The Q&A Archives: absolute beginner

Question: I just bought a house for the first time. I have no tools or know-how( Iknow what the weeds are). There are plants that are obviously dying, weeds, and moss in the yard. Where do we start and what tools should we get first? The dying evergreen bushes are quite large.

Answer: You?ll need a few basic garden tools to be efficient and, since it is off season, you may be able to get some good deals on the tools you need. I?d buy the high end products, but if that places them out of your budget, at least invest in medium range tools. Your local Home Depot will probably offer 3 different price ranges so you can compare each and buy the best quality you can afford. If you have no gardening tools at all, you?ll want to make a list and purchase them as you need them, or as you can afford them. Start with hand pruners, long handled loppers, a leaf rake (long tines), a garden rake (sturdy, short tines), an edger or weed whacker, a shovel or garden spade, a lawn mower, and a spreader/fertilizer applicator.

It? the wrong time of year to prune or plant but you can dig garden beds to prepare them for spring planting and you can dig out weeds.

Moss in the lawn is usually the result of a couple of problems: too much shade, poor drainage, poor fertility, and compacted soils. Next March, when the weather warms, you can rake out the moss and reseed the bare areas. Then put your lawn on a regular feeding schedule. The standard in Washington is to fertilize with a 3-1-2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, applying in April, June, September and late November or early December. Next spring when you?re pruning, try to remove the lower branches of any trees that might be casting thick shade over the lawn. Increased fertility and increased sunlight penetration may be all you need to prevent moss from growing in your lawn. If it comes back again next year, you?ll want to spread some lime over the lawn next fall to help neutralize the acidity in the soil and/or you may want to dethatch or aerate the lawn to help with the compaction and the sogginess of the soil.

Spend the winter months identifying the plants and shrubs in your landscape so you will know what they like in terms of growing conditions, how much water they require, and when they prefer to be pruned. Pruning encourages new growth so spring is usually the best time - but there are exceptions. Spring flowering shrubs should not be pruned until after they've finished flowering. By May or June you should be able to tell which plants are definitely dead and need to be removed. You can replace them with hardy plants tailor made for the sunshine exposure the site receives.

A really helpful gardening book is Sunset Western Garden book. Not only does it describe in detail the best plants for the Pacific Northwest, it also has tons of suggestions for plant materials and very detailed care guides for each.

Hope this information is helpful!

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