Eight Easy-to-Grow Plants for Your First Garden.
Finding the right kinds of plants for a first garden or a new garden is always a challenge. So much depends on your planting zone, how much space you have in your garden, your overall garden design, and your personal preferences for color and garden drama.
I’ve put together a list of garden perennials that I have personally grown, which automatically means they are perfect for someone still in the learning stage. Many of these are the first plants I’ve grown and all of them survived my not-quite-green thumb. If I can say with some modesty, they all looked beautiful!
So give one or all of the plants a try — after all, being a new gardener means we are still learning. And doing is the best way to learn!
Name: Black-Eyed Susan
Bloom Span: Three months
Growing Conditions: Rudbeckia are native plants to many areas of
North America, making them particularly easy to grow and adaptable
to many different conditions. It does, however, prefer somewhat lean,
well-drained soil in full sun.
Care: Cut Rudbeckia will last a long time in water. Deadheading
spent blooms will help continue the blooming season. Rudbeckia are
also an excellent choice for attracting butterflies, which are attracted
to their flat petals. In addition, birds enjoy eating their seeds in the
winter. They can be easily divided for multiplication.
Good Species Choices: Goldsturm (Rudbeckia fulgida).
Name: Spike Speedwell
Bloom Span: Three to four months, from spring to frost
Growing Conditions: Well-drained soil and drought tolerant
Care: The plant is low growing and contains dense foliage, from which narrow spikes of reds, blues, whites, pinks, and purples grow. Deadheading will help these plants bloom throughout the summer.
Good Species Choices: Sunny Border Blue (Veronica).
Bloom Span: Two to three months
Growing Conditions: Very drought tolerant, prefers well drained soil
and full sun. Stalks can become floppy if it receives too much water.
Care: Although Echinacea grows on tall stalks, it is self supporting
and does not require staking. Deadheading extends blooming period.
The plant spreads very slowly, though it can be divided easily. Seed
heads can remain throughout the winter and provide tasty treats to
birds. The flowers themselves are attractive to birds and butterflies.
Good Species Choices: Fragrant Angel (Echinacea purperea), Magnus
(also Echinacea purperea), and Art’s Pride (Echinacea).
Bloom Span: Two months or more, depending on the species
Growing Conditions: An easy to grow and long living plant. Grows
best in areas with either cool summers or when grown in partial shade. Will self-sow.
Care: Mow or shear the plant to just a few inches if it begins to look
ragged or tired after several blooms. This will help it grow back with a fresher appearance.
Best Species Choices: Blue Chips or Blue Clips (Campanula carpatica) and White Chips or White Clips (also Campanula carpatica).
Zones: 4 to 9
Care: Sunflowers have changed their ways in the last few years. They used to be country cousins, handsome and bold but a bit too rustic. Their single stalks were awkward and prone to toppling over, they took up too much room in an ordinary garden, and they were so blatantly yellow.
Today, they’re starring in beautiful bouquets and adding dramatic presence to gardens everywhere. Many current seed catalogs list pages of sunflower varieties, and some look very different from the towering yellow flowers we drew as kids. Their glorious blossoms are single and double, gold and orange, creamy-white and copper, bronze and garnet-red as well as sunny yellow. They’re short to very tall, ranging in height from 3 to 20 feet. Some fan out like small shrubs, with up to 50 branches on a plant; others have clusters of blossoms on every stalk; all make excellent cut flowers.
CARE AND CULTURE
Even the newest sunflower varieties are exceptionally easy to grow. Most are heat- and drought-tolerant annuals; some self-sow; and some are persistent long-blooming perennials, which spread stoloniferously (by runner branches that produce new plants from nodes or buds). Related to native American prairie plants in the daisy, or composite, family, they are cheerfully tolerant of poor soil as long as they have enough sun, although they prefer well-drained soil. Plant the large seeds no more than one inch deep in well-dug; loose soil after it has thoroughly warmed up, from mid-April to mid-June. Or start seeds indoors a couple of weeks earlier.
If possible, put seeds in a spot that is sheltered from strong winds, perhaps along a fence or near a building. Give plants plenty of room—more for varieties that will branch out. Grow them in rows 30 inches apart. Set seeds 3 to 4 inches apart, and thin to 12 to 18 inches, leaving the strongest plants. If birds scratch around for the seeds, spread netting over the planted area until the seeds germinate.
Water plants deeply but infrequently to encourage rooting, and feed the plants only sparingly, overfertilization may cause stems to break in the fall.
To harvest seeds, keep an eye out for ripeness. They’re ready when the bracts begin to dry. Hang the heads upside down until they’re thoroughly dry in a place that’s safe from birds and mice. For eating, rub the seeds off and soak them overnight in a gallon of water to which a cup of salt has been added, then dry them again in an oven at 250 °F for 4 to 5 hours. Store them in an air-tight container.
THE CLASSIC SUNFLOWER
The most common sunflower, the one we grow from seed every summer, is Helianthus annuus. This species varies tremendously, and you may find it hard to choose just a few varieties to try.
Here are some other popular varieties:
Autumn Beauty — one of the most spectacular cultivars, has many six-inch flowers in shades of yellow, bronze, and mahogany on branching stems up to seven feet tall.
Evening Sun — an import from Holland is a mix of beautiful strong-stemmed flowers in shades of red and brown and is just as tall as Autumn Beauty. Its plant stalks and leaves are veined with maroon, deepening the rosy effect. Variations include pale-cream edging at the tips or hints of cream edging in the centers. It blooms from mid- to late summer.
Russian Giant – is a classic heirloom, first offered in the 1880s. It grows as a single stem up to 12 feet tall with huge flower heads of bright-yellow petals that are 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Use it at the back of the border or to screen the compost pile or neighbors view of your patio. This variety is packed with gray and-white-striped edible seeds.
Gigantius — grows 12 to 14 feet tall and bears 12-inch heads on sturdy stems with huge green leaves. It’s strong enough that it won’t need to be staked and so tall that you might want to plant it under a second-story window. This one produces gray seeds.Kong — is a sturdy giant that grows to 12 feet in height. It is impressively multi-branched and covered with four- to six-inch yellow blooms offset by large dark-green leaves.
FLUFFY-LOOKING DOUBLE FLOWERS
Double-flowered varieties, as densely packed as chrysanthemums, can range in height from five inches to eight feet:
Double Shine – glows golden orange and is a double-flowered six-footer. Its good foliage and branching habit make it an excellent cut flower.
Santa Fe — is a new cultivar that grows six to eight feet tall and produces one main stem with many double-flowered, fluffy-looking golden disks up to eight inches across.
Teddy Bear – just three feet tall, produces fluffy-looking, deep-gold five-inch blossoms.
Orange Sun — a bushy dwarf reaches three to four feet, with powder-puff blossoms of orangy gold.
Name: Bee Balm
Zones: 3 to 9
Care: For me one of the added benefits of gardening is being able to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I love watching the hummingbirds cavort outside my window as they jockey for position at my feeder. The first task, however, is to get them to my garden and keep them coming back.
With that in mind, last season I decided to add bee balm (monarda) to the border closest to my windows and the feeder. Close by is my lovely wine and rose weigela, which also is a hummingbird magnet.
I bought several quart-sized pots of “Gardenview Scarlet Bee Balm,” though there are many other types one can choose from. I had terrific scarlet blossoms throughout the summer with very little maintenance besides watering and cutting back the spent blooms. And, of course, the hummingbirds enjoyed this new garden treat as well.
The bee balm I grew likes full son exposure and is hardy to zone 3. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and should be cut back to prolong blooming. Growers advise dividing mature bee balm every three years. If you are considering planting bee balm, keep in mind that most varieties grow anywhere from two to three feet tall and need to be planted about 24 to 30 inches apart. So, for most of us they work best towards the back of the border.
Name: Blanket Flower
Bloom Span: Three to Four Months
Growing Conditions: Full sun; stems will become floppy if given too
Care: Gaillardia’s provide attractive yellow petals with burgundy
centers. Gaillardia will bloom all summer if provided full sun
conditions without deadheading. Deadheading will, however, help
keep the plant attractive in appearance. The plant itself does not live
very long and, therefore, should be seeded or divided often.
Good Species Choices: Burgandy (Gaillardia), Goblin – dwarf variety
(also Gaillardia), and Monarch (also Gaillardia).
Bloom Span: Three or more months
Growing Conditions: Will grow in nearly any soil, prefers a sunny location.
Care: The plant itself does not live very long, only about two to three years. Allow the plant to self-seed or divide it every two to three years in order to replant its newer sections, which are on the outside. Deadheading is a chore with this plant because its flowers bloom all along its stem. Instead, sheer the entire plant back by 1/3 after it has completed blooming in order to encourage new flower buds.
Best Species Choices: Early Sunrise (Coreopsis grandiflora) and Zagreb (Coreopsis verticallata).