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Consumer Focus: Gardening--Getting Your Green Thumb in Shape
Image a man gardening

Gardening--Getting Your Green Thumb in Shape

A warmer than usual winter and the arrival of spring has everyone thinking about gardens. But before you grab your wallet and make that trip to the nursery, the Federal Citizen Information Center has compiled these tips to get you started.

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Image of a spade digging in soil next to a flower

Digging In

  • Do you know what climate zone you live in? Your zone determines what plants will thrive in your area.
  • You may also want to test your soil to be sure it has the nutrients plants need. Your County's Extension Office can help.
  • Be sure you follow the planting directions on the bulb or seed package. Starting plants from seeds is generally less expensive than buying seedlings from a nursery, but seedlings can save you some time.
  • If you have a short growing season in your area, you may want to "start" your plant seeds indoors. Then you can use your own seedlings instead of buying them.
  • Insects are generally unwanted guests in a garden, but some are beneficial. There are even things you can do to attract beneficial insects. But if you have to use a pesticide, be sure to store it safely.


Image of a shovel, rake and watering can

Tools of the Trade

The correct tools will save you time, prevent injury, and make gardening a lot easier. Invest in:

  • A garden hose - For watering, get a hose head that is adjustable. You'll need to water young, delicate plants lightly.
  • A trowel - for digging around in small spaces.
  • A large shovel - for moving lots of soil or mulch.
  • A rake - you may want to get a fan shaped one for large jobs and a straight rake for smaller jobs.
  • Pruners - for when household scissors "won't cut it."
  • A wheelbarrow - for moving bags of soil and mulch.
  • A lawnmower.

Now that you're back from the nursery, here's what to do with your seeds, plants, and tools.


Image of three tulips

Flowers, Vegetables and Herbs

  • There are basically two types of flowers: annuals and perennials.
  • You can grow flowers from seeds, seedlings, or bulbs.
  • Roses require a lot of care and come in many varieties.

Try to locate your vegetable garden near your kitchen window. You will tend to take more advantage of your harvest, as well as notice what needs to be tended to.


Herbs can be a fragrant and attractive addition to your garden.

  • Like some flowers, herbs can attract beneficial insects.
  • Try growing and drying your own fresh herbs for use in cooking. They add beauty and color to your table and can also be used in crafts and potpourri.


Image of a man planting a tree


Landscaping and mature trees can add to the beauty and resale value of your home. They also help the environment and your pocketbook by saving energy.

  • Low growing shrubs like junipers can be an excellent ground cover and a good alternative to grass or mulch.
  • Most shrubs are drought resistant, making them a landscaping "best bet" if you live in a dry climate. But this does not mean they are unattractive. Lavender, for example, has fragrant blue flowers.
  • Be sure that you are not blocking any views when planting trees. That bare spot may look like the perfect place, but before you plant, see how the tree looks from all the windows in your house. Consider also how it will look to your neighbors, as well as how it will look at full height.
  • Flowering trees are beautiful, but they are also fast - growing. Prune them often and well to help them keep their shape.
  • Trees not only provide privacy, but they can also help keep your house cooler by blocking sun in the summer. And when those same trees lose their leaves in winter, they let the sun's warmth in.
  • Don't plant trees too close to your house - they won't have room to grow. If you plant trees too close to a sidewalk or patio, the roots may buckle the surface.
  • If you "shade" your central air conditioning unit, it won't have to work as hard. Be sure not to plant anything too close though. You don't want the leaves shed from your tree(s) to limit airflow.
Your Lawn

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Other Resources

This is just a brief overview. For more information on gardening, landscaping, and lawn care, check out these resources on the World Wide Web:

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