Know your soil

Get your soil test and figure out its pH. Certain plants prefer certain acid conditions. If there's a university nearby, call their botany or horticulture department and ask about soil testing. Many will do it for free. (It’s much easier to amend your soil before you plant).



Get to know your planting zone.

Gardening advice isn't one size fits all. Check your planting zone on the USDA's Plant Hardiness Map. Then check an almanac, like this one, for historical guidance on planting dates, expected rainfall, and the best practices for the best results.

Talk to your neighbors

You can learn a surprising amount from local gardeners, especially those who run or participate in your community plots (side benefit: plant people are usually very nice). Ask for tips about what had grown well for them, and for guidance on what to stay away from.

Join the community

Locally, or online, there are people everywhere who enjoy the wonder of plants. Dave's Garden is a terrific user-driven community of forums and articles. Join the American Horticultural Society's monthly #plantchat online. Or for really thorny questions, you can always call the U.S. Botanic Garden's Plant Hotline (202) 226-4785.

Find your yoda

Find a mentor for exactly your area. Angus Stewart, for example, is an Australian expert in Mediterranean climates. Amy Stewart writes about the wonder of plants in the mid-latitudes (and the value of earthworms). Or consult a local master gardener for tips and advice. They're everywhere, and can usually be bribed with garden treats.


Do you know your local botanical garden? Find out from the American Horticultural Society's online garden directory. Then visit it, become a member, and get your hands dirty.


Gardening Advice courtesy of the National Agricultural Library, the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Special thanks to Jon Letman in Kauai, and Washington D.C. master gardener Anna Scalamogna.