If you find the springtime call to the garden shop irresistible and love browsing through rows of tender blooming plants, first plant your heels in your own garden and evaluate your needs, Diane Heil advises.
A little planning prevents garden disasters, says Heil, a landscape gardener at Catonsville Community College who recently taught a garden design course.
"Size is the biggest mistake," Heil said. "(Many people) will plant something, and then the size becomes unmanageable."
Five years later the cute little bush you planted along the driveway could blockyour view of the street, and shrubs planted near the windows of the house might provide a hiding place for burglars.
Or that small bush in front of the house could turn into a monster that showers the sidewalk with berries. Novice gardeners often don't realize that crushed flowers or berries on the sidewalk will end up being tracked onto indoor carpets, Heil warned.
And flowers or fruit trees planted near swimming pools may invite unwanted bees who will feast on the foliage and on wet human bodies.
Before you buy that first plant, you should decide what kind of garden you want, Heil says.
If you have children, you should consider their needs and plan accordingly. With infants and toddlers, you can afford to have a manicured garden. Older children, however, can be rough on plants, Heil said.
Parents also should watch for possible hazards if children play near the garden. For instance, a rock garden can be the source of summertime injuries if not properly barricaded.
If your children are older and you are eyeing their former play area for your future garden, the soil will need some help before it can support plant life. Even after the oldslide and swing sets are uprooted, the firmly compacted soil left behind needs to be tilled and mixed with fresh soil before anything will grow there.
After you decide what kind of garden you want, you need to plan the size, type and number of plants you need before you run off to the nursery and plop plants in the ground.
Consider the shapes of young and of full-grown plants. You also may want to think about how the plants will look from your neighbor's perspective.
Next you'll have to decide how many plants to buy.
"Psychologically, odd numbers of plants are more pleasing to the eye. You just feel more comfortable. But certain people have a serious need to have everything balanced and have even numbers," Heil said.
"To me, it's more harmonious and easier to balance things with odd numbers," said Heil. For instance, it is natural to put a plant between two windows andthen one on each outer end, she said.
The first trip to the garden center should be to window shop. Look at the plant tags and note the size of a full-grown plant. Larger garden centers have a horticulturist on staff who can help answer questions, Heil said.
Select plants that appear healthy. Pass up plants with leaves that are pale, fading, brown or deformed. Also look on both sides of leaves for signs of insect residue such as stickiness or a powdery substance that looks like mildew, Heil said. Heil also recommends asking where the plantwas grown.
Juniper is hardy and it may not matter where it was grown, but the Baltimore area is about as far north as camellias can grow, and if they were nurtured from seed in a warmer climate such as North Carolina, they are less likely to adapt to a colder climate. Camellias grown in Maryland have a higher survival rate, Heil said.
"I would never buy plants from a truck by the side of a road because it probably came from out of state," she added.
When you are ready to plant, don't "plant too deeply and bury things," Heil warns.
Plants should be placed flush with the ground because the roots near the surface provide ventilation. Even a few inches of soil on top can bring early death to a young plant, according to Heil.
The three exceptions to this rule are azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias because they are particularly sensitive to root rot. These plants grow bestin a new location when placed about an inch above the rest of the soil to provide good drainage.
Your new or refurbished garden will have a better chance of living a healthy life if you avoid what Heil calls the biggest midsummer blunder: underwatering. "Splashing water on the garden with a hose for 15 minutes a night only gets the top layer wet. It is much better watering once a week for three hours with asprinkler. You need to get water into three inches of soil. Hand watering is dangerous," Heil warns.