Now is the time to start your new gardens or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Garden.

a beautiful rainy day at Longwood Gardens

Now is the time to start your new gardens or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Garden.

Hi all, It’s been a long and cool winter.  Spring has sprung – sort of early and late – and we’re all starting to come out of hibernation.   In fact my chipmunks had made their first appearance last Sunday scurrying around looking for fresh food that I amply supplied them.  We on the other hand are looking at our yards and thinking – uggh, I have to clean up after the long slow winter.  (see the bottom of this post for its time to…)

Before you begin you have to decide what you want to do this year with your gardens and landscapes.  Do I just do a little cleanup and let it do what it may?  Do I plant a couple of new plants?  Do I switch from the chemical fertilizers to natural fertilizers?  (Hopefully you do.) Do I install a wildlife and pollinator friendly garden?  Do I use sustainable green planting practices?  Do I need to replace some plants/shrubs/trees?  Do I plan a new planting bed?  Do I need to do a complete overhaul?   And for you new homeowners: Do I plant a new garden landscape around my property?   If you do want to plant new beds: Do I want an environmentally friendly garden?  Do I want to add a pond or water feature this year?  Do I want to attract butterflies?  Do I want to attract birds?  – My property is designated as a certified wildlife habitat garden.  I bring in about 33 different birds throughout the year plus the migratory birds from Red-Bellied Woodpeckers to American Goldfinches that I feed year round.  Click here for a list of the birds that I attract in my garden.

All of these questions need to be addressed plus many more if you decide that now is the time.

I would start with the basics and decide if now is the time and then figure out what you want to accomplish now and over time.  Then decide if you have enough time to devote to your project if you want to go it alone.  There is a lot of information that you need about plant communities and putting in the right plant in the right place – this is where many of the problems start, wrong plant, wrong place.  I would then decide if you want to do this yourself or bring in a professional on just a portion of, or on the entire project.

One very important item is to figure out a budget for your project.  It is far better to come up with a plan that you want to accomplish over time, such as a master plan, and then install is over a period of time/years using persons that really know what they are doing than to hire an all in one contractor/landscaper that gives you the lowest and cheapest price.  You get what you pay for.

As a trained and certified landscape designer and ornamental horticulturist I would highly recommend using mostly pollinator attracting perennial plants that are native to North America in general and then use a smaller portion of beneficial plants that originally come from foreign lands to extend the season.   I have found that I need to use the non-native beneficial plants to extend the blooming season  after the natives have died off for the pollinators that are staying out later in the year, November/December, due to the warmer temperatures that we are having.  I sometimes use a couple or three annuals that perform specific functions.

Annuals are the ultimate in unsustainable planting practices.  Generally speaking, they have to be regrown every year from seed/cuttings/tissue culture by the grower in distant places using a lot of energy.  They then have to be shipped to the store using a lot of fuel.  You then have to drive to the store and then back and then you have to plant them again each and every year, sometimes seasonally, costing you time, money, and energy.  This is an unsustainable planting practice.  I highly recommend using perennials.  They are grown, shipped, bought, and planted once and can last for many years – Sustainable and cost effective.  However I do use the occasional annual plant to fill very specific needs that can only be achieved with that particular annual.  Better yet, grow your own plants form seeds, but that takes time and space to grow them.

One of my favorite sayings is “Friends don’t let friends buy annuals.”

Typically if you want to landscape your entire property the recommend practice is to budget approximately 15% – 20% of the value of the property into the garden and landscape.  This might sound like a lot of money but if you think about it you spend a lot of money in building, rehabbing, upgrading, etc on the home itself.  The surrounding land that you have is an extension of the home, office, institution, etc and can be used as such and is just as important.  Imagine a garden “room” in which you can sit with family and friends and enjoy a meal cooked at your outdoor kitchen and then sitting by the pond watching the dragonflies darting across the waters as your koi jump out trying for a meal.   I digress, but you get the point.  The landscape is an extension of the home in which you can have “rooms” to lounge around in front of the firepit on a cool summer night watching the shooting stars or… there I go again.

A new home on a barren lot just doesn’t look good and devalues the property.  Or even an established home with a badly done or unsustainable garden and landscape can take away from the beauty of our homes and sanctuaries.  This also includes having just a few evergreen shrubs planted around your homes foundation.  However a well-done landscape increases property value and gives you a sanctuary in your yard to relax in and enjoy throughout the years.

I’m planning on doing a series of landscape design issues over the coming weeks and months to help you get through the “ordeal” of proper planting and landscaping.  If you should have any questions or topics that you would like to have addressed please feel free to comment or send me an email and if appropriate I will address in an upcoming post.

Now is the time to:

  • Now is the time to do the yard cleanup before any more of the plants shoot up out of the ground too much.
  • Make all of your pruning on plants that bloom on new growth.  If you see flower buds do not cut – wait until after blooming.  This means that they set their buds on last years growth.
  • Cut down all ornamental grasses, just not the carex’s that are evergreen.  I do not cut down the Black Mondo Grass – Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ – ever – I only pull out the browned blades one at a time if there are any at all that died over the winter.
  • Make up your plans for the upcoming planting season.
  • Look into using leaf compost for adding to your planting beds.  Many towns, including Collingswood, now have the compost available to the townsfolk if they collect the leaves in the fall.  Check with your town hall.
  • Order summer flowering/growing bulbs now online before all of the good or unusual ones are gone.


I’m Stephen Coan, of Stephen Coan, LLC, an ecological landscape designer and ornamental horticulturist.

I create beautiful and ecologically friendly landscapes and gardens.

Stephen Coan
Stephen Coan, LLC
Ecological Landscape Design, Horticulture, & Consulting
Gardening Blog