very, err, close here and so all of the building was done on what high ground was available. As the high ground was most likely going to be either an old, natural preColumbian levee or simply ground one of the many rivers (including THE river) and bayous couldn't simply shoot straight through it tends to be----clay! I'm in an old neighborhood, on high bround that is cut in one direction by a substantial bayou that's quite close and drainage 'ditches' (probably called rivers in CT ;p) I'm stuck in the middle on clay. My sister bought a house in a new subdivision that in my living memory was palmetto bottomlands (land given to flooding, lots of palmettos, bald cypress and small trash trees) and naturally she has superb soil. The fact that she is probably only a few feet from sea level will hopefully never become an issue. I'm curious to know what the people who made that land habitable did, but that's besides the point. I'm stuck with the clay while she can just throw down seeds. lol Another person on this forum suggested that I build my garden up so that at least some part of the roots will be out of clay. I don't know where that person was from, though. I'll see what the woman at the nursery has to say. I did discover that my local paper does have a gardening section-fancy that!-and will be paying it more attention than I have been (which was none). As for fertilizing, from what I understand the plants I'm looking to lay in are hardy and don't require much in the way of fertilizing. I am a long way from attempting composting, etc. I am absolutely hooked on butterfly/hummingbird gardening, but it is one of a few hobbies. Target shooting, my biggest hobby outside reading, is expensive (ammunition, range fees and travel expenses if you want to compete). m Reading, too, is expensive especially if you are a history geek who can't let a book he's read leave his possession. I have literally run out of bookcase space. Maybe kitchen shelving? Surely all of those pots and pans aren't necessary? She can cook with one or two, right? lol
On mulch. PLEASE everyone out there don't use cypress mulch. If you've ever seen a beautiful cypress swamp you'll know why. Use pines. They grow everywhere and grow fast. It's a horror what they do to get cypress mulch.

Thanks So Very Much Y'all!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 9:06PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

"...Reading, too, is expensive especially if you are a history geek who can't let a book he's read leave his possession.."

OMG! A fellow history-loving, book-hoarding, piles-of-history-books-on-the-floor, kept-every-history-book-they've-ever-read reader! I actually work at a library, but I don't take out history books because I like to KEEP my history books, lol. So I see them, add them to my list, and then buy them when I can.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 10:43PM
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