Gardening 101

Where do I Begin? Decisions, decisions!             

Before you begin a garden, ask yourself these questions:

1.) How much time will I realistically be able to devote to my garden?

2.) How large an area do I have for a garden?

3.) What do I want to plant: Vegetables, Flowers, Trees or Shrubs?

4.) Do I have lots of sun or shade?

5.) What kind of soil do I have?

6.) Where do I live? This will help you determine what will grow for you and when to plant it.

7.) Will I grow from seed or plants?

*Burpee Tip! "If you are new to gardening, start small, learn what works for you, and always try something new every year. "

How Much Time Will it Take?

How much time you spend in your garden depends on what you want to grow and how large an area you want to cultivate. Gardening is a season driven activity. The seasons requiring the most work are spring and fall, with summer generally a time of maintenance and harvest, and winter a time to dream and plan, and start your seeds indoors.

•Watering, fertilizing and general tidying the garden may only take an hour every week or two.

•Annuals will need to be planted every year, which may be done all at once in spring. They are generally very easy to maintain, requiring only deadheading for flowers, and pruning or staking and harvesting for vegetables.

•Perennials do not need to be planted every year, but they may require more care during the season, such as staking, dividing and being prepared for winter in fall.

•Trees and shrubs generally require little care after they are established. They may require watering, fertilizing and pruning. Some fruit crops, such as grapes or raspberries, may require annual pruning on a larger scale.

Start small, see how much time it takes for you to maintain the garden to your standards, and grow from there!

 What Type of Garden Do You Want?     

•A vegetable garden requires full sun and plenty of water. You can often grow three seasons of crops, changing cool season spring crops for warm season summer ones then back to cool in fall. You may need to fence in the garden if you have animals.

•A flower garden can be grown in sun or shade, depending on the plants you choose. This type of garden will make use of your creative design skills. Consider the color, shape and texture of the flowers and foliage, and the height of the plants. Create pleasing combinations, and plant tall plants behind shorter ones (or tall ones in the middle of an island bed with shorter ones around the edges). Don’t be afraid to put flowers in your vegetable garden.

•Trees are a long term investment and you should always plan for their mature sizes when choosing a location. They add structure to the garden and can define its boundaries. They work well in combination with flowering plants and shrubs, as long as they have plenty of room for their roots to grow. •Shrubs are wonderfully versatile long-lived woody plants that can form the backbone of a flower garden. They generally do not bloom for long so their foliage must be considered when you choose a location for them as you will see the foliage for much of the season.

 •No space, no worries! Container gardening allows you to grow veggies, fruit and flowers right on your porch, patio or deck.  For more about container gardening click here.

Choose a site for Your Garden

Decide where you will put your garden. Look at your property and consider the following:

•Are there tree roots to deal with? Avoid planting close to tree roots because these will compete with your garden for water and nutrients, and the tree roots can be damaged when you work the soil for your garden. Do not add soil on top of tree roots, this can smother the roots and kill the tree. If you have trees, try to plant outside the area shaded by the tree.

•What is the access to the garden? Choose a site that is not so far away that you will avoid going to it. If possible choose a site visible from the house. This will allow you to see anything that may require your attention as soon as possible, such as wilting plants. It will also allow you to enjoy the garden from inside your home or porch or deck.

•Is it near a water source? It is important to be able to water your garden when it needs it. Make sure your garden hose can reach the area or you can easily bring watering cans from a water source to the garden.

•Think of the four seasons before choosing a prominent location: what will it look like in winter?

•Where will you see the garden? What do you see from prominent windows in your home?

•Be sure to choose a location that has the right conditions needed for the type of plants you want to grow.

Plan your garden in advance: it will pay off!

Measure your area, draw a map to scale, and start to dream! Our Gardening Basics Tab includes general information to get you started, and explains basic garden terminology. More specific product information on each type of plant is available in our Product Details, Growing Guide and Garden Solutions Tabs.

The Power of Knowledge

Burpee feels that an educated gardener is a successful gardener, and we will provide you with all the basic tools you need to grow each plant product we sell. Scroll through the sections below, and click on the highlighted links for more information on specific topics to learn more.

What do Plants Need?  Plant Basic Requirements

Like all living things, plants have essential needs that must be met in order for them to grow. The basic needs all plants share are:





•The proper growing temperatures

•Time. Everything needs time to grow.

Each type of plant has its own specific needs within these categories. For example:

•Some plants can tolerate more shade and will burn in the sun, while others require full sun and will be weak in shade.

 •Some prefer very wet soils and will wilt if the soil is too dry, while others need a well drained soil and will rot if the soil is too wet

 •Every plant has a preferred soil pH range and will not grow well if the pH is too high or too low

What You Can and Cannot Control in the Garden

"We can control many of the basic needs of plants in our gardens, but it is important to always remember, we cannot control everything. Environmental factors to consider are:

 •Weather (storms, drought, excessive heat or cold will occur and these factors are beyond our control)

•Insects (both good and bad) are a natural part of the garden

•Birds, rabbits, deer, groundhogs, squirrels and other animals in the garden can pose challenges

•You cannot control the speed at which your plants will mature. All plants need time to grow. We offer help in the Garden Solutions Tab for how to deal with many of these challenges.

What Hardiness Zone Am I and Why Do I Need to Know This?

The Role of Temperature:  Plants can only grow within specific temperature ranges, however we all garden in different climates throughout the country.

•Some plants, such as annuals or house plants, cannot tolerate freezing temperatures and will die if they are exposed to freezing temperatures.

 •Some plants, such as hardy perennials and many types of fruit, have adapted to cold temperatures and may require a dormant period of freezing temperatures. (See also Chill Hours for fruit.) These plants will not thrive in tropical climates.

•Temperatures will also affect the growth rate of plants. Plants tend to grow faster in warmer temperatures, but when temperatures are too warm they can stop growing until temperatures become cooler.

How Can I Find Out My Hardiness Zone?

•All hardy perennial plants (plants that can survive winter) grow within a range of hardiness zones.

•These zones are identified by the USDA and refer to average minimum temperatures in an area. The lower 48 state zones range from 3-10, with 3 as the coldest and 10 as the warmest, and each is ten degrees warmer than the next zone. Click here to enter your zip code on our website to find out your hardiness zone.

•Hardiness zones are NOT provided for annual vegetable or flowers because these plants are not hardy, and do not survive winter.

•When shopping for perennial plants, always make sure your plant is recommended for your hardiness zone.


Choosing Seeds or Plants    

Picking a Plant to Grow:  Some products are available as seed, some are available as plants, and some are available as both. Seed is the youngest and cheapest form of plant available. Many annual flowers and vegetables are easy to grow from seed because the seed grows quickly and is easy to handle. Some varieties take a long time to grow from seed or are challenging to grow from seed, and many gardeners prefer to grow these products from plants. Many perennial and fruit plants are not produced from seed, and therefore only available in plant form. The forms in which we offer our products are included on the Plant Details Tab. If you choose to grow from seed, we offer recommendations for how and when to sow under the Growing Guide Tab for each product.

Starting From Seed

•Some seed may benefit from a special treatment before you sow it in order to aid germination. This may either be chilling the seed for a week or two in the refrigerator, soaking it in water overnight, or nicking the seed coat with a nail file. Recommendations will be provided for seed that benefits from such treatments.

 •Sowing times are recommended for each seed based on average first and last frost dates. You can find out when these dates occur on average on our Growing Calendar.

•Some seed grows best when sown indoors early in order to give it enough time to grow and mature during the gardening season. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, petunias, begonias and impatiens are examples of seed that should be started indoors.

•Some seed grows best when sown directly in the garden. Examples include carrots, radishes, cucumbers, beans, peas and sunflowers.

•Specific sowing instructions are provided for each seed product we offer on the seed packet, as well as under the Product Details and Growing Guide Tabs for the product. In addition, we have a number of articles and videos on seed starting on our website. For complete directions on how to sow seeds indoors click here. For directions on how to direct sow click here.

Is it an "Annual" or "Perennial", and Why Do I Need to Know This? Basic Terminology:

Plants are defined by their life cycle: annual, biennial and perennial, and whether they are hardy or tender. Hardy refers to plants that can tolerate freezing conditions. Tender indicates that a plant cannot tolerate freezing temperatures. Some tender plants may be perennial plants in tropical climates, but gardeners grow them as annuals in the north, or bring them inside as houseplants for the winter.

Annual plants grow, flower, make fruit and set seed in one year. Annual flowers usually have a long flowering period all season. Most vegetables are annual plants.

Biennial plants grow, bloom and set seed in two years. The first year they produce structural growth: roots, stems and leaves. The second year they produce flowers, seed and then they die. This is a small group of plants.

Perennial plants live more than two years. The first year from seed they produce structural growth, the second year they flower, and they may live for many years after that. We sell perennial plants that are already one year old so they are mature enough to bloom the year you plant them. If you grow perennials from seed they generally take one year to bloom.  Herbaceous plants have all soft tissue above ground. Herbaceous perennial plants die to the ground when frost kills the leaves and stems in fall, but the roots survive the winter. The plants reemerge in spring from the hardy roots. All annuals are herbaceous. Woody perennial plants do not die to the ground in winter, they may lose their leaves in fall, or they may be evergreen. They maintain a woody stem and branch structure all year and new growth comes from this structure every year. All woody plants are perennial.

In general perennial plants bloom for a short four to six weeks a year, while many annuals bloom all summer long. Many perennials require a period of dormancy in winter and do not thrive in frost free locations. Always refer to the hardiness zones on our Product Details Tab to make sure they are suitable for your zone.

Soil Requirements:

The Role of Soil in Your Garden  Soil is the starting point of every garden. The soil is where a plant's roots live. The roots anchor the plant, and take up the water and nutrients from the soil that the plant needs to survive. The roots must have room to grow, so soil must be somewhat loose and workable or the roots cannot become established. Most garden plants require a rich soil, high in organic matter such as compost, that drains well yet also retains moisture. You can purchase compost locally at a garden retailer or nursery, or you can make your own compost. Click here for our composting products. Soil preferences are provided for each plant product we sell in our Plant Details Tab.

What Type of Soil Do You Have? Soil is defined as either sand, loam or clay, depending on the size of the soil particle.

How can you tell what kind of soil you have? Pick up a handful of moist soil and rub it between the palms of your hand. If it is clay it will be a sticky ball, if it is loam it crumbles easily but does not run through your fingers, and if it runs through your fingers quickly, it is sand.

•The smallest particle is clay soil. In general water does not drain well in clay soils, but these soils retain nutrients. Roots may have difficulty penetrating clay soils. Clay is not recommended for most vegetable crops, especially root crops such as carrots or onions.

•The largest particles are in sandy soils. Sandy soils drain more quickly but also lose nutrients quickly. Sandy soil is not recommended for ferns, cannas, Elephant’s Ear or astilbe, which all prefer a wet location.

•Loam is a happy medium, with a balance of small, medium sized and larger particles. Loam is the best type of soil for most garden plants.

How to Improve Your Soil

Every year your garden can benefit from the addition of well composted (decomposed) organic matter available from your compost pile or a local garden retailer or nursery. Compost should look like soil, and not have components that have not fully broken down yet such as egg shells. Compost will improve the ability of clay soils, which drain poorly, to drain well, and will improve the ability of sandy soils, which drain quickly, to hold water. Because compost is made up of decomposed plant material, it also releases nutrients into the soil as the decomposing plant parts break down, which decreases the need for you to add extra nutrients as fertilizer. Other ways to improve your soil include adding lime to raise the pH or garden sulphur to lower the pH, and adding nutrients in the form of fertilizer.

Soil pH Basics: The pH of your soil will affect the ability of your plants to take in nutrients. Too high or too low a soil pH will have a direct bearing on whether your plants will grow successfully.

•Soil pH is the measure on a scale of 1-14 of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. 7 is neutral and lower numbers are acidic while higher numbers are alkaline.

•Most garden plants grow well in a slightly acidic soil with a range of 5.5 to 6.8. There are exceptions, such as blueberries, which require a more acidic soil of 4.2-5.2.

•The preferred soil pH is provided for each Burpee plant product under the Plant Details Tab

The Benefits of a Soil Test

Before adding products and nutrients to your soil it is a good idea to have your soil tested.

•You can test it yourself with a soil testing kit.

 •Or you can send a sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service to have it tested. Click here for a link to find your local Cooperative Extension Service branch.

Before you have your soil tested you need to know what you are planning to grow so the test results will tell you what specific nutrients you need to add for these plants.

Water Requirements, Why Do Plants Need Water? All plants need water in order to live.

•Plant roots take in water from the soil and it travels through the stem to the leaves.

 •The green parts of the plant use sunlight to photosynthesize and make food for themselves. They need water to transport nutrients in order to do this.

 •The water in plant cells keep them “turgid”,  full of liquid, and when plants wilt, their cells collapse as they lose water.

•If plants get too much water because the soil drains poorly, they will also wilt. This is because they also need air in the soil and cannot make use of the water if the soil is completely saturated with water.

•Some plants are more tolerant of poorly drained soils, such as water lilies, and some are more tolerant of dry conditions, such as succulent plants. Special preferences will be indicated under the Plant Details Tab.

How Much Water Do My Plants Need?

Most garden plants in the ground need about 1-2 inches of water every week. Use a rain gauge to help you determine how much water you may need to add when rains do not provide enough. You can purchase a rain gauge at a local garden center or hardware store. It will measure the amount of rain you receive so you can see if you need to add water for your plants. Plants in containers need more water than plants in the ground, and the smaller the container, or the bigger the plant, the more they will need. Watch these plants for signs of wilt and you will get a sense of how often they need to be watered.

How and When Should I Water My Garden?

Plants take water up through their roots, and the roots are the part of the plant that needs water the most. When you water your plants, try to avoid getting water on the foliage, as this is one way that diseases are spread among plants.

•Water early in the morning or in the evening, as plants can take water up more efficiently when it is cooler than at the height of the day. Plants lose water through their leaves in hot weather, so they must be watered more often in hotter weather.

•Water deeply, such that the water penetrates at least an inch or two below the soil surface. If only the very top of the soil is watered the roots will stay near the soil surface and plants will not develop strong roots. You can test this by digging your finger into the soil about an inch or two to see if it is dry.

•Plants in containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground and may need to be watered more than once a day during the summer. Water containers until the water comes through the drainage holes. For very large containers you might want to use a moisture meter to determine if you need more water. A drip watering system on a timer can be a great way to ensure that your plants get the water they need.

The Benefits of Mulch to Control Water              

One way you can have some control over how water reaches the roots of your plants is by using a mulch in your garden.

 •Mulch is a covering that is applied on top of the soil that can help keep the soil evenly moist. •Mulch can also help to prevent weed seeds from germinating, which can compete with your plants for water and nutrients in the soil.

•Alternating periods of heavy rain and drought can stress plants and delay growth. Mulches can help modify the effects of water stress as they prevent the soil from drying out in the hot sun, and they also protect the roots from too much water all at once as they slow the absorption rate of water in the soil.

•Mulches can range from plastic to newspaper to organic mulches such as shredded leaves. Click here for our mulch products.

•Organic mulches have the advantage that they enrich the soil as they break down.


Plant Nutrient Requirements: What Are the Key Nutrients Plants Need?

Plants take nutrients from the soil to make food for themselves in the process of photosynthesis.

•“Macro nutrients” are nutrients plants need in larger amounts. •“Secondary nutrients” are needed in less amounts.

•“Micro nutrients” are needed in small amounts, and may even be toxic if present in larger amounts.

The macro nutrients plants require are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).  Nitrogen is needed for green growth. Too much N may cause excessive green growth at the expense of flowers and fruit. Phosphorus aids in strong root formation. Potassium aids in fruit formation and disease resistance.

•Secondary nutrients include calcium, magnesium and sulphur.  Micronutrients include iron, boron, chlorine, zinc, copper, molybdenum and manganese.

How Can I Supply the Proper Nutrients?

A “complete” fertilizer contains the three macro nutrients, N, P and K, and will have three numbers indicating the percentage in that order. A 10-10-10 fertilizer, for example, contains 10% of each of these nutrients.

•Calcium may be added as lime or epsom salts. Sulphur may be added as garden sulphur. These amendments will also affect soil pH, with lime and epsom salts raising the pH and sulphur lowering it.

•Micro nutrients may be included in some fertilizers but should be added with care when you know there is a need. A soil test will help you determine how much to add. A slow release fertilizer may be applied at the time of planting and as needed throughout the season.

We offer our fertilizer recommendations in the Growing Guide Tab for each of our products.

Sun Requirements: Why Do Plants Need Sun?

•All plants need the sun in order to make food for themselves through the process of photosynthesis.

•The chlorophyll in plants is needed for this process. Chlorophyll is what makes plants green.

If plants do not get enough sun they will stretch to get as much sunlight as they can, they will also become weak and pale in color.

How Much Sun?

All plants have evolved to require different amounts of sunlight depending on where they have grown in nature. Burpee provides a scale that tells you how much sun a plant needs:

•Full sun: at least six hours per day.

•Part sun or part shade: two to four hours of sun per day.

•Shade: less than two hours of sun per day.

Sun requirements are provided for all Burpee plant products in the Plant Details Tab. When shopping for plants, always make sure the plant you choose will have the recommended amount of sun in the location where you plan to plant it.

Growing Flowers: Why Grow Flowers?

•Flowers add beauty to the garden, and they offer other priceless benefits as well.

•Flowers attract birds and important pollinating insects into your fruit or vegetable garden to increase your harvest.

•Flowers add fragrance, and a variety of colors, forms and textures to the garden. They give you great scope to develop your artistic design skills.

•Bring the outside indoors: almost all flowers may be enjoyed as cut flowers in your home.

How to Care for Flowers: Different flowers have different requirements.

•Some flowers may need to be supported, such as morning glory vines.

•Some tall flowers may need to be staked to keep them from falling over in the wind, such as asters.

•Deadheading is a gardening activity that applies to many kinds of flowers. Deadheading is the act of removing the faded flowers from the plant before they have a chance to set seed. This will keep them blooming longer in the garden. Deadheading also keeps the flower garden looking more tidy. Do not deadhead if you would like the flowers to drop their seed, or self sow, for next year, or if you would like to harvest the seed to save for next year.

•Cut annual flowers and herbaceous perennials to the ground in the fall to help prevent pests and diseases from overwintering in the plant tissue.

•Herbaceous perennials may require extra protection in winter. These should be mulched with branches, such as Christmas tree branches, after the ground freezes to prevent alternating freezing at night and thawing during the day, which can be damaging to plant roots, or even force them out of the ground.

•When herbaceous perennials are several years old they may benefit from division. Division is a way to make several plants out of what was originally one. Instructions how to do this is included under the Growing Guide Tab for each perennial product.

Growing Food: Growing Your Own Food is One of the Most Rewarding Benefits of Gardening!               

•There is a wealth of varieties available for each vegetable and fruit you grow compared to what you normally find at the grocery store or farm stand.

•Growing your own food gives you control over how your food is grown and processed. The varieties you grow are selected for their flavor, not for their shelf life.

•Nothing tastes as good as produce ripened and harvested right from your own garden. Growing your own food gives a whole new meaning to the word “fresh”!

•Gardening itself is a healthy activity, and you and your family will eat healthier when you grow your own food. •Growing your own food saves money. Even a small garden can literally save you thousands of dollars every year.

Fruit and Pollination:

Fruit is the way a plant distributes its seed. In many cases, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and apples, it is also the part of a plant that we eat. For a plant to produce fruit, it must first produce flowers, and the flowers must be pollinated. Pollination happens when the pollen, or male part of a flower, is transferred to the female part of the flower. Pollination may occur by the wind, as for sweet corn, or by insects such as bees or butterflies, as for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Some plants are self pollinating, and need only one plant to produce fruit, such as raspberries. Some plants require cross pollination and will produce fruit only with another compatible variety nearby, such as honeyberries. Some plants are female, and require a male plant to provide the pollen, such as kiwi. Pollination requirements are included for all our products that produce fruit under the Plant Details Tab.

Chill Hours

Some fruiting plants require a certain number of "chill hours" in order to produce fruit. Chill hours refer to the number of cold hours under 45 degrees F that a fruit variety requires annually in order to produce fruit. Many hardy fruit plants will not produce fruit in areas without a cold period. Always check the zones recommended for your variety.

What and How to Harvest: Harvesting is collecting the plant part you wish to use at the time when it is ripe. Plant parts that we generally harvest are:

•Roots, for example carrots, radishes and beets

•Stems, for example celery

•Leaf buds, for example asparagus

•Leaf stalks, for example rhubarb

•Leaves, for example lettuce

•Flower buds, for example broccoli or cauliflower

 •Fruit, for example tomatoes and cucumbers

•Seeds, for example corn or peas

The Plant Detail Tab for each plant product contains harvesting information.

Gardening in Containers 101: Why Garden in Containers?

•Gardening in containers expands the range of what you can grow in your garden and where you can grow it.

•Container gardening allows gardeners with small properties to have a garden. •Container gardening can help you overcome poor soil conditions, and eliminate the need to rotate crops in the garden to prevent soil borne diseases.

 •Gardening in containers allows you to garden on your porch, patio or deck or other hard surfaces, making them more attractive and useful. Hanging baskets and window boxes lift the garden into the air, allowing you to garden in otherwise unused spaces. You can even garden vertically on a wall by attaching containers to it.

 •No matter how much space you have, there is always a place for containers in your landscape!

Special Care for Container Plants:

•Containers are more confined spaces for plants, and therefore require more frequent feeding and watering than plants grown directly in the ground.

•Containers require more winter protection if you are growing hardy plants. We recommend adding one zone colder to your zone if you plan to grow perennials in containers. For example, if you live in zone 6, choose plants that can grow in zone 5 if you will be growing them in containers.

•You should only use a potting mix designed for growing in containers, not garden soil. Change the soil every year if you are growing annuals to avoid disease problems.

What Should I Grow in Containers?

Many vegetables, flowers and shrubs may be grown in containers. Products that are especially suitable for containers have this included the product description and plant details.

•Annual flowers and vegetables may be grown in containers.

•Small shrubs may be grow in larger containers, such as dwarf varieties of hydrangea, weigela and blueberry.

 •Smaller vines may be grown in containers, such as clematis or cardinal vine.

 •Herbs are always great for containers!

Always make sure the container is large enough for the variety you choose. Larger plants in too small containers may not bloom or produce fruit well because they cannot get the water and nutrients they need. Check the Product Details Tab for container recommendations.