Let me be very clear. I do not garden. I do not grow plants. I do not keep houseplants. I do not deal with the plant world on any level, except to create casual flower arrangements. I don’t have anything against the plant world, I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how plants work, how to tell what they need, or how to know what to plant or when or where.
Thank goodness for friends who are good at gardening.
My friend Cristina is a plant queen. She loves plants, speaks their language, and understands their world. Cristina recently installed some beautiful pots of plants at the entry of Hurley House, and everyone loves them.
Inspired by her work, I sat down with Cristina and peppered her with all my questions (the more basic the better), and she has graciously answered. She gave me the tools I needed to put together my very first pot (pictured above!). If you are a gardening novice, I hope this information will prove helpful to you too!
For clarification, Cristina is going to focus her answers for North Texas, which is where we live.
Q: Literally, where do I begin?
A: If you are completely new to planting, start with a pot. Beds can be overwhelming, but a pot is easy. You can choose a small pot, a big pot, or even a collection of pots and experience success as a beginner.
Q: What kind of container do I buy?
A: Pots come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. What you choose is purely personal preference. There is not much advantage or disadvantage from one pot to another, so choose something you like! The pot you choose needs to have a hole in the bottom for drainage, so double-check for that before you buy it.
Q: Where do I put it?
A: There are a lot of different variables to consider, but at the most basic level, you should choose a spot that is full sun (6+ hours of sunshine daily) or a spot that is in the shade. This will narrow down your options when you choose plants, and when you read the tags on plants, you will know exactly which plants are a good fit for your location.
Q: Where do I shop?
A: There’s not a wrong place to shop for plants. If you have a local nursery in your area, they will always provide more customized customer service and will happily answer your questions, but you might pay a bit more than big box stores. Lowe’s and Home Depot are both well-stocked and provide great options, but you will probably be more on your own when it comes to making selections.
Q: What tools do I need?
A: Technically, you do not need any special tools. You can use your hands just fine. But, if you’d like, a small trowel shovel and a pair of gardening gloves might come in handy.
Q: What do I put in the pot?
A: To begin, place a few river rocks in the bottom of your pot to help with drainage and take up a bit of space. Next, add potting soil (any lightweight variation will work), stopping a few inches below the lip of the pot. Carefully remove your plants from their plastic containers, being very gentle with the roots, and plant them in the soil. You are trying to make the bottom of the stem and leaves line up with the top of the pot. You don’t want your plants sinking down into the pot, but you also don’t want them mounded up above the pot. Aim for an even plane of soil that elevates the base of the plant right above the edge of the pot. Water the soil before moving on. Once the plants are in place and watered, add a bit more soil in a few places, and then water that as well.
Q: How do I keep the plants alive?
A: Water and watch them. Stick your finger down into the soil. If the top two inches are dry, they need to be watered. More than likely, you will water spring plants every other day and summer plants every day. The best time of day to water is early in the cool of the morning, and you never want to water in the full sun. When you water, water the soil, not the plants. While overwatering is possible, it is not likely in Texas. Success in basic gardening is going to look like keeping the plants watered, and then taking notes. There is no guarantee that your plants will thrive given all the variables of temperature and moisture, but you are guaranteed to have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes! Take lots of notes and stay curious about what happens.
Q: What are the names of three plants I should get this spring in North Texas?
A: If you are planting in full sun, I would look for boxwood as a classic anchor. Petunias, Vinka, Purslane, Potato Vine, and Zinnias are all great choices for flowering fillers. If you are planting in the shade, caladium, begonia, impatient, and coleus will do well. If you find something you like, read the tag! There are usually very helpful details about where the plant will do best. Use your best judgement and see what happens.
As a non-gardener, I really appreciate Cristina’s simple, straightforward advice and her honesty about paying attention and learning from my mistakes. I am hopeful that I can keep my potted plants alive, and even if I don’t, I am ready to learn from the process and try again!