Jim's Tips for Being a Successful Gardener
We recently sat down (well, okay, it was via Zoom) with ETGB’s owner Jim Threadgill, to talk about bulbs and gardening. Jim started casually talking about how to be a successful gardener, and we thought, “Hold on! This will make a great blog post!” So we told Jim to just keep talking, and we’d take notes.
Whether you’ve been gardening for a long time or are just in the early stages of learning, be assured that gardening is one of those lifelong skills where you can always pick up a new tip, figure out a problem using a different solution, and learn how to do something better. There’s never an “end point” in gardening—you continually learn from watching other people (grandparents, parents, neighbors), reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts and presentations, and watching YouTube videos. So here are Jim’s tips for how to be the most successful gardener you can be—we hope you learn something new or are reminded of something you’ve forgotten!
Right plant, right spot. When you choose the right plant for your location and put it in the right spot in your garden, that’s half of the formula for success right there. But try to grow hydrangeas in the desert, or agaves in the extreme cold? You’re gonna have problems, friend. Know what grows best in your area and go from there.
Know the growing requirements for your plants. Once you have the right plant in the right spot, bone up on what that plant needs in terms of water, fertilizer, soil, pruning, and sunlight. It sounds like a lot of information to keep in your head, but it’s really not—you’ll get the hang of it to where it will be second nature to you. But, if you’re worried about forgetting, keep the plant tag and refer back to it.
Always experiment. Okay, so after you put the right plant in the right spot, and you know what kind of care it needs, you’ll need to be prepared to experiment. Maybe the plant tag said “full sun,” but the sun in your area is very strong, so experiment with a little dappled afternoon shade. Perhaps your soil retains water—simply adjust your watering schedule to meet the needs of the plant or amend your soil accordingly.
Take risks. There’s experimenting, and then there’s risk-taking. (Also known as “pushing the envelope.”) Sometimes you push the envelope in your garden because you’re curious, other times it’s because you’re having a problem you can’t seem to solve, and other times you do it because you’re a rebel and that’s what rebels do. Risk-taking looks like planting a plant that maybe isn’t known to do well in your area but you want to try it anyway, planting something too late in the season, or maybe combining plants that wouldn’t seem to go together in a container. Be prepared for an epic fail, or for your risk to pay off in a big way, and everything in between. Taking risks is how amazing things are discovered.
Don’t worry if you kill a plant. We get it; we don’t like to lose plants, either. But it will happen, and we don’t want you to feel badly when it does. And above all else, please do not tell yourself that you “don’t have a green thumb,” or you “kill everything you touch,” or “nothing grows in my yard.” When a plant dies, try to figure out why—it’ll make you a better gardener. Did it not have the correct amount of water? Did it get shaded out? Did an animal eat it up? Weather get to it? View it as a learning opportunity, and then go buy some more plants!
- Remember to have fun with it! Why else would someone garden if it wasn’t so enjoyable? Sure, there are grunt chores that need to be done when you don’t want to do them, and the inevitable frustrations when things don’t work out as planned, but never lose sight of how fun gardening is. Enjoy the beauty you’ve created, revel in the process, and cherish your partnership with Nature.
- Katie Elzer-Peters