Get back to basics


Understanding basic gardening principles will not only make you a better gardener, having the knowledge will allow you to enjoy gardening.


You are more likely to be successful in your horticultural efforts!

Planting and tending a garden is easier if you adhere to a few general guidelines.

Your goal is to keep plants healthy and productive while protecting the environment. When designing your landscape or garden, keep these gardening basics in mind:


Check sites for good drainage before planting. Poor drainage robs the soil of oxygen and discourages beneficial soil-dwelling organisms. Avoid low-lying and heavily compacted areas. Know whether a site receives full or partial sun or if it is shady.

Check for wind and/or salt spray. Consider the average expected rainfall. Select plants that tolerate your garden’s soil and environmental conditions. Whether native or well adapted, these plants are more likely to thrive.


A soil pH of 7 is neutral. A reading below 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline. If the pH is extreme in either direction, key nutrients may not be available to plants. In North Central Texas, soils are often alkaline. Plants have specific tolerances for either alkaline or acidic conditions. Area water supplies will also be acidic or alkaline, further affecting plant growth and development.


The best soil is dark, porous and rich in nutrients and beneficial organisms. Most dirt will require amendments to fully support plant life. Vegetable gardens will benefit from tilling between crop plantings to incorporate organic matter. Adding matter such as compost will improve drainage and nutrient content.


A diverse landscape, which incorporates many plant types mingling together as in nature, will attract pollinators and beneficial species that prey on pests. Diverse landscapes are less susceptible to disease. A good design will have four-season interest and include flowers for fragrance and color, grasses for texture and motion, trees for shade and plants for nectar and seed production. Use a mix of trees, shrubs, flowers, vines and groundcovers to create a layered, natural-looking landscape.


Use plants that are native to the region and conditions where they will be planted. Native plants, which attract and support wildlife, are often best suited to difficult sites, such drought-prone regions. They are naturally adapted to area soils. Natives also give a garden a sense of place since they harmonize well with the area’s natural spaces. Most natives require very well drained soils.


Select plants that are heat/drought tolerant and disease resistant. Depending upon your site conditions, you may also need to consider salt tolerance or deer resistance. In areas prone to wildfires, incorporate fire resistant and fire retardant plants into your landscape plan. Pay attention to labels and seed packets that bear codes noting that the plants have an inbred resistance to certain serious problems, such as tomatoes that are bred to be resistant to mosaic virus.


Members of the same plant family, such as tomatoes and peppers, are often susceptible to the same pests and diseases. Plant these crops in different locations in your garden to prevent a buildup of pest and disease organisms. Plan to rotate the same or related crops between sites at least every two years.


Integrated pest management is an approach to pest reduction that aims to maintain a productive garden with minimal use of synthetic controls. A healthy garden is host to abundant life, which includes insects and wildlife. Encourage natural pest controls and avoid harsh chemicals whenever possible. Pesticides, herbicides and other controls harm beneficial species such as insects, lizards, birds and toads that prey on pests. The IPM approach is also applicable to diseases.


Keep the garden free of debris to discourage pests and diseases. Apply mulch liberally. Maintain irrigation systems. Rake and compost fallen leaves along with grass clippings and spent annuals and vegetables. Deadhead, prune, and trim flowers, shrubs and ornamental grasses. Dig and divide perennials as needed. Mow at the recommended height and frequency for specific turfgrass species.


Install drip irrigation systems and use soaker hoses to minimize evaporation and runoff. Harvest rainwater. Use mulch around plant roots to conserve moisture. Do not irrigate in the heat of the day. Turn systems to manual operation to avoid overwatering. Use low water need plants. Group plants in the garden according to their water needs.


Place plants at the appropriate soil depth. Dig holes wider, not deeper, than the plant’s container. Before planting, loosen roots that are tightly bound inside containers. Stake plants only if conditions warrant. Water plants when planted to settle the soil and regularly thereafter until they are well established.

For answers to horticulture questions, call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit