I’m a gardening pro – when you should leave your plants alone and why Google is NOT the place for info

WHETHER you’re a seasoned gardener or a newbie learning the ropes, you can always benefit from an expert’s advice.

Asking for guidance is the best way to avoid common mistakes and misconceptions, which impede your garden’s growth and may make blooms look lackluster before their time.


Garden expert Chloe Brooks shared her tips for making a garden last longerCredit: Chloe Brooks
With the right planting strategy, your garden can last much longer than normal


With the right planting strategy, your garden can last much longer than normalCredit: Getty

Chloe Brooks is a home gardening expert at Triple Oaks Nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, New Jersey.

At the nursery, she helps customers choose the best plants for their needs.

She also makes sure they’ll be well taken care of when they arrive at their new homes by sharing care tips, both at the center and when customers call with questions.

Brooks is also a devoted home gardener, so her knowledge is hard-won – and she wants you to avoid these common planting, pruning, and feeding mistakes.

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A considerable number of gardening mistakes can be attributed to bad information, Brooks said.

That doesn’t mean strictly incorrect knowledge – usually, gardeners will take the information they find online and apply it to their circumstances without accounting for the climate.

“Spring in New Jersey and spring in Connecticut aren’t necessarily the same,” Brooks explained.

And with weather conditions varying from year to year, it’s risky to take any single regional guide as gospel truth.

The solution is to hop on the phone or online and get in touch with your local garden center.

Nursery employees will have an up-to-the-minute understanding of your area’s conditions, and any plant care tips that are unique to your climate and soil.

Calling them with a question or stopping in is totally fine – they want your plants to thrive, too.

“They’re in this day in and day out, they check the weather multiple times a day, every day,” Brooks said.

“It’s always on the front of their awareness. If you have any weather concerns, your local nursery has probably already made a plan.”

You can even improve your gardening prowess by following your local garden center on social media or subscribing to their newsletter.

Chances are, other local gardeners have similar questions to you, and your nursery addresses them in whatever online format they rely on.

At Triple Oaks, Brooks said, there’s a filing cabinet filled with clips from previous interviews and articles the owner has participated in, and there’s a good chance your nursery has a similar database.

“Maybe your nursery has a blog or YouTube channel with tutorials specific to your region,” she added.


With some clever timing, you can make your garden last throughout the year. The trick is planning when to get things in the ground, and how to overlap your seeds and bulbs.

“If you carefully choose plants to bloom in different seasons, you’ll be able to extend the life of your garden,” Brooks said.

Planting from seed is a way to do that, she said, using dill and cilantro as examples.

Both of those herbs “store” in hot weather: they sprout suddenly and quickly before flowering and dying off.

One solution for maintaining an herb garden is to plant dill or cilantro from seed every three weeks or so, scattering new seeds among the existing sprouts.

“As one batch dies down, you’ll have another one, staggered, coming up,” Brooks explained.

You can do the same with wildflowers – every few weeks, come back and sow more.

“I have some black-eyed Susans in my garden that I tossed out there a little late last year,” Brooks recalled.

“The leaves never died back at all because we had a mild winter, and now these plants are big and strong.”

When you’re growing plants from seed, allowing them to establish themselves results in longer-lasting plants in years to come.

“By the second year is when it’s really established,” Brooks added.

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If you have a plant that’s yet to bloom, it could be tempting to write it off as dead and rip it out of the ground.

But if you can check on the plant’s roots, you’ll have a little more information to work with before you toss it out.

“It’s easiest to tell if a plant is dead or not if it’s in a container or pot,” Brooks said.

“If the roots are still white, it’s alive; if they’re brown, it’s probably dead.”

You’re looking for “juicy, plump, healthy-looking roots,” and if you see slime or mushy textures, that’s an indicator of root rot.

You can sometimes cut root rot away or treat it with a tincture of hydrogen peroxide, but if you don’t intervene soon enough, that might be a death knell.

If your plants are in your garden or lawn, it will be harder to inspect their roots, so you’ll need to do something much more difficult: wait.

“In the ground, you kind of have to be patient and give it more time,” Brooks said. “And probably more water. If it’s in the ground, you don’t need to worry as much about overwatering since that water can seep into the ground.”

Remember that cold snaps and heat waves can impact your plants for weeks to come.

If something in your garden isn’t blooming, Brooks said, “give it an extra grace period. It may also be a later season plant.”

Summer bloomers may have no signs of life on top, despite sturdy stalks and leaves, or you may have plants that don’t show signs of growth until July.

The best thing to do is to keep watering and feeding plants regularly and leave the plants alone.

“Not everything is a spring bloomer,” Brooks said.


Feeding plants is a great way to have sturdy, established blooms that last and last.

Brooks said that at her nursery, the rule of thumb is “if you’ve never fed a plant, it’s probably starving.”

“If you don’t feed a plant, it might grow, but it won’t thrive,” Brooks said.

The best way to feed your plants is to use a slow-release fertilizer, which Brooks compared to a slow-drip IV.

You’ve probably seen the little balls of Osmocote fertilizer on the surface of gardens. The slow-release fertilizer serves a different purpose from water-soluble food like Miracle-Gro.

“Slow-release balls are water-soluble, but it’s like a tablet pill instead of a liquigel,” Brooks explained.

The “classic coat” slow-release fertilizer feeds plants for three to four months, so you only need to use it a few times per year.

You don’t need to feed every plant, Brooks said. Only feed the plants that will bud, bloom, or fruit; otherwise, you’re just growing more roots.

Once your flowers start to open, you can add a fast-working water-soluble fertilizer to the mix.

“Slow-release is a steak dinner,” Brooks said. “Water-soluble is having a candy bar and a soda for lunch. It’s a quick boost but it won’t stick with you.”

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And if you want your garden to last into cooler months, that “steak dinner” is a necessity.

“If water-soluble is all you give it, at least it’s getting something,” Brooks added. “It just won’t last as long.”

Staggering your seeds is one way to make a garden last through the year


Staggering your seeds is one way to make a garden last through the yearCredit: Getty

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