Gardening Basics For Dummies
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To have the garden of your dreams, make sure you pick the right plants for your hardiness zone and select the right fertilizers for your plants. If your garden is shady, this Cheat Sheet offers a list of plants made for the shade. When you're planning and measuring your garden use the handy conversion chart for metric and standard measurements.

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Gardening by USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

When choosing plants for your garden, select the plants best suited to your climate. Know your U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zone and use this chart to determine the time and length of your growing season. Of course, the climate is changing, and apparently, warming up, so you may be able to move a half or 1 zone colder and still be safe.

Zone Minimum Temperature
Last Frost Date First Frost Date Typical Number of
Frost-Free Days
1 Below –50°F
Below –46°C
June 15 July 15 30
2 –50°F to –40°F
–46°C to –40°C
May 15 August 15 90
3 –40°F to –30°F
–40°C to –34°C
May 15 September 15 120
4 –30F to –20F
–34° to –29°C
May 10 September 15 125
5 –20°F to –10°F
–29°C to –23°C
April 30 October 15 165
6 –10°F to 0°F
–23°C to –18°C
April 15 October 15 180
7 0°F to 10°F
–23°C to –12°C
April 15 October 15 180
8 10°F to 20°F
–12°C to –7°C
March 10 November 15 245
9 20°F to 30°F
–7°C to –1°C
February 15 December 15 265
10 30°F to 40°F
–1°C to 4°C
January 20 December 20 335
11 40°F and up
4°C and up
Frost free Frost free 365


Plants That Grow in the Shade

Don’t fret if your garden gets more shade than sun; plenty of plants thrive in the shade. This chart names annuals and perennials that do well in the shade, so keep this list handy and you can decide which plants you want for your shady garden oasis.

Annuals Perennials
Wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens-cultorum) Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis)
Amethyst flower (Browallia) Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Canterbury bells (Campanula medium) Bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)
Coleus (Coleus spp.) Bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia)
Impatiens Impatiens spp.) Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis, recently changed to Lamprocapnos spectabilis )
Lobelia (Lobelia ssp.) Columbine (Aquilegia)
Monkey flower (Mimulus) False spirea (Astilbe)
Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) Globeflower (Trollius)
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) Hosta (Hosta spp.)
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Scarlet sage (Salvia splendens) Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) Meadow-rue (Thalictrum)
Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri) Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)


Key Measurement Conversions for Gardening

Surprisingly, a great deal of measuring goes into garden planning. If you need to change between metric and English (U.S. standard) units, use this basic conversion chart to make sense of it all when planning your garden.

Type of Measurement Metric to English English to Metric
Distance 1 centimeter = 0.4 inch 1 inch = 2.5 centimeters
1 meter = 39 inches = 1.1 yards 1 yard = 0.9 meter
1 kilometer = 0.6 mile 1 mile = 1.6 kilometers
Volume 1 liter = 1.1 quarts 1 quart = 0.9 liter
Mass/weight 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds 1 pound = 0.4 kilogram
1 gram = 0.04 ounce 1 ounce = 31 grams


Fertilizers for Your Garden

Fertilizing is an important part of gardening because given at the right time, fertilizers can really give your plants a boost. When you’re trying to decide on which fertilizer to use, keep this list handy to make sense of fertilizer terminology:

  • Complete fertilizers: These fertilizers contain all three macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
  • Incomplete fertilizers: Incomplete fertilizers are missing one or more of the macronutrients, usually the P or the K.
  • Chelated micronutrients: If your plants don’t get nicely green (they remain mottled yellow and green, or just yellow), no matter how much nitrogen you apply, you probably have a deficiency of micronutrients — iron, manganese, or zinc. These fertilizers are in a form that allows a plant to absorb them more quickly than the more commonly available sulfated forms.
  • Organic fertilizers: Organic means these fertilizers derive their nutrients from something that was once alive. Examples include blood meal, fish emulsion, and manure.
  • Slow-release fertilizers: These fertilizers provide nutrients to plants at specific rates under particular conditions. Some slow-release fertilizers can deliver the benefits of their nutrients for as long as eight months.
  • Foliar fertilizers: Apply this plant food to leaves rather than to the roots (ground). You can use most liquid fertilizers as foliar fertilizers, but make sure the label says you can.

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