Easy to grow Echinacea, Black Eyed Susan, and Russian Sage.
Whether you’ve just moved to a property with garden space or are simply looking to get into gardening for the first time: fantastic! Gardening is truly one of the most peaceful and rewarding pastimes. It can help beautify the world around you, while also making a positive impact on wildlife — especially pollinators — in your area.
But where to start? This is often the question many beginner gardeners have when first trying to get their hands in the dirt. I remember the first time I moved into an apartment with a garden; it was a little overwhelming. Although I wanted to get out there and make it my own, I didn’t quite know where to begin.
So, for all of you fantastic people getting into gardening for the first time, or those who need a refresher on the basics, we’re here to outline how to choose easy-to-grow plants for your region, what to expect throughout the season, common problems, and much more.
Step One: Find Your Region and Hardiness Zone
This is a big one. Before you start pinning hundreds of gorgeous gardens on Pinterest and formulating your dream garden, it’s important to know your region and hardiness zone.
First thing’s first: What is a hardiness zone?
Hardiness Zones are determined by the US Department of Agricultural and are based on average low temperatures in different regions of the country. This little number/letter combo is the first step to understanding what, and when, to plant in your area.
Once you know your hardiness zone, you can shop for plants with ease knowing what will and won’t thrive in your area. For example, my garden is in zone 4b in Huntington, Vermont, meaning most varieties of Lavender won’t grow in my garden (they need the warmer winters found in at least zone 5), but I can easily grow Echinacea, Peonies and many other perennials. I also know that my average last frost date is May 18. This means if I am going to add tender varieties like bulbs or wildflowers to the garden, I’ll want to wait until at least this date to do so.
Take In Your Surroundings
Once you know your hardiness zone, the next step is to take in your surroundings. Are you gardening in full sun or partial shade? Easy-to-grow varieties like Daylilies and Black Eyed Susan thrive in full sun; Bleeding Hearts and Hostas are perfect for the shade.
Do you have the resources to water frequently or should you be looking for drought-tolerant varieties? Irises love wet soil, varieties like Coreopsis and Sage thrive with little supplemental water.
Easy-to-grow Hosta and Astilbe are perfect for shade gardens.
Do you have a small city garden or plenty of land in the country? Dwarf varieties thrive in containers and small gardens, while shrubs and other plants need room to grow.
These are easy things to take note of before you plant to make sure you get the right varieties for your garden.
How to Choose Easy To Grow Plants
Now, the fun part: choosing your plants! There are a variety of easy-to-grow perennials that are the perfect choice for your first season of planting. As the seasons go on, you can experiment and add plants that may need more care and nurturing to thrive. But in your first season, I recommend adding low-maintenance varieties that are sure to grow in your garden, offering up plenty of color with little work. As we like to say, “Green thumb not required!”
Daylilies are some of the easiest and most rewarding perennials to add to any sunny garden.
Our Favorite Easy To Grow Perennial Plants:
Daylilies Daylilies will grow almost anywhere and multiply each year. We like to say they are the best garden investment.
Echinacea A native perennial, Echinacea (also known as Coneflower) is a pollinator magnet and makes for effortless summer bouquets.
Black Eyed Susan Also known as Rudbeckia, this sun-loving native plant is extremely dependable and adds a splash of cheerful yellow color to any garden bed.
Astilbe This low-maintenance beauty adds fantastic texture to shady spots in the garden. The plume-like flowers look fantastic cut for bouquets and the foliage adds an attractive statement all season long.
Salvia, or Sage This drought-tolerant perennial requires little maintenance and attracts a parade of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to the garden.
Coreopsis Coreopsis is a sun-loving, deer-resistant species that puts out a huge show of flowers in the summer garden. Pollinators can't resist this bold, colorful plant.
These varieties are our go-tos for easy, long-lasting color for years and years. They are also a great base for a new perennial garden, offering up varied and fantastic colors, shapes, and heights for a season-long display of blooms that attract an abundance of pollinators to the garden.
What To Expect In Your First Season
Many gardeners (including yours truly) expect perennials to shoot up in the first season, becoming just like the fabulous photos from the garden tags. But this is not the case; although some perennials will bloom in the first year they're planted, they often need this time to establish themselves in your garden and grow strong roots. As they do this, they may not have the energy to bloom in the first year, or if they do, the blooms may not be as big as you expected.
If you are new to gardening and can’t wait for blooms in the first season, try sprinkling easy-to-grow annual wildflowers in your young garden bed or low maintenance summer-blooming bulbs like Dahlias, Gladiolus or Lilies.
But have no fear. In the second and successive seasons, your perennials will amaze you with fantastic blooms, many spreading each season and getting wider as well as taller. Patience, as you will quickly learn, is one of the keys to becoming a successful gardener. We cannot control the rate at which our plants grow, but that’s ok; we know that with a little time, they will live up to our expectations and most of the time exceed them.
This Bleeding Heart may be all you see in the first season with your perennials. You'll most likely enjoy blooms in the second season.
Common Problems: What To Watch Out For
Now that you’ve chosen your easy-to-grow varieties and know what to expect in the first season, it’s time to talk about common problems in the garden.
Planting at the incorrect depth: This is a big one. Every plant you purchase should come with planting instructions, including which depth to plant it at. I planted some pink Peonies and they came up the second year with gorgeous foliage but no blooms. A co-worker immediately recognized that I had planted them too deep. Oops!
Over/under watering: If your plants aren’t thriving and are looking weak, one of the common culprits could be over or under-watering. An overwatered plant can look wet and wilted, turn yellow and lose its leaves. If your plant is showing signs of distress, or feels soft towards the roots, and your soil is still wet, you may be overwatering. An underwatered plant is slow to grow and the foliage is often dry and brown, with leaves that are curled at the edges. If your soil feels dry, the plant may need water.
Sun-loving Coreopsis and Phlox. These varieties won't thrive in the shade.
Not the right light conditions: We’ve all done it: planted Bleeding Hearts in full sun or Lavender in the shade. If a plant isn’t thriving where it’s planted, look online and double check its sun preferences. It could be that it is receiving too much or too little sun.
Overcrowding: When planting your garden, make sure to look at the mature spacing for each plant. Many times this means you are planting varieties at least 10” away from one another. If you plant varieties too close together, they could fight underneath the surface for room to grow their roots, as well as rot from lack of air circulation through their foliage.
The good news ...
The good news is, plants are moveable! They are also fairly resilient! If you’ve planted varieties too deep or in the wrong conditions, we recommend digging up and moving plants in the early spring or late fall, before they’ve grown for the season or after their foliage has turned brown. Trial and error is one of the most fun challenges about gardening.
There are so many gardening gadgets on the market now, many of which you definitely don’t need. But as a new gardener, there are a few tools that will make your life much easier.
Two of my favorite go-to tools (not including the tiny birdhouse): gloves and a spade.
Helpful Tools To Have:
- Gloves. Unless you like to get your hands dirty (which, bravo to you), these are a must!
- Pruners/Loppers. A good pair of pruners or loppers is essential for cutting back old growth and spent foliage in the fall or early spring.
- A digging shovel. A pointed metal shovel with a long, sturdy handle is perfect for digging holes without breaking your back.
- A spade. A short-handled, pointed metal shovel is great for precision work and planting in the garden up close.
- A rake. You need something to clean out those garden beds!
- A watering can or spray nozzle for your hose.
- A wheelbarrow. This is a must for larger properties. In my small city garden, I used a 5-gallon bucket from my local hardware store to move compost, dirt, and more.
I remember how much fun my first year of gardening on my own was. And that’s what it is all about, right? It doesn’t really matter if your peonies bloom or they don’t, at the end of the day the joy of gardening is getting outside, putting on your favorite music (or enjoying peaceful silence) and getting to play in the dirt. And once you start gardening, most likely you won’t be able to stop. It’s a lifelong pastime that will follow you from apartment to home to wherever else you may land.
So now that you have the basics down, get to work! Whether you’re growing a small container herb garden on your balcony or are slowly transforming your yard into pollinator-friendly gardens, the first step is to get your shovel in the dirt. The rest will be a lot of fun, sometimes challenging, but overall completely rewarding.