10 Garden Questions You're Afraid to Ask | Midwest Living

10 Garden Questions You're Afraid to Ask

Maybe there are no dumb questions, but some may seem so basic you hesitate to ask. Relax--you're not alone (and if you read the answers here, no one will know).
  • Should I worry about garden plants poisoning kids and pets?

    Only a few common plants are poisonous if eaten, says Norm Lownds, curator of the Michigan 4-H Children's Garden in East Lansing. Others can cause allergic reactions if touched. One common threat: Yews (Taxus species, pictured at left). These shrubs often used by foundations produce poisonous red berries. Parts of several common plants, including rhubarb leaves, are harmful only if eaten in large quantities.

  • What does partial shade mean?

    Partial shade (or partial sun, depending on how you look at it) means a garden spot receives 4-6 hours of direct sunlight a day, says Chip Tynan, manager of the Missouri Botanical Garden's Horticultural Answer Service. Areas receiving more than 6 hours of direct sun are full-sun locations. Less than 4 hours of direct sun is called full shade.

    Horticultural Answer Service (314/577-5143)

    Pictured: Geranium sanguineum, at front of photo, does well in full sun or partial shade.

  • Can I plant as soon as the weather warms up?

    You can plant cool-season annuals and vegetables such as peas and lettuce when there's still a threat of frost, says Chip Tynan of the Missouri Botanical Garden. But hold off on warm-season annuals and vegetables, such as tomatoes (left), until your area's frost-free date. (Get the date from a local extension office.)

    You can plant most potted perennials, trees and shrubs anytime the soil is workable--even late fall. "As long as the ground isn't frozen and we are not in the grip of a desperate drought, you can plant container plants," Chip says.

  • What does "amend the soil" mean?

    This simply refers to adding organic matter (left) to soil. Organic matter, in the form of compost or well-decomposed manure or leaves, improves soil texture, letting water and air seep in and nourish plants. It also adds valuable nutrients where roots grow. Homemade compost is ideal, but you can also buy compost at garden centers.

  • How do you make sense of numbers on fertilizer bags?

    Most landscape plants benefit from a fertilizer labeled 5-10-10. The numbers represent the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer. For vegetable gardens and vigorously growing annuals, choose a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer labeled 10-10-10.

  • What's a super-easy veggie my kids can grow?

    Try 'Matt's Wild Cherry' cherry tomato, 'Purple Haze' carrot (left), 'Easter Egg' and 'Fairy Tale' eggplant or any variety of leaf lettuce. Easy-to-grow, nutrient-packed and tasty, these vegetables are sure to please.

  • Will leftover seeds grow next year?

    Yes, most likely. Store leftover seeds (left) in a cool, dark place until next season. Next year, in early spring, check their viability with this test: Place 20 seeds between two sheets of moist paper towels and put the towels in a plastic bag. Loosely tie the bag and place it in a warm area. Check for germination, or growth, after 10 days. If fewer than 14 seeds (about 70 percent) germinated, toss them out and purchase new seed.

  • Do I have to prune my shrubs?

    No. Pruning (left) is for aesthetic purposes. Shrubs growing in nature thrive with little or no pruning. The pruning they receive is rough at best and performed by browsing animals as well as ice and snowstorms. If you like the look of a neatly clipped shrub, the best time to trim spring-flowering shrubs is right after the plant blooms or in early spring; trim summer-flowering shrubs in late winter or very early spring while the plants are still dormant.

  • A shovel is a shovel, right? Are they really different?

    A long-handled, round-point shovel (left) is a multitasker, just as good for moving gravel piles as digging holes. Look for a blade attached solidly to the handle with a metal shank that wraps around the entire handle (called a "closed-back" shovel).

    Wood handles are fine for light work, such as shoveling mulch. Choose fiberglass for tough tasks such as digging or moving soil.

  • Do pots really need to have holes in them?

    If they hold plants, they need drainage holes. Otherwise, water saturates the soil and kills plants. Some pots come without holes, so either drill a hole (left) or use it for decorative or water-garden purposes.


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