For those of you who have found yourselves in a new place without a clue how to care for your garden, this post is for you.

In my last post, we talked about six things to do before you make any changes to your landscape.  

Today, it’s time for the fun part – putting your personal stamp on your garden.

BEFORE: The front of the house had a continuous row of bearded iris, several peony bushes, and a rose.

To illustrate the steps, I will be using my daughter and her new home in Michigan as an example.  

1. Remove any unwanted plants.

For many people, this is the hardest step to take.  Quite a few have a problem with killing plants. 

My daughter didn’t particularly like bearded iris.  So I dug up most of them.
Let me help you with this big step:

– The outside of your home should reflect you and your tastes, as the interior does. 

– We eat plants (vegetables) every day without thinking twice about it.  

– In many cases, you are replacing old plants with new ones that you like much better.

It was a lot of work, but we got it done.
– You can try to give your unwanted plants away to friends, neighbors, or your landscaper may have a use for them.

2. Figure where you want to add new plants and how many you need.

Just because you have removed some plants, doesn’t mean that you need to replace all of them.  Empty space can be used to draw attention to the plants present and create a more streamlined design.

Measure the area where you want new plants to be added so that you don’t inadvertently purchase plants that are too large or small.

3. Decide what types of new plants you want and how many you will need.

If you’ve followed the guidelines that I outlined in Part 1, you will have a good idea of what plants you will want to add along with their requirements.

My daughter and her husband wanted roses, an apple tree, and lavender.

It goes without saying that you should select plants for a certain area, based on what exposure they require.  West and south-facing exposures are considered full sun.  North-facing is shady.  Eastern exposures can be tricky as they have both full sun and shade during parts of the day.  In those cases, choose plants that can take the sun and filtered shade for best results.

4. Take your list and shop for new plants.

After canvassing several local nurseries, we finally found the Mr. Lincoln rose we had been looking for.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is a good idea to form a relationship with your local nursery, who can be a wealth of helpful information.  

Take time to ask questions about specific plants that you are buying – nursery staff will often provide information on how to care for it along with other characteristics.

Sometimes, you just have to do a little impromptu pruning in the parking lot to get your new apple tree to fit into the car.

Although big box stores aren’t the best source for plant advice or whose plant stock is reliable hardy for that specific climate – they can be a good source for plants if you know what you are buying ahead of time and can’t find it anywhere else.

5. Dig holes 3X as wide as the root ball.

The soil in this part of Michigan has a LOT of rocks in it.
The majority of a plant’s roots spread outward into the top 18 inches of soil.  By digging the hole wider than the rootball, you are helping it to become established more quickly.

Get your kids involved – they will have fun while learning about nature at the same time.  (A recycled cardboard box makes a great temporary knee rest or place to sit).

**It’s important to note that the depth of the hole should be slightly shallower (a couple of inches) than the rootball.  Settling can occur after planting, and if plants are too deep, they can suffocate from a lack of oxygen.

6. Install new plants

This is perhaps the most rewarding part of adding your personal style to the garden.  

All you’ve done to this point comes to a head as you place the first plant that you chose yourself in your garden.

There are a few tricks to transplanting new plants successfully.  One of the hardest can be to remove the plant safely from its nursery container without damaging the roots.

For 5-gallon to 15-gallon size plants, a sharp pair of hand pruners, or loppers are invaluable.  Use them to make two cuts from the top to the base, about 1/3 of the circumference of the pot apart. 

Carefully fold down the cut section of the nursery pot and gently slide the plant into its hole.  

Press the soil firmly around the plant and water deeply.

7. Prune and maintain what you already have.

My third oldest daughter, pruning the lower branches of the dappled willow trees.

As we talked about in Part 1, learn about your current plants and what type of maintenance they require from the nursery and cooperative extension office.  They should be able to tell when and how much to prune certain plants.  Don’t know what type of plant you have?  Take a picture with your phone and take it to the nursery, who should be able to identify it for you.

Weed-filled, future vegetable garden

Remove any and all weeds.  

Don’t be afraid to have your family help you.

8. Whenever possible, get your kids involved in the garden.

If possible, give them their own small plot of land where they can grow anything they want.  *This can be a place to add some plants that you ripped out of other areas of the garden.

Provide them with kid-sized gardening tools such as gloves, hand shovel, and a watering can.

Let them pick out plants.  This will give your child a sense of ownership of their new house and garden, which can help decrease any homesickness for their old home.

While weeding the vegetable garden, my youngest daughter, and granddaughter found a tiny frog.

Gardening encourages your child to spend time in an outdoor classroom where they can run and play while discovering new things.

No matter where you live,  I hope that the following tips will help you create a garden the reflects your personality while adding beauty to your outdoor space.

Have you ever moved to a new area with no clue what type of plants you have or how to care for them?  Well, your plight isn’t unusual – people find themselves in this situation often.

Thankfully, there are steps that you can take to learn about your landscape, the plants in it, how to care for them and what types of new plants will do well.  

Believe it or not, it doesn’t matter what region you live in – the steps are the same.

In my last post, I shared about my daughter’s move from Arizona to Michigan.  She and her husband became new homeowners the beginning of this summer and were faced with many questions about their landscape.

I invite you to join them in their garden journey, learning helpful tips finding out about their new landscape, what plants to choose, and how to care for them.  

Even if you live in a completely different climate than Michigan, my hope is that you’ll learn what steps to take when you find yourself in a new place with no clue how to take care of your garden.

1. Take stock of the existing landscape.

We walked around the entire landscape, including the areas up against the house and further out.  The front of their home had a combination of shrubs, perennials, and flowering bulbs while the outer areas had a number of different trees.

Lilac shrubs were in full bloom and peonies were just beginning to open…

 I must admit to being slightly envious since my Arizona garden doesn’t get cold enough in winter to be able to grow these lovely plants.  However, I was fortunate to be there when hers were in bloom.

2. Take pictures of large areas as well as individual plants – particularly those that you don’t recognize.

 While I knew what most of the plants were in my daughter’s landscape, she didn’t and there were a few that even I couldn’t identify (plants from more temperate climates aren’t my specialty).

If you see something that you think is wrong with your plants, take a picture of that too.  I wasn’t sure what was growing on the surface of the maple trees.  (It turns out they are leaf galls, which are fairly common and don’t seriously impact the tree.)

3. Visit a local nursery.

You will find most of your answers at a local plant nursery.  Show the nursery staff pictures of your plants.  They can help you identify what you have and can often tell you how to care for them. 

Often, you will find the same plants at the nursery, where you can check the labels for the names along with instruction on how to care for them.

We found that the shrubs alongside the house are ‘dappled willow’.

During your visit, take pictures of plants that you like along with a clear photo of the plant label.  But, avoid buying anything at this point.

Be sure to show pictures to the nursery professionals of any suspected problems of your plants.  They can often tell you what it is and how to treat it, if needed.

Local nurseries often have free (or inexpensive) guides on a range of gardening subjects.  Be sure to ask if they have any.

**I advise against going to a big box store for advice on plants.  Not all the staff is particularly knowledgeable and you’ll often find plants for sale that aren’t always suited for that climate.  Local nurseries are best.

For example, I found this Texas sage for sale at the local big box store.  The problem is that this shrub can only handle temperatures as cold as 10 degrees F.  In northern Michgan, winter temperatures can get down to -20 degrees.  Unfortunately, this isn’t isolated to just this instance – it happens everywhere.  So, visit local nurseries for the best advice and plant selection.

4. Contact the local cooperative extension office.

If you’ve never heard of cooperative extension services, you are missing out on a valuable resource.  They are an “educational partnership that offers numerous programs implemented by county field faculty and supported by university-based specialists”.  

Master Gardeners work for the cooperative extension office in your area, which is usually divided up by counties.  

They have many resources for homeowners, especially in regards to their landscape, that is specifically tailored for that specific region.  Often, much of the information can be found online and/or you can talk to a master gardener on the phone.  

Here are some helpful questions to ask:

– What USDA planting zone do you live in?

– What type of soil is present in the area?  Acidic or alkaline?  That’s important to know since certain plants do better in one or the other.

– What is the average first and last frost date?  In other words, how long is the growing season?  For my garden in Arizona, the growing season is 10 months long while my daughter’s is only 6 months.

– When is the best time to prune roses, trees and shrubs?

– What are the planting dates for specific vegetables?

– Are there any insect pests that are particularly troublesome?  How do you get rid of them?

For a listing of cooperative extension services, click here

5. Take pictures of local landscapes and plants that you like. 

When you are walking your dog or taking a stroll through the downtown area, grab your phone and take photos of plants that you like.  

If it’s growing and looks healthy, than it will probably grow in your garden.  You can take the photos to your local nursery to help you identify what they are.

6.  Wait 6 months to a year before making dramatic changes to the garden.

A garden undergoes several transformations throughout the year as plants bloom, change colors and fade.  It is helpful to observe the plants, to see what you want to keep and those that you went to remove.  

In addition, this is also a period of time to see how functional the design of your garden is.  If plants are struggling, it may be because they are planted in the wrong exposure, get too wet from storm runoff or don’t have enough room to grow.

Once you have lived with your new landscape for awhile, it’s time to make changes.


I invite you to come back to see the changes that we undertook in my daughter’s landscape.  We took out some plants while adding some new ones.  I’ll also provide some helpful planting tips.

See you next time!