Planning is paramount to a successful garden. Set yourself up for a healthy harvest with tried-and-true tips from Martha.
To get the best selection for the year, make your purchases in January, via mail order. Many nurseries, including our favorites, take orders during the winter and will ship your selections when it's time to plant them where you live.
Books on pretty much every plant and botanical topic known to man pack our gardening editors' shelves, but these are the sources they turn to repeatedly:
"The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants" covers the most ground in one volume.
If you're interested only in plants suited to where you live, consider the "AHS SmartGarden Regional Guide" series.
For techniques such as step-by-step instructions for propagating or designing a water garden, see the "American Horticultural Society New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques."
Learn about trees and shrubs through "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" by Michael Dirr.
To attract bees and butterflies, choose plants with blooms that bear plenty of pollen. Go easy on the hybrids; these produce pollen that isn't viable. (Double blooms and petals in unexpected hues are some clues that a plant is a cross.) Native plants are also a good choice, as pollinators are attracted to the familiar. When choosing plants, keep in mind that varying form, bloom time, color, and height make for a rich buffet. To entice birds year-round, choose plants that provide food well past fall, such as bayberry or holly.
Many gardeners leave the stalks and seed heads of perennial plants in their gardens through winter to provide visual interest, as well as food and shelter for wildlife -- especially birds. Susans, ornamental grasses, and liatrus (sturdy plants that produce plenty of seeds) will provide cover and nourishment well into the season. Diseased or infested plants, herbaceous perennials such as peonies or daylilies, and any plants that spread seeds too enthusiastically should be cut back after the first killing frost.
Organic gardening is more a philosophy of garden maintenance than it is a particular regimen. Success depends upon encouraging healthy plants and soil and creating an environment that welcomes good insects to prey on bad ones. Practices that upset the natural balance, including using pesticides, should be avoided. Wash insects off plants with a strong stream of water, deter pests with fabrics or fences, time planting and pruning to avoid the emergence of certain insects, and pull weeds by hand instead of using herbicide. Recycling nutrients through composting is also central to organic gardening; consider making compost tea by steeping finished compost in warm water and straining it to make liquid fertilizer. And maintain plant vigor: Plants that are healthy do not require frequent fertilizing, whereas plants growing under stress are easy targets for opportunistic pests.