Grasses for small gardens

Gardening for beginners: how to care for your garden

We take you through the essentials of maintaining a new or inherited garden.

There’s a lot more to gardening than planting plants. As a gardener, you need to care for your plants once they’re in the soil, making sure they’re well watered and fed, given adequate support and are not growing in competition with other plants or weeds. Caring for you garden as a whole involves caring for plants individually – what works for one will not necessarily work for another.

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Learn how best to care for your garden, below.


Watering

Watering container planted with Verbena rigida and Sedum Carl and Lavandula angustifolia
Watering container planted with Verbena rigida and sedum ‘Carl’ and Lavandula angustifolia

Watering plants is one of the most important ways to care for your garden. Plants lose moisture from their leaves through a process known as transpiration, so it’s important to ensure there’s enough in the soil for them to reabsorb through their roots. However, in warm weather, moisture evaporates from the soil as well. You’ll therefore need to water the soil more often on hot summer days than in cool spring or autumn conditions, and in sunny areas more than shady ones.

Seedlings and young plants need watering more regularly than older, established plants, as they have smaller roots systems, so absorb less moisture. Planting and transplanting plants damages the tiny hairs on their roots, which are used to absorb water, so for the first few days after planting you’ll need to give these more water, too. Plants grown in containers have restricted roots and less soil to absorb moisture from. So these also need extra watering than established plants growing in your border. You will also notice that plants growing in a sunny border will require more watering than those growing in shade.

In hot weather, it’s best to water in the evening so it has time to soak in and the plants have time to ‘drink’ overnight, before it gets hot again the next day. In cold or dull weather, it’s a good idea to water in the morning so plants have a chance to dry out before night time. Try to avoid splashing water on to leaves in hot weather, as this can cause them to scorch.

For more advice on watering, visit our watering your plants pages.


Did you know?

Well-watered plants produce more nectar in their flowers, so watering your plants regularly is better for bees and other pollinators, especially in hot weather as plants growing in the wild will also be producing less nectar.

Bumblebee cutout. Photo: Getty Images.

Feeding plants

Gardener making a liquid feed for plants
Gardener making a liquid feed for plants

As well as water, plants absorb nutrients and minerals through their roots. These include nitrogen (N), which aids leafy growth, phosphorus (P), which encourages root development and potassium (K), which encourages flower and fruit development. These are considered the main nutrients required to keep plants healthy. In the wild, leaf litter and other decomposing plant material release nutrients back into the soil, but in our gardens they’re gathered up onto the compost heap or the green bin, or are burned. As this process gradually depletes the soil’s nutrients, it’s important to replace them by feeding the soil or plants, to help our plants grow.

You can use organic or non-organic fertilisers to feed your plants. Organic fertilisers consist of plant- or animal-based materials, which have the additional benefit of encouraging earthworm activity and soil bacteria, which keeps it and the plants healthy. These include nettle or comfrey feeds, and well-rotted manure. Inorganic fertilisers are made from synthetic chemicals.

For more on feeding your plants, including information on types of liquid feed, manure, compost, slow-release fertilisers and green manures, visit our feeding plants pages.


Pruning your plants

Gardener pruning roses
Gardener pruning roses

While some shrubs and trees will happily grow unchecked, most require cutting back or pruning at some point. Pruning is simply cutting off parts of a plant to restrict its size, encourage it to grow in a certain shape or develop more fruit, flowers or stems, or to remove dead or diseased material.

Many new gardeners are daunted by the prospect of pruning their plants. But pruning isn’t difficult or complicated. Simply removing dead, diseased, broken, crossing and crowded branches is often enough for many plants.

For more on pruning you plants visit our pruning pages.


Deadheading

Gardener deadheading roses
Gardener deadheading roses

Deadheading spent flowers prevents plants from setting seed, which encourages them to produce more flowers. By regularly deadheading bedding plants, herbaceous perennials and roses you can keep them flowering throughout summer and into autumn. Deadheading bulbs also redirects the plant’s energy into flowering the following year, rather than producing seed.

For more on deadheading your plants, visit our deadheading pages.


Clipping and trimming

Gardener trimming hedge with shears
Gardener trimming hedge with shears

New hedges should be pruned regularly for their first couple of years after planting. This is called ‘formative pruning’ and is typically carried out in winter or early spring. Formative pruning usually involves cutting side branches until the desired height of hedge is achieved. Prune new deciduous hedges in winter and new evergreen hedges in spring.

After formative pruning, it’s a good idea to prune your hedge annually, although formal hedges may need pruning twice yearly to keep them looking smart. Wildlife hedges should be pruned every other year, as some butterfly eggs may be removed from plant stems in the pruning process. Carry out this pruning in summer, but do thoroughly check hedges for nesting birds during nesting season (it’s best to wait until September if you can).

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For more on trimming and clipping hedges, visit our trimming pages.