Rusted and old gardening tools.

How to Get Ready to Plant

Having assessed your site and soil conditions, you are now equipped with the information you need to buy the best plants for your garden. Browse through the rest of the book for ideas and plans, and make a list of your favorites.

Make your choices

When buying plants at a garden center or nursery, take the list of those you want with you, and try to stick to it. Remember, perennials look best planted in groups of three or more, while shrubs will need space to grow.

Choose carefully

If some of the plants you have chosen are not available at your local garden center, it is tempting to select a similar plant, but take care to check the labels for heights, spreads, and growing conditions first (left). Different species of the same type of plant may grow to very different proportions from the one on your list.

Buyer beware

Before buying a plant, give it a quick check to make sure you take home a healthy one. First look at the leaves and stems for signs of pests and diseases, and reject any plant with wilted foliage. Large weeds growing in the pot are also a sign of neglect.

Then, turn over the pot. If there is a mass of roots growing through the drainage holes, the plant has been in its pot too long—a condition known as “root bound.” Finally, look for plants with lots of leafy stems and fat flower buds.

Storing plants

It is best to plant your purchases within a day or two of bringing them home, but if this is not possible, store them carefully and they should continue to flourish until you have time to plant them, or the weather improves.

Temporary homes

Do not plant if the soil is waterlogged or frozen; the roots of young plants will not survive in either of these conditions. Planting in a drought is also not advisable because you will bring cooler, damp soil from beneath the ground up to the surface and lose precious moisture. In either case, store your new plants in a sheltered area in the shade, and water daily until the conditions improve.

Prepare the ground

Taking a few hours to prepare the soil before you plant always pays dividends, and often ends up saving time in the long run. Removing weeds and enriching the soil are essential jobs that are best done in the autumn or early spring.

Remove all weeds

First, dig out all of the weeds from the site by hand, or apply a weed killer to pernicious types, such as bindweed or ground elder. If the weeds are really problematic, consider covering the soil with old carpet for a few seasons. This excludes light and moisture, as well as forming a physical barrier against weed seeds, and should kill off even the most troublesome types.

Dig in deep

If you have taken on a neglected plot, or want to improve all the soil in your garden, try “single digging.” This involves digging a trench across your plot, one spade wide and deep. Move the excavated soil to the far end of the plot and add manure to the base of the trench. Dig a second trench next to the first, filling the first with the excavated soil. Then add manure to the second trench. Repeat across the plot. This is hard work, but well worth the effort.