Plant Care

On this page we answer common gardening questions about Gardening for Beginners, Garden Design, Plant Care, Gardening in Pots, Pollinators and Soil.

Growing Guides by Plant Name

Gardening for Beginners

How to care for plants
How to design a garden
How to read our plant label

Garden Design

How to change the look of your garden
How to choose plants
How to combine flowers in the sun
How to keep a garden journal
How to plant a garden
How to plant bulbs
How to plant for color all season
How to use color themes in garden design
How to use double tulips
Learn about plant hardiness zones
List of deer-resistant plants
List of Moon Garden plants
List of North American Native Plants
List of salt-resistant plants
Tips for garden design: plant in threes

 

Plant Care

All my plants were planted at the same time, why are some not growing yet?
How can I control slugs in my garden
How can I keep deer and rabbits away from my garden
How do I tell the top of a bareroot plant from the bottom
How to care for plants after planting
How to grow Amaryllis
How to grow annuals
How to grow bulbs
How to grow Dahlias
How to grow Daylilies
How to grow garden plants
How to grow houseplants
How to grow kitchen garden
How to grow perennials
How to grow plants in the south
How to grow shrubs
How to grow vines and climbers
How to plant bareroot Roses
How to protect plants from frost
How to start seeds
Isn't it too early to plant? We're still having frost!
Learn about Dahlias & Begonias
Leaves in my garden have a white coating on them. What's wrong?
Leaves keep turning yellow on my houseplant. What's wrong?
Leaves of my newly, planted perennial look wilted, what should I do?
List of perennials that wake up late
My plants are not as tall as the height in your catalog. Why?
Something is destroying leaves on my lilies – What can I do?
The leaves on my plant feel, sticky. What is wrong?
Tips for growing Lilies
Tips for growing Tomatoes
Tips for southern gardeners
We're expecting a frost – How can I protect my new plants?
What are the symptoms of overfertilizing?
What are the symptoms of overwatering?
What can I do to control aphids?
What is causing my clematis vine to wilt?
What to do if you have to delay planting?
What to do when your order arrives?
When to plant?
Why didn't my new perennials or shrubs bloom the first year?

 

Gardening in pots

How to create a dramatic patio container
How to garden in containers
List of bulbs for forcing

 

Pollinators

How to attract butterflies to your garden
How to attract hummingbirds to your garden
List of plants for pollinators that we offer
List of plants in our pollinator garden

Our policy on Neonicotinoids

 

Soil

How to compost
How to prepare the soil
How to test your soil

 

GARDENING FOR BEGINNERS

How to care for plants

Click here to learn how to care for plants.
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How to design a garden

Click here to learn how to design a garden.
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How to read our plant label

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GARDEN DESIGN

How to change the look of your garden

Creative gardeners like to display their old favorites in new ways. Perking up summer borders with bulbs and converting a section of sunny lawn into a field of Lavender are ideas we describe here. But containers offer the broadest design opportunities for every plant type -- from annuals, bulbs, and perennials to shrubs and trees.

Flank an entrance with a matching pair of flowering shrubs or evergreens; plant a magnificent urn for a garden focal point; train vines on tuteurs set in big tubs. Window boxes, strawberry pots, and hanging baskets offer versatile solutions that can change with each season. For spur-of-the-moment garden whimsy, plant colorful annuals in oddball containers: a rusted coal scuttle, wheel barrow, rubber boot, doll cradle, colander, old tool tote -- whatever strikes your fancy. Remember, though, that small containers look best in groups of similar materials. Look for more inspirations in the Reading Room of our Gardening Help section.

Growing requirements are typically the same for container plants as those in the ground, except that they will need more frequent watering and feeding. Use a moistened potting mix and give the pot a good soaking after planting, then let the soil dry to the touch before watering again. With shrubs, slower growing species are the best choice for containers; allow enough space to fit the root ball comfortably. Check our Growing Guides for information on specific plant requirements. Enjoy!
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How to choose plants

Like people, plants have specific needs that when met, allow them to develop to their full potential. Selecting plants whose cultural requirements suit the conditions of your garden is the best way to assure success and cut down on time caring for them. Among the most important considerations of a site is soil drainage. Most plants will thrive in moist, well-drained soil. If your drainage is less than perfect -- too slow or too fast -- it can be improved somewhat by adding organic matter, but it is often the best course to start with plants suited to your existing soil.

Some soils drain slowly and tend to stay damp most of the time; for these soils, select plants that tolerate abundant moisture. Other soils may be light or sandy and tend to dry out quickly; for these soils, plants that tolerate drought will perform best. Fortunately, there are plants suited to both of these conditions.

Plants for Wet/Damp Soils
Many trees thrive in heavy or damp soils; Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), and Arborvitae (Thuja 'Green Giant') are just a few. Many outstanding shrubs tolerate wet soils, including Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius Little Devilâ„¢), Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea Arctic Fireâ„¢), the native Winterberries (Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red' and 'Southern Gentleman'), and American Cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum 'Wentworth'). Many perennials are adaptable to moist soils. Some of the top choices for such conditions are: Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis), Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra), Beebalm (Monarda), Brunnera macrophylla, Hibiscus moscheutos, and Ferns.

Plants that Tolerate Drought
If your conditions dictate that drought tolerant plants are in order, your choices are equally abundant. Good trees for dry conditions include Ginkgo, Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), and Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata). Drought tolerant shrubs include: Butterfly Bush, such as Buddleia davidii 'Purple Emperor', Bush Clover (Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar'), and Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'). Choices for perennials that thrive in droughty conditions are extensive. Some of the best include: Yarrow (Achillea), Hummingbird Mint (Agastache 'Tutti Frutti'), Tickseed (Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset' and 'Mercury Rising' and Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'), Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea), Blanket Flower (Gaillardia Gallo® Peach), Lavenders, and Catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low').

By realistically assessing your garden site and doing a bit of research to select plants that will adapt to your conditions, your plants will be happier - and you will be too!
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How to combine flowers in the sun

The cheerful, long-blooming Daisy-like flowers of Echinacea can anchor a border all summer long and need only modest care to perform beautifully. Plants may require supplemental watering to become established in their first season, but become thrifty in future years.

If watering is an issue in your garden, combine Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) with Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Achillea (Yarrow), and Panicum (Switch Grass) for a long-lasting, water-wise -- and deer-resistant -- display that butterflies will love. This combination is also a good source of cut flowers.

Flowers that grow in spikes or spires offer a good contrast to the rounded Daisy form of Echinacea. We like Buddleia and Veronicastrum in the back of the border, Liatris 'Kobold' in the front, and Veronica alongside.

Bright, sturdy flowers benefit from association with soft, almost fuzzy blooms. Try Nepeta (Catmint), Pennisetum (Fountain Grass), or Monarda (Bee Balm). The bright pink, white, or dark red bottlebrush blossoms of Sanguisorba (Burnet) create a cloud of color that is a perfect foil for Echinacea.

Old favorites such as Hemerocallis (Daylilies), Garden Phlox, and Sedum are easy-going, easy-growing perennials that also make excellent partners for Echinacea and many other plants that perform best in full sun.
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How to keep a garden journal

Click here to learn about the benefits of keeping a garden journal.
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How to plant a garden

Click here to learn how to plant a garden.
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How to plant bulbs

Click here to learn how to plant bulbs.
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How to plant for color all season

Gardens change with the season, so it takes a bit of planning to have color from shrubs and perennials in the garden from spring to fall. Although planning for a sequence of bloom and continuing visual interest can be daunting, think of it as a great opportunity to get acquainted with a variety of new plants. These suggestions will get you started.

For each season, create one or two colorful centers of interest that include blooming shrubs, which give structure to borders. For balance, distribute plant groupings throughout the garden that will be attractive even when not in flower. Build compositions around long-lasting, reliable perennials like Peonies, Daylilies, and Hosta.

Start with spring bulbs, then tuck in Lilies and other summer blooming bulbs to enjoy later. Some spring perennials have dormant periods, so other plants can fill their spaces with summer color. Overplant Daffodils with Daylilies with our Collaboration collection, for example, or fill in the blanks with annuals. Think about getting a second season of interest from plants that have ornamental fall seed heads, such as Blackberry Lilies (Belamcanda).

Get extra color mileage from foliage, in summer as well as fall. Include shrubs with variegated or colorful leaves -- the variegated Pagoda Dogwood Golden Shadows(tm) and wine purple Physocarpus, and perennials like Heuchera and Hosta come to mind. Think about fall foliage color, too. Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa) and other perennials offer great fall color.
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How to use color themes in garden design

Every gardener feels drawn to certain colors. One way to play with design schemes is to focus on a single favorite color. Generally, the pastel "tints," as well as the darker "tones," of that color will all work well when grouped together. This is especially true for yellows, purples, and blues. Of course, you pretty much can't go wrong with green, Nature's most ubiquitous hue. It looks good with every other color, either as a kindred spirit, or as a contrasting foil.

Another simple approach is to choose a color and then bring in a close relative on the spectrum, such as pairing yellow with orange or combining purples with blues. These are called color harmonies, and they tend to look reliably pleasing.

Here's one caveat to consider: not all colors within the red family always get along. If red is a favorite color, try to sort out "cool" reds -- which have some blue or violet mixed in -- from "warm" reds that have orange or brown in their makeup. Some say it's best to separate the shades, but it's not a hard-and-fast principle. Just be aware that designing with reds can be a bit trickier than playing with easy-going yellows. Then rely on your designer's eye to decide if certain colors are pleasing together.

When you want some contrast, the easiest way is to just look for a color's opposite, or complement. For yellow, that's purple. For orange, that's blue. And for red, it's the Christmas complement of green. To find more subtle opposites, pick up a color wheel that will reveal a complete spectrum of opposites and relatives.

The main thing is to have fun playing with color. The hues of a garden's palette constantly change from season to season, so enjoy the shifts and tweak your designs as the plantings evolve. For more design ideas and information, take a tour with nursery manager Barb Pierson in our "Garden Inspirations" video, or browse articles in the Growing Guides by Plant Name section of our Web site.
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How to use double tulips

We call Tulips the "lipsticks of the garden" because they provide an elegant finishing touch to spring borders. Lush double-flowered Tulips add even more flair. The long-lasting, semidouble to double flowers of these Tulips bear a striking resemblance to double Peonies. Many arrive in May, when most otherTulips have finished their show. All are good for bedding and as cut flowers, and some are excellent for forcing. Most double-flowered Tulips are hardy to Zone 3.

To use this group of bulbs in your garden, throw away all your preconceptions about planting Tulips and start with a fresh look at each variety. For the best display, avoid the "soldier effect" and space these elegant bulbs in natural-looking clusters, about five to six inches apart from each other. Tulips prefer well-drained, good garden soil. Sandy soil enriched with organic matter is ideal, as is a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Full sun is recommended (at least six hours or more). Keep Tulip bulbs cool (below 65 degrees) until you are ready to plant them and make sure to put them in the ground at least a month before the soil freezes. Water them in well.

Plant double-flowered Tulip varieties in splashes in the perennial border, near an entrance, or fill a prominent bed with these beauties. Feature a fragrant Tulip, such as 'Orca', where you're sure to enjoy its scent. Create thrilling drama by combining two or more double Tulips, such as the ones showcased in our Touch of Perfume Tulip Collection or our May Romance Tulip Collection. Manydouble Tulips that are 10-14 inches tall work well in the front of a border.

Double Tulips look lovely with other spring bloomers; their full-bodied blooms serve as especially pleasing accents for Peonies. Underplant pastel shades of double Tulips with Forget-Me-Nots for a classic combination. Tulips also look perfect planted among ground covers like Epimedium or Vinca. In any case, plant abundantly in order to have plenty for arrangements.

Many Tulips (the midseason and late-flowering varieties in particular) tend to bloom magnificently the first spring or two after planting and decline thereafter. Species Tulips, Darwin Hybrids, Fosterianas, Greigiis, Kaufmannianas, and WFF Perennial Tulips can put on a stunning display for several years with your help.
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Learn about plant hardiness zones

Click here to learn about plant hardiness zones.
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List of deer-resistant plants

Click here for a list of deer-resistant plants.
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List of Moon Garden plants

Click here for a list of Moon Garden plants.
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List of North American Native plants

Click here for a list of North American Native plants.
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List of salt-resistant plants

Click here for a list of salt-resistant perennials.
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Tips for garden design

Three is a popular number in many aspects of culture, including design. There are triads and trios in music, three-act plays, and triptychs in art. The "rule of threes" is a key principle in comedy.

In planting design, three is often considered a magic number. It's an easy way to think about planting for pleasing impact. In general, odd numbers are useful in creating dynamic, natural-looking plantings. (Rely on even numbers, such as pairs, for more formal effects.) If three of one plant doesn't pack enough punch, plant it in fives or sevens. Masses of a single plant catch the eye while plantings with lots of "onesies" and "twosies" can look jumbled or too fussy.

But some garden situations call for more than trios or quintets. When you're looking to cover serious ground or make a really big impact, create volume by massing dozens of the same plant, such as Lily-of-the-Valley. The eye ceases to grasp the actual numbers and instead takes in the sweep of a scene.

When reprising an element in a garden's design, try to repeat it at least three times. This holds true for both plants and hardscaping elements. You can repeat a color, a shape, or a specific plant, such as a series of three Hydrangeas as a backdrop for a border. Create a sense of rhythm in your garden by repeating elements with attention to the frequency. When in doubt, count to three.
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PLANT CARE

All my plants were planted at the same time, why are some not growing yet?

Plants, even those of the same variety, can vary in their overall rate of growth as well as the time when they begin to grow each year. Allow new plants 2-4 weeks after planting to make their appearance. Some plants, notably Asclepias, Baptisia, Hibiscus, Platycodon, and Wisteria are extremely slow to break dormancy the first year after planting, often taking 6-10 weeks to leaf out. Dormant plants put into the garden in fall won't show signs of growth until next year.

Dormant woody plants, whether bareroot or pot-grown, vary wildly in the timing of their return to active growth. If a plant is slow to leaf out, gently scratch the bark near the base of the plant with your fingernail. If the inside is green, the plant is still alive and is just taking its time. Please be patient.
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How can I control slugs in my garden?

Set out shallow bowls of beer (any inexpensive brand is effective) to catch and drown slugs and snails. Thin strips of copper seem to create an effective barrier when wrapped around the bottom of plant pots or formed into a collar on the ground around favorite plants. You might also try using diatomaceous earth (available at many garden centers) as a barrier or (in the South) mulch with Zoysia clippings.
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How can I keep deer and rabbits away from my garden?

The most permanent (and costliest) defense against deer is a fence that is 8ft high. To deter rabbits, install a fence that is 3ft above ground, with 12in buried below ground. Repellent sprays work with varying degrees of effectiveness. Try alternating 2 or 3 different types and apply them as often as recommended by the manufacturer.
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How do I tell the top of a bareroot plant from the bottom?

It's not always easy to tell which end of a bareroot perennial is up. In their dormant state, some plants Ferns and Liatris are good examples may lack obvious roots. Look for buds or the remains of stems and leaves, and plant them facing up. When in doubt, lay the crown on its side; the plant knows to send shoots up and roots down.
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How to care for plants after planting

Click here to learn how to care for plants are planting.
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How to grow Amaryllis

Click here to learn how to grow Amaryllis bulbs.
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How to grow annuals

Click here to learn how to grow Annuals.
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How to grow bulbs

Click here to learn how to grow bulbs.
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How to grow Dahlias

Click here to learn how to grow Dahlias.
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How to grow Daylilies

Click here to learn how to grow Daylilies.
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How to grow garden plants

Click here to learn how to grow garden plants.
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How to grow houseplants

Click here to learn how to grow houseplants.
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How to grow kitchen garden

Click here to learn how to grow a kitchen garden.
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How to grow perennials

Click here to learn how to grow Perenniald.
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How to grow plants in the south

Click here to learn how to grow plants in the south.
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How to grow shrubs

Click here to learn how to grow shrubs.
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How to grow vines and climbers

Pot-Grown Woody Plants:

Pot-grown plants with leafy new growth need a gradual introduction to direct sun and wind before planting. Set plants outdoors in a sheltered, lightly shaded spot, increasing their exposure to sun and wind each day. After 7-10 days, they'll be ready to go in the ground.

Before planting, check the potting mix in the pot and water thoroughly if it's dry. Dig a hole slightly larger than the pot. For pot-grown woody plants that are to be planted in unimproved soil, dig a hole 3-5 times the diameter of the root ball but no deeper than the height of the root ball. Remove the plant from the pot by grasping the rim, turning the pot upside down, and tapping it against the heel of your hand. If the plant is root-bound (the root ball matted with roots to the point that they obscure the potting mix), gently break up the sides of the ball with your thumbs and tease apart roots that are circling at the bottom. This encourages roots to grow into the surrounding soil. Set the root ball in the hole so that the top of the ball is level with the surface of the soil. Then push soil around and just over the top of the root ball and firm the soil by pressing down with both hands. Make a rim of soil around the edge of the planting hole to form a basin, which will hold water and channel it to the oots. Finally, fill the basin with water several times.

Bareroot Vine:

Unwrap the vine just before you're ready to plant. Soak the roots for a few hours. The roots of many woody plants are brittle, so take care not to break them. Dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the spread of the roots and deep enough to allow you to set the crown the point where the leaves or stems of the plant meets the roots 1in below the surface of the soil. (Some plants require deeper planting, other shallower planting - see the White Flower Farm plant label.) Place the roots in the planting hole and arrange them in whatever fashion appears natural. Holding the crown of the plant, push soil into the hole, working soil around the roots. After planting, make a rim of soil around the edge of the planting hole to form a basin that will catch water and channel it to the roots.
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How to plant bareroot Roses

Click here to learn how to grow bareroot Roses.
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How to protect plants from frost

As this is written in early November, it's still too early to apply winter protection to newly-planted perennials, but it's not too early to plan for it, if you garden in a cold-winter area (USDA Zone 6 [-10°F] or colder).

Although you might think a winter mulch keeps plants warm, it's intended to do the opposite—to keep the ground frozen, instead of repeatedly thawing and refreezing. That freeze-thaw seesaw can heave lightly-rooted plants right out of the ground, leaving their roots vulnerable to freezing or drying out fatally. Perennials planted or transplanted in the fall are especially susceptible during their first winter.

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