5 rules of successful gardening

Gardening vegetables, flowers, or plants is both a physical and a mental workout. I developed the 5 Rules for growing healthy plants after touring some of the USA’s most beautiful gardens. The same five rules that apply to the grand botanical gardens in New York and Atlanta will also be applicable in your backyard.

Sore backs and knees, a cut, a splinter, or a thorn are typical rewards after a weekend of gardening at my house. My manicure never lasts more than a few days when I’m active in the garden. But a beautiful flower or a vegetable develops, and suddenly all the effort is worth it.

My garden is full of rewards today! The orchids are in bloom.

orchids will bloom year after year if you follow the rules for growing healthy plants

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The 5 Rules of Gardening

Raising and caring for plants is a lot like caring for kids or pets. Plants need food and water, but they also require oversight to prevent disease or damage. I try to keep an eye on my plants, feed them regularly, and don’t overwater. I let them hang in the tree or patio unless they show me they are unhappy. If they yellow or show signs of stress, I move them to another area where they get more or less light. If the leaves spot or wrinkle, I look for issues with pests or disease. If they are doing well, I let them stay in that place. After they flower and bloom, I let them rest and recover.

1. Feed and Nourish

Everyone knows that plants need water. But plants also need regular feedings during growth and blooming/fruiting seasons. Like people, not all plants require the same diet. You will want to know the feeding requirements of your garden when you start to plan a landscape.

My garden functions well on a standard 20-20-20 fertilizer (20 parts nitrogen, 20 parts phosphorus, 20 parts potassium). A balanced fertilizer is a necessity for any gardener. But when you mix a variety of plants into the landscape, often they have different needs. My hydrangeas and hibiscus need acidic soil. Roses and azaleas require more nitrogen in the blooming months and more phosphorus in the winter. Orchids need nitrogen during their blooming months, but they benefit from equal amounts of nitrogen and potassium out of season.

I wrote a post about using “onion water” to nourish plants. Onion water is not a substitute for a good, well-rounded basic fertilizer. But it is an excellent way to invest extra nitrogen

2. Watch for Disease and Pests

The best way to grow healthy plants is to take preventative measures against disease and pests. But there will be times when it rains for days and fungus becomes an issue. Aphids, whiteflies, and other pests have a season. in short, there just will be times when, despite your best efforts, bugs and infestations will get through.

Pest Fighters
The green lacewing and ladybug are nature's pesticide in the garden - 5 rules for healthy plants.
Green Lacewings and Ladybugs are Mother Nature’s pesticides.

Prohibiting and treating pests are near the top of the 5 rules for growing healthy plants. Early diagnosis is important and often will be the deciding factor in whether your plant(s) lives or dies. Pesticides can cause more problems than they fix in a garden. Commercial sprays will kill off the beneficial insects that do that work in nature as collateral damage. Before you spray, consider how eliminating 100% of the insects will impact future growing seasons.

Planting flowers and herbs that naturally attract beneficial insects can reduce the opportunity for bad pests to invade the garden. Spiders, lacewings, and ladybugs are some of the beneficial insects that will attack and feed off parasitic insects and their eggs. You can buy colonies of live lacewings and ladybugs. Once they establish in the garden they will reproduce as long as there is a food supply to keep them happy.

One way to deal with a pest invasion may be to wait it out because Mother Nature will take over and fix the problem with time. But if you can’t stand to lose a gardening season there are some pesticides that are better than others.

There are relatively few pesticide chemicals but they are mixed and sold commercially by several manufacturers either as dry cakes, slow-release powders, or sprays. Pesticides are poison. They will kill all pests, even the beneficial ones. If you must resort to pesticides to kill off an infestation, plan to reintroduce beneficial insects back to the environment to restore balance.


Plant Disease falls into three basic categories: fungus, bacterial, viral. Fungus outbreaks account for almost 85 percent of all plant infections. Gardeners identify an outbreak by observing symptoms of plant decline, and it is an unfortunate reality that by the time the plant shows signs of decline, its survival may be at risk.

Most plants fight off disease by showing signs of leaf curling, yellowing, and dropping. It’s the plant’s way of trying to heal. However, you’ll sacrifice a season of fruits and flowers treating the plant.

The easiest way to ward off infections in the garden is to develop a farming culture that prevents them.

  • Use soil that is well-balanced.
  • Monitor garden soil and water when beds are dry.
  • Don’t overcrowd flower beds and planters.
  • Regularly prone and clean out plant areas to prevent rot.

3. Water

Water is essential in the 5 rules for healthy gardens

Over watering is the number one enemy of gardeners worldwide. Wet soil is the perfect host for slugs, fungus, nematodes, and bacterial spores that lead to outbreaks. Outdoor plant beds will shed excess water with proper drainage. Pots and planters need a regular watering schedule.

4. More Space Required

Placing plants too close together deters healthy root development and will reduce plant yields.

5. Rest and Rewards

Healthy plant beds need time to rest and recuperate after the growing season. When the summer season closes, turn under old gardens and add fresh compost to soils. Just like farmers rotate crops, this practice will renew your garden microbes and encourage more growth during the next season.

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