18 Steps to Earning a Green Thumb

We get it. Starting a garden can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Everyone begins as a novice gardener—but with time comes experience. We love fusing your labor and passion with ours. So, let’s push your fears and anxieties aside and dig in with our 18 ways to successfully grow fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers!

  1. First things first, get to know your USDA Hardiness Zone. This horticultural zone map helps us know what plants we can grow successfully in our environment. For example, plants that grow well in the tropics will likely not grow well in Illinois. Chicago and its surrounding area fall into zones 5b and/or 6a. The best part about Hinsdale Nurseries is that most of our plant material is grown locally at our Plano, Illinois farm, making our plants uniquely suited to the Midwestern soil

  2. Know when to prune. Pruning enhances the natural shape of plants by evening out areas that have grown faster than others. Pruning should also be used to remove dead or damaged wood or to train plants to the desired shape. We’ve attached easy-to-use guidelines that will help keep your plants healthy and looking their best.

  3. Do not use pig, dog, cat, or any fresh manures! These manures are high in nitrogen, which can cause “burn” to your plants. Not only can these manures introduce pathogens and parasites to your landscape, but the pig, dog, and cat manures may also contain parasites that can infect humans. We recommend messaging us or stopping into the nursery to learn more about safe compost or soils that are safe to use.

  4. Leave space for maturity when planting perennials. Plant labels contain measurements and descriptions of a plant’s fully-grown size so you can best plan where to place it. Your perennial garden may look spacious at first, but remember, it takes around 3 years for your plant to achieve its mature size.

  5. Know your growing season (the time between frosts). On average, your frost-free growing season here in the Chicagoland area starts in late April and ends in late October. This information is key when deciding which plants to plant and which plants you may need to bring inside for the winter.

  6. Remember to deadhead your perennials and annuals. Removing the old flower head tells the plant that it’s time to produce more blooms. This practice also helps plants develop strong leaves and roots. Keep in mind that some plants, like ornamental fruits and pods, should not be deadheaded.

  7. Pay attention to how much light each area receives throughout the day when designing your garden. This information is extremely helpful when deciding where to plant your veggies and flowers that need full sunlight, partial sunlight, and full shade. Our plant finder is a great resource for finding plants that fit your specifications.

  8. Remove weeds by hand. Sprays and chemicals seem like the easy fix for controlling weeds, but we highly recommend getting down and dirty. Chemicals are not only harmful to pets and wildlife but can easily damage desired plants. The best method of weed removal is by hand to help assure the root of the weed is not disturbed or damaged. Weed early and often and consider adding mulch to your garden for help with weed control.

  9. Divide your hostas. Do it in the spring before leaves develop or in the fall about a month before the soil freezes. Remember, unless you’re looking to increase the number of hostas you have or perhaps restore a current hosta, there’s no need to divide. Check out some of the hostas we carry at the nursery as well as helpful information on the plants by using our plant finder.

  10. Read your plant’s needs list—they vary greatly! For example, some varieties of hydrangea prefer shade (like Climbing Hydrangea), while others, like panicle hydrangeas, need plenty of light to form flower buds. Some examples of panicle hydrangeas are Little Quick Fire, Little Lime, and Vanilla Strawberry.

  11. Leave flower heads from your coneflowers and black-eyed susans to feed the birds. Doing such also provides visual interest during winter.

  12. Plant your bulbs in the fall when the ground is cool, but not frozen. This allows the plants (like tulips, crocus, hyacinth, daffodils, and alliums) to develop strong root systems to keep them anchored and healthy. Let the winter come and go, and before you know it, you’ll see sprouts.

  13. Divide or transplant spring-blooming plants in late summer or early fall. When transplanting or dividing, water the night before. For basic information on perennials, you can visit this resource.

  14. Make space. After buying your favorite perennials from the nursery, you may be wondering how to transplant them into your landscape. We recommend that you start by digging a hole twice as large as the soil ball of the plant. Place the plant in the hole and use the same soil you dug out to refill the hole.

  15. Chop up your fall leaves and use them as compost can help your garden during cold winter months. Laying leaves on your garden after a few freezes can help nourish your perennial plants. Come spring, simply remove the remnants of the leaves.

  16. Avoid planting in wet soil. Ideally, your planting soil should be crumbly to touch. Once the plants are in, then they are ready to be watered.

  17. Pay attention to what areas of your plot dry out quickly or remain moisture. That will be a great starting point when deciding where your well-drained soil plants should be planted.

  18. Attract more beauty! Pollinators like butterflies love coneflowers, sedum, phlox, and butterfly bushes. You can learn more about these plants, varieties, and others on our website’s plant finder.
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