For a beginner gardener, following plant care instructions can be somewhat confusing. You are never sure how much sunlight is partial sunlight or what well-drained and water-retentive soil means. Generally, your instincts will kick in as you grow as a gardener, but for now you can always rely on a few rules of thumb.
Plants that require full or direct sun need at least six hours of sunlight per day. Partial or indirect sun generally means they will tolerate four to six hours a day with some shading. A plant that needs filtered sun is best left on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse. A plant that needs full shade or partial shade may be grown best indoors unless you have a shady yard.
Most plants need a soil that both retains water and drains well at the same time. Potting soil from your garden center is designed to have this effect. You can create this soil at home without constantly buying potting soil. Mix equal parts of your native soil with compost and add a handful of sand. For plants that need extremely well-draining soil, layer the bottom of their pot or hole with gravel.
The pH balance of soil--its alkalinity or acidity--is extremely important. Most plants need a balance of 7, but for those that have different needs, there are ways to adjust the pH. First, consult with the farm bureau or county extension service and have your soil tested. Once you know your soil’s pH, you can adjust it to the plant’s needs by adding lime to raise the pH or aluminum and iron sulfate to lower the pH.
A good rule of thumb with every plant is to keep the soil moist at all times unless the care card specifically states differently. Check the soil daily with your fingers. If it feels dry or sandy, soak the area in water but not to so heavily there is standing water near the plant.
Adding fertilizer to your plants will increase their production and growth rates. All fertilizers are described with three numbers. The first number stands for the amount of nitrogen, the second stands for phosphates and the third stands for potash. Most plants need a balanced fertilizer (one where all the numbers are equal) upon first planting. For vegetable and flower gardens, use a fertilizer that is higher in phosphate. Use a fertilizer higher in nitrogen for trees or a lawn. When wintering your plants, apply a fertilizer with more potash.
All plants have a certain temperature range at which they will be comfortable and most productive. Pay strict attention to these temperatures. Extreme heat, extreme cold or constant temperature change can be a death sentence for most plants. Pay attention to your weather. If your plants are potted, move them indoors when needed. Plants established in the ground can be protected from frost by wrapping them in sacks or blankets. To protect a plant from extreme heat, you may need to water more frequently.
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