Ultimate Gardening Tips to be the Best Plant Parent

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Whether you're a new to planting or a veteran gardener with a green thumb, check out these essential gardening tips to grow happier, more beautiful plants.

Portrait of a young woman gardener with apron and watering can in the gardenRossHelen/Getty Images

Taking care of plants in a garden is kind of like raising kids. You’ve got to feed them, keep them safe and give them plenty of room to grow! Here are the most important responsibilities every plant owner needs to be aware of, along with gardening tips on how to correctly accomplish them, whether you’re a proud new plant parent or a seasoned pro. Before you get started, stock up on gardening supplies—check out everything you need for any type of garden.

Gardening Tips: Watering

While watering is important (and fun—who doesn’t love spraying the garden hose?), be careful not to overdo it. Believe it or not, overwatering is just as much of a problem as underwatering. Some plants in pots need daily drinks, while others in the garden prefer their soil to dry out completely before another shower.

Look to the leaves for cues. If they are yellow or brown and drooping even though the soil is wet, that’s a sign that they’re probably getting too much moisture.

It’s better to water deeply than frequently. Sprinkle water at the plant’s base, directing the moisture down to the roots where it does the most good. Follow these top tips for watering container gardens.

Gardening Tips: Fertilizing

Just like humans, plants can’t live on sun alone. Rich topsoil with lots of compost will provide a lot of what your hungry little green friends need, but occasionally you’ll want to give them an extra boost. Plants need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and most will thrive on a general fertilizer. But, as with water, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Overfertilizing contaminates groundwater and harms plants, so follow the directions and feed only when it’s really needed.

Psst—here’s the best potting soil for every kind of plant.

Mother and son gardening togetherFatCamera/Getty Images

Gardening Tips: Weeding

Experienced gardeners will tell you that it’s easy to identify weeds: They’re the ones that grow twice as fast and three times as big as the plants that are supposed to be thriving in the same place! Weeding is one of those garden chores you’ve simply got to face.

Weeds aren’t only unsightly; they’re also greedy. They take nutrients and water from the soil that your precious plants desperately need. Grab invaders at the base and do your best to pull them out, root and all. Otherwise, the weeds will be back before you even have a chance to clean the dirt from under your fingernails.

Next, check out the best natural way to kill weeds.

Gardening Tips: Mulching

Think of mulch like a babysitter that is helping protect your plants when you’re not there. Mulch helps soil retain moisture and suppress weeds. It also keeps roots cool during hot summer days and keeps them warm when the temps drop.

Mulch comes in lots of different types, including shredded wood, evergreen needles and straw. Bigger nuggets take longer to break down, meaning they’ll last longer. Whichever you choose, add a fresh layer of 1 to 3 inches each spring (a 4-inch layer of mulch is best for preventing weeds), and pull it back slightly to keep it from touching plant stems and tree trunks.

We asked a garden expert: Is it OK to use rubber mulch?

Gardening Tips: Pruning

The best plant parents know these leafy kids need some discipline. Pruning keeps shrubs and trees in check, helping them grow full and healthy.

Timing is key. Many shrubs set their flower buds weeks or months before bloom, so if you prune at the wrong time, you lose all those beauties. Prune spring flowering shrubs like lilacs after they finish blooming and summer bloomers in late winter or early spring. Use loppers with sharp blades, making cuts at a 45-degree angle, above an outward-facing bud or fork.

Learn when to prune hydrangeas for big, showy blooms.

Gardening Tips: Deadheading and Pinching

Flowering plants put all their energy into first producing blooms, then turning those into seeds. After all, that’s how plants make more plants! (Psst—here’s how to divide perennials). If you want to encourage more blooms instead of seeds on reflowering plants, pinch or snip off dead flower heads.

For a fuller, bushier appearance, pinch off new growth just above a leaf node or bud. This gardening tip actually encourages the plant to grow two new stems where there once was only one.

Learn about plant propagation: How to multiply your plants for free.

Gardening Tips: Controlling Pests

Nothing’s more annoying to a gardener than finding holes chewed in leaves or aphids sucking the life out of buds. Resist the urge to go straight to pesticides, though, since these can harm pollinators and other beneficial bugs.

Start by removing the pests by hand or with a strong blast from the hose. If they return, identify the pest and select the most eco-friendly option to remove them, such as an insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (be careful to follow label instructions).

Remember: Treat pests as they appear rather than spraying wholesale for problems you may not even have.

Learn how to get rid of indoor plant bugs.

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find he reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.