By Jeanne Yeoman, Nebraska Extension Master Gardener
When to Plant – Temperature
It is tempting to start planting when warm weather first arrives but planting too early can be a mistake. Consider the type of plant, the last average frost date, which can be as late as May 31 and the current soil temperature. You can use an inexpensive soil thermometer or check the soil temp at cropwatch.unl.edu/soiltemperature. The soil temperature should be 60 degrees or more for warm-weather plants like tomatoes, peppers, basil and most flowering plants.
Buying Plants – Read the Plant Tag
Plant tags are your key to success when choosing and growing plants. Tags will vary, but all will have the most important growing information for that plant. You will see both the scientific and common names for the plant, and usually a picture. The type of plant, hardiness zone, mature height, width and recommended spacing will be listed, as well as sunlight, water, soil and fertilizer preferences. Growth habit and best uses may also appear, as well as where to find more information about the plant. You can save your plant tags and store them for future reference after planting.
Plant Preferences – Sunlight
Are you considering plants for sun or shade, or something in between? First, before you select plants, it’s important to closely observe the light conditions in your landscape. Plant labels list the sunlight requirements for the plant, but what do those descriptions mean?
- Full sun: at least 6 hours of direct sun daily
- Part sun: between 3 and 6 hours of direct sun
- Part shade: between 3 and 6 hours of sun, but needs protection from mid-day sun Full shade: less than 3 hours of direct sun per day
Plant Preferences – Soil
The key to growing a beautiful landscape is to know what type of soil you have then choosing plants that will do well in it. Some plants thrive in loose, sandy soils, some in compacted clay soils, others in loamy ones. Soil is generally described by the amount of sand, clay, and silt it contains. This is known as texture. Soil texture is directly related to nutrient quality and drainage capabilities. Soil texture can’t be changed, but it can be improved by adding compost and other soil amendments. You can contact your local Nebraska Extension office for more information.
Plant Preferences – Water
When growing different varieties of plants side by side, group them together by their water requirements. Catalogs, seed packets and plant labels will indicate whether a plant has low, medium or high-water needs. These may be written out in detail or shown as raindrop icons. Follow the instructions carefully to keep from under- or overwatering the plant. New landscape plants require more frequent watering as they establish their root systems. And plants grown in containers will always require more frequent watering and will never actually be drought tolerant.