4 Easy Ways to Grow Food & Herbs Without Digging!

4 Easy Ways to Grow Food & Herbs Without Digging!

*This post may include affiliate links.  That means if you make a purchase through one of them, I will be compensated.  Using affiliate links does not result in a higher price for the consumer.  If you choose to purchase through one of my links, I thank you in advance for your support of my small business.

Does the thought of growing some of your own veggies & herbs feel like too much work?

Although physical work is good for our health, sometimes the level or type of physical activity required to engage in a particular activity is beyond our current level of physical ability.

Sometimes exerting ourselves in certain activities or for too long a time can result in pain which may last for hours or days.

In this article, I’ll present four ways to grow food & herbs with less physical exertion (and perhaps gentler physical activity) than would be required for a traditional in-ground garden.

My hope is to help you find a method that will allow you to grow plants and receive the many benefits that gardening has to offer if traditional in-ground gardening is not an option for you or is not a good fit.


Elevated Planters

Elevated planters are basically small raised bed garden boxes built with legs so that the planter is raised off the ground making it easier to tend your plants without bending all the way over to reach the ground.

There are many options available in a wide price range.  Depending on the size, brand, features, and materials used, they can range in price from less than $100 to several hundred.  Elevated planters can be custom-built or found online or in-store at nurseries, garden centers, or garden supply websites.  This one pictured below or others like it can be found on Amazon.  If you have the skills, you could build your own and save a lot of money.

Tip:  When shopping, be sure the size will be right for you.  Is it tall enough for you to tend your plants without bending uncomfortably?  If you need a planter that is wheelchair accessible, is it tall enough, wide enough, and sturdy enough that it wouldn’t be knocked over by a wheelchair?

Elevated Planter Box


Tabletop Gardens

Herb Bowl on BenchWhat I call a tabletop garden is an inexpensive, home-made version of an elevated planter, and is my method of choice now!  This is basically elevated container gardening.  Simply place your planters on top of a table instead of on the ground. Any size planters could be used as long as it looks good to you and your table can support the weight.   A plastic patio table or picnic table would be ideal.  Picnic benches could also serve the same purpose.

The primary benefits of the tabletop garden are that you can work without being bent over for long periods of time and they could potentially be fairly inexpensive to set up.  If you don’t already have a table you could use, check yard sales, estate sales, and online buy-sell-trade sites such as Offer-Up or groups on Facebook.  These sources are also good places to find used planters, tools, and garden decor.

When it comes to containers, the possibilities for fun and creative expression are endless!  You can choose your own style.  Plants can grow in containers of many types and sizes.  Have fun with it, and do what makes you happy!

Tip:  Decorative containers without drainage holes can be used for plant display.  Simply plant your plant in a lightweight plastic pot with drainage holes, and then place it nside the decorative pot.  Lightweight plastic pots used in this manner are referred to as “grow pots”.  These are the pots most plants come in when they are purchased from a nursery or retail store.  The grow pot would need to be slightly smaller than your decorative container.  If the grow pot is too short, use a block or a piece of styrofoam to elevate it. You may want to place a water catchment saucer inside the decorative pot to capture the drainage water from the grow pot. Sphagnum moss can be placed around the top of the soil to hide the inside grow pot.  Easy-peasy!


Vertical Planters

There are several different types of vertical planters available.  Here are two that I would consider:

Pictured on the left is a vertical planter by WeGard and is available on Amazon.  I like that this one has a drainage system and water catchment trays so drainage water shouldn’t spillover.  This type of planter is a great space-saver and it is attractive.  This one is on my Wish List!

Another option is a grow tower.  There is a huge range of types available, and the cost varies depending on size, features, and brand.  Some of the most expensive ones have watering systems, lighting systems, or even built-in worm composting systems. I love the idea of a planter/compost combination!  However, those are quite pricey, so for now, that type will go on my wish list and I’ll be keeping my eye out for a used one.  Pictured on the right is one of the least expensive types called a stackable tower planter.  These are also on my wish list.

When I’m ready to purchase, I’ll be looking for a large one such as the Stacky brand Large 5-Tier Vertical Garden Tower.  When I say, “large”, I am referring to the size of the individual stacking planters (not the height of the unit when all planters are stacked together).  The information provided in product descriptions can be confusing.  I’ll be looking for the widest, deepest planters I can find.  So far, the widest I’ve found is 18 inches in diameter.  Another feature I will be looking for is a water catchment saucer – preferably one with wheels so that the tower can be rotated weekly to allow all plants to receive sunlight.  (Items such as these might be sold as extra add-ons – FYI).

These stackable planters come in a variety of colors including some that would be especially fun for kids.  You can order the Mr. Stacky Large 5-Tier Vertical Garden Tower directly from Mr.Stacky.com.  Be sure to check out their educational resources.  Their site is a great resource for learning about vertical gardening, and they provide support via phone, email, or chat.  Their planters are made from food-safe polypropylene #5 and are manufactured in the United States.

Grow in a Bag of Planting Mix!

Don’t have any planters?  Just buy a bag of planting mix and use that as your planter.  Place the bag where your plants will get sufficient light and the bag can drain freely without the drainage water causing a problem (drainage water from plants will stain surfaces).  With the bag laying flat (not upright), cut some small slits in the bottom of the bag so the water can drain out without taking a lot of soil with it.  Cut out a large piece of the top of the bag leaving enough intact to keep the soil from spilling out.

That’s all there is to it!  This method would work for plants with shallow roots such as lettuces, radishes, mini carrots, and spinach.  You could grow basil this way by planting a lot of seeds, and harvesting it frequently so that the plants never develop woody stems. (Harvest when leaves are about 3-4 inches tall at most).  The idea is to grow them more like micro-greens.

Tip:  This might be a quick and easy project to do with kids or an inexpensive way to start growing something if you are brand new to gardening.


I hope this post has stimulated your imagination and introduced you to a growing method that might allow you or a loved one to enjoy the benefits of gardening.  I only mentioned four possibilities here, but there are certainly many more.  If you are new to gardening, I encourage you to start small and take it easy.  If you have any questions about the methods listed in this post (or another method you might be considering), please ask in the comments below.  If commenting is not visible, click on the title of this post.  If you prefer, you may email me directly at melthyme@gmail.com.

Thank you, and enjoy!

Essential Supplies and Other Helpful Items for Beginning Houseplant Growers

Essential Supplies and Other Helpful Items for Beginning Houseplant Growers

*This post may include affiliate links.  That means if you make a purchase through one of them, I will be compensated.  Using affiliate links does not result in a higher price for the consumer.  If you choose to purchase through one of my links, I thank you in advance for your support of my small business.

If you are new to growing houseplants or are considering getting started in the near future, here are some items you are likely to need for plant care:

Quality Pots

For beginners, I recommend that the pots your plants are actually growing in should have drainage holes and removable water catchment saucers.  The saucers should be large enough to hold a fair amount of water without it spilling over the edge and onto your furniture.  I use pots like these in my houseplant workshops.  They have good drainage, and are attractive enough to display in the home without being placed inside a more decorative pot. They come with matching saucers, and they can be purchased in bulk which is convenient if you plan to be growing more than just a few plants and you want all matching pots.  I would prefer that the saucers be a bit larger, but these work fine if you are careful to only apply a small amount of water at a time.  When your plants need a thorough soaking, water your plants in a plastic tub in the sink.  Allow the water to drain out of the pot for several minutes before placing it back on the saucer.  Find this favorite of mine here:  https://amzn.to/3mNwaiB


Plant Pot Coasters

In order to protect your furniture, avoid placing the pots directly on the furniture.  Furniture can be ruined by water stains or scratches caused by moving the plant pots.  Protecting your furniture doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you don’t need everything to be matching or fancy.  Many common kitchen items such as trivets, pie plates, or plastic food containers can be repurposed even if only temporarily.  Here is an example of some basic plant coasters you might consider if you want them all to be matching:


Soil Mesh Screen

Some pots have very large drainage holes.  These pots will not hold potting mix without something being placed in the bottom of the pot to serve as a screen.  The least expensive option would be to repurpose items you may already have around the house such as a coffee filter, a paper towel, or a scrap piece of shade cloth or weed barrier fabric. You could also use broken pieces of terra cotta pots or rocks to partially block large holes. There are soil mesh screen products made specifically for this purpose such as this one:



Potting Mix

When you purchase new plants, it is likely that they will need repotting right away or soon after you get them home.  The type of potting mix you need will depend on the type of plants you are growing.  Many tropical houseplants can be grown in a standard houseplant mix.  Other plants such as African Violets or succulents are best grown in special potting mixes that meet their specific needs.  One way to minimize expense when just getting started growing houseplants is to start with plants that can all thrive in the same type of potting mix.  The least expensive will be the standard houseplant mixes made for typical tropical houseplants.  Keep any unused potting mix in tightly sealed bins to protect them from pests.  When purchasing potting mix, the larger the bag you purchase, the lower the cost.  Smaller bags are easier to handle, but the cost for the same amount will be higher.  I use this product, Espoma Organic Potting Mix, which I buy in 1 cu. ft. bags (Sorry, the link is for two 8qt bags, so just do a search for the 1 cu. ft. bag if that is what you want.)




To minimize expense, I encourage beginners to start their new houseplant collection with plants that can all be fertilized with the same general purpose houseplant fertilizer.  Some plants such as African Violets or succulents require special soil mixes and fertilizers which can increase the cost of getting started. is a general purpose fertilizer suitable for many common tropical foliage houseplants and garden plants as well.



Among other things, gloves protect our hands from getting splinters from the potting mix.  Some people prefer to feel the plants and soil with their hands.  If you use gloves, be sure to clean them or change them before moving from plant to plant. This will help prevent the possible spread of pests and diseases from one plant to another.   For working with houseplants, I prefer disposable vinyl gloves such as these:


Pruning Shears 

For trimming houseplants, a tool with a straight, narrow blade works best because the straight blade allows easier access to the interior stems and leaves of the plant.  The straight bladed tool is also ideal for trimming and harvesting soft-stemmed herbs and greens such as basil, oregano, lettuces, and spinach.  Bypass pruners (with a curved blade) work well for pruning thick stems or roots of pot-bound plants.  A set like this is ideal especially for those who also garden outdoors.  I’m very happy with mine.  The quality is excellent, and I paid less for this set than I had for one pair of bypass pruners sold by a popular major brand.


Small Watering Can With Narrow Spout

For watering houseplants, a small watering can with a narrow spout such as this one is ideal.  If you don’t need something fancy, these can be found at discount stores for a few dollars or less.


Soil Moisture Meter

Overwatering is the most common cause of decline and death of indoor plants.  The ideal amount of water to give a plant is enough for it to thrive, but not more than that.  One key to getting it right is getting to know your plants, and that takes some time.  Another key to success with watering is being able to accurately assess the moisture level of the soil.  A helpful tool for assessing soil moisture is a soil moisture meter.  There are several types available in a wide range of cost. I find that those with a corded probe are easiest to use.  For beginners, I recommend an inexpensive one like this:


Houseplant Journal

I encourage new houseplant growers to keep a houseplant journal.  This can be as simple as recording certain information in an inexpensive notebook.  The important thing is to do the recording so you can refer back to the information later.  Recording things such as the botanical name of the plant, the date acquired, and when it was fertilized or treated for pests will be helpful for learning about your plants and diagnosing plant-related problems that may come up.  When recording fertilization or other treatments, be sure to include the name and amount of the product used.  If you want a journal made specifically for use with houseplants, you might consider one like this which I created as a supplement to my Beginner’s Guide to Beautifying with Indoor Plants eBook.

Click here to see my Houseplant Journal and Care Logbook.


For Pest Management:

Magnifying Glass

When we see a plant in decline, there may be multiple causes.  Taking a closer look at plant foliage may reveal some possible causes of problems.  It is difficult and sometimes impossible to correctly identify pest organisms or disease pathogens without the help of a microscope.  However, using a standard magnifying glass will be much more helpful than using only the naked eye.  For inspecting plants, a minimum of 10X magnification is recommended.  Here is one that has 30X magnification and comes with a light.  It requires two AA batteries:


Yellow Sticky Traps

Yellow sticky traps are helpful in trapping adult fungus gnats and other flying houseplant pests.  Using the traps continuously will alert you to the presence of pests before a major infestation occurs.  The best value for your money will be found in purchasing a large quantity of large sticky cards.  Large cards can be cut to fit your needs.  Holders for the cards may be sold separately.  To make handling easier, I leave about an inch wide strip of the paper in place at the top and bottom on each side of the card.  One benefit of doing this is that it will keep the holders clean.  (This will make sense when you start using them for yourself!)



Rubbing Alcohol, Lemon Oil, Cotton Pads, and Q-Tips

Rubbing alcohol on a cotton pad can be used to clean disinfect pruning tools.   Applied using a Q-Tip, it can also be used to kill mealy bugs on plant leaves and stems.  Lemon oil is great for removing stickers from plant pots.  I keep these items in my gardening caddy so that they are always handy.

Additional Helpful Items:

These items would be good to add to your wish list.  They aren’t essential for getting started growing houseplants, but may make houseplant care easier or more enjoyable:


Portable Storage Caddy

A divided organizer like this is convenient for storing and carrying frequently used items.  I have one that I use to hold many of my smaller tools and supplies such as gloves, plant labels, pruning shears, etc.  When I’m ready to work with my plants, I can quickly grab that tote from the garage.



Portable Potting Tray or Bin

Houseplant care can get messy!  I like to contain the mess by working in a plastic tray or tub.  These portable potting trays (shown in the first photo below) are specifically designed to contain soil, water, or plant debris while repotting or pruning plants.  I use a large rectangular storage bin (such as the one in the second photo below) when I’m repotting plants. Using a tray or bin like these is especially helpful when working indoors on a kitchen countertop or at the dining table:


Large Rectangular Storage Bin

In addition to storing supplies, storage bins like this can be used as a portable potting tray.  I use one like this when I’m repotting or pruning my houseplants indoors.  I also sometimes set my plants in a container like this when I water them.  I do this to prevent any soil from going down the drain.  These are also handy for carrying several plants at a time such as when you need to give them all a rinse in the shower!  These can be pricey.  Look for them on sale, at discount retailers, or estate sales.



Large Containers for Storage

I use large, clear containers like this one to store my pots and open bags of potting mix, perlite, or similar products.  These can sometimes be found at estate sales or yard sales at bargain prices.


Beginner’s Guide to Beautifying with Indoor Plants

If you are a beginning houseplant grower, consider gifting yourself a copy of my Beginner’s Guide to Beautifying with Indoor Plants eBook.  I wrote the guide to help people choose the best plants for beautifying their indoor space and learn the basics of plant care in order to keep their new plants thriving!


If you have a question about the information in this post or a comment to share, please let me know in the comments below.  If the comments are not showing, enable commenting by clicking on the title of this post.

Thank you,



My Preferred Method of Pruning Fruit Trees

My Preferred Method of Pruning Fruit Trees

When it comes to fruit tree pruning, I follow the advice of industry leader, Dave Wilson Nursery, and use the summer pruning method.  Most of the information shared in this post came directly from the Home Garden section of their website.  Specific links are provided throughout the post.  My personal thoughts are written in italics.

The Reasons for Pruning

  • Small trees yield crops of manageable size and are much easier to spray, thin, prune, net, and harvest than large trees.
  • Most kinds of deciduous fruit trees require pruning to stimulate new fruiting wood, remove broken and diseased wood, space the fruiting wood, and allow good air circulation and sunlight penetration in the canopy.
  • Pruning is most important in the first three years because this is when the shape and size of a fruit tree are established.
  • It’s much easier to keep a small tree small than to make a large tree small, and the results will be much better.
  • Pruning at the same time as thinning the crop is strongly recommended.
  • By pruning when there is fruit on the tree, the kind of wood on which the tree sets fruit (one-year old wood, two-year old wood, spurs, etc.) is apparent, which helps you to make better pruning decisions.


Summer Pruning – The Ideal Method of Pruning for Size Control

Advantages of Summer Pruning

Summer pruning can be done several times each year.  You don’t have to wait until trees are already past their fruiting stage.

Summer pruning can be incorporated as part of summer thinning in May and even June.

You can go out several times over the summer, and do a little bit of pruning just to keep growth in-check and manageable for you.


Deciding How Tall to Grow Your Fruit Trees

The height that you keep your fruit trees should be the height that is most easily manageable for you.  Ideally, no taller than what you can reach for pruning, spraying, netting, and harvesting while standing on the ground or a low stool (typically about 7-8′ tall to as low as a 4-5′ bush).  So, choose a size and don’t let the tree get any taller.

Personally, I like the idea of growing a “fruiting bush” in order to avoid the need for standing on a stool especially as we age.  Keeping trees small with a low branching structure would also make the fruit more easily accessible to children.  Children old enough to respect sharp tools and handle them properly can be taught how to prune.  Selective pruning is a skill that will always be in demand.


 When to Prune and Where to Cut

Per DaveWilsonNursery.com:

When planting a barefoot tree, cut side limbs back by at least two-thirds to promote vigorous new growth.  (A bare-root tree is one that is sold without a pot.  Typically, the roots will be surrounded with sawdust and wrapped in burlap to keep them moist.  Bare-root is the least expensive way to buy a fruit tree.  Also, once planted, bare-root trees often grow faster than containerized trees if they have been in pots for too long).


Next, two or three times per year, cut back or remove limbs and branches to accomplish the following:

First Year

This fruit tree was pruned to form a very low branching structure which is ideal for home gardeners.

At planting time, bare-root trees may be topped as low as 15 inches above the ground to force very low scaffold limbs or, alternatively, trees may be topped higher than 15 inches (up to four feet) depending on the presence of well-spaced side limbs or desired tree form.

After the spring flush of growth, cut the new growth back by half.  In late summer, cut the subsequent growth back by half.  Size control and development of low fruiting wood begin in the first year.

The main exceptions to the low-cut recommendations above are large caliper bare root peach and nectarine trees (3/4″ and up), which sometimes do not push new limbs from low on the trunk.  Especially when these trees are not fully dormant, they should be topped higher initially, just above any existing lower limbs (or at about 28 inches if no lower limbs are present).  Once new growth has begun, the height may be reduced further.

When selecting containerized trees for planting in late spring/early summer, select trees with well-placed low scaffold limbs.  These are usually trees that were cut back when potted to force low growth.  Cut back new growth by half now, and again in late summer.


Second Year

Cut back new growth by half in spring and late summer, the same as the first year.

Pruning three times may be the easiest way to manage some vigorous varieties: spring, early summer, late summer.

Single-tree Plantings:  Prune to vase shape (open center, no central leader).

Multi-Plantings (planting two or more trees in one hole):  Thin out the center to allow plenty of sunlight into the interior of the group of trees.

All Trees:  Revome broken limbs.  Remove diseased limbs well below signs of disease.


Third Year

Generally, the third year is when the height of the tree is established.

Whenever there are vigorous shoots above the chosen height, cut back or remove them.  Each year, in late spring/early summer, cut back all new growth by at least half.

The smaller one, two, and three-year-old branches that bear the fruit should have at least six inches of free space all around.  This means that where two branches begin close together and grow in the same direction, one should be removed.  When limbs cross one another, one should be cut back or removed.

When removing large limbs, first saw part way through the limb on the underside ahead of your intended cut.  Do this so it won’t tear the trunk as it comes off.  Also, don’t make the final cut flush with the trunk or parent limb; be sure to leave a collar (a short stub).


Tips for Success!

  • This tree was not pruned prior to the growing season one year, and the weight of the fruit broke the branch.

    Always prune with clean, sharp tools.  Disinfect your pruning tool after cutting diseased branches and prior to moving from one tree to another.

  • Make pruning cuts at an angle about 1/4″ above a bud, and try to prune to an outward-facing bud.
  • Keep the center open:  Remove any crossing branches, branches growing toward the center, dead or dying wood, or spindly growth.  Doing this in late winter or early spring is ideal because it is easier to see where to make your cuts when the trees are bare or have few leaves.
  • Avoid pruning on an extremely hot day or during a heatwave.  Keep in mind that pruning can expose inner leaves and trunk tissue to more sun making them vulnerable to sunburn.  So, when pruning during summer, remove enough growth to increase airflow and sunlight without leaving the interior completely exposed.
  • Don’t be afraid to try!  When pruning, it is important to know what we are doing.  Fruit trees are expensive, and pruning has a permanent impact on the future growth and fruit production of the tree.  However, not pruning at all or pruning late is also problematic.
  • If you feel unsure about how to prune your trees, I encourage you to watch some of the pruning videos on the Dave Wilson website.  See the section on Home Fruit Growing >> Pruning Fruit Trees.
  • Confidence in pruning comes with experience and success.  Success comes from learning the basics and trying it out for yourself.
  • If fear of making a mistake is keeping you from pruning, here are two suggestions:
    One – Attend a fruit tree pruning workshop or hire a professional to give you a pruning demo on your own trees.
    Two – Decide to try and err on the side of pruning off too little rather than too much.  As the tree grows, you will be able to see the results of your cuts.  You can always prune more later.


Additional Information and Inspiration!

UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 8057 Fruit Trees: Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees
This publication is an excellent resource that contains helpful information on various pruning methods and includes detailed graphics and a glossary of pruning terms.


Introducing Backyard Orchard Culture!

Examples of Backyard Orchard Culture Plantings (Compact Orchard, Multi-Planting, Hedgerow, Espalier, and more!



The Art of Successive Ripening:



Introduction to Home Fruit Growing:



Are you growing fruit trees?  I’d love to hear about what you are growing, the methods you are using (compact orchard, espalier, container), and anything you care to share about how and when you are pruning them.  Pictures would be wonderful!

Thank you!

The #1 Reason I Rarely Use Weed Barrier Fabric in the Landscape!

The #1 Reason I Rarely Use Weed Barrier Fabric in the Landscape!

You may have heard the phrase, “If you want to grow healthy plants, grow healthy soil”.  This refers to supporting the health of the living organisms in the soil.  It is the activity of these organisms that, among many other things, contribute to the formation of fresh topsoil and helps make nutrients available to plant roots.

Weed barrier fabric prevents the germination of weed seeds by blocking their access to sunlight, however, it is not the easy, long-term solution that many people think it is and its use may be detrimental to soil health.

Weed barrier fabric slows the exchange of gases between the soil and the atmosphere.  This is especially likely to happen if the fabric is applied using a double layer.  When weed fabric is also covered by a layer of mulch or gravel, critical gas exchange is slowed even further.  Water evaporation may also be slowed too much.  This creates a very unhealthy environment for soil organisms and plant roots.


A Soil-building Alternative to Weed Fabric

“Select the right mulch and you reap the benefits of healthier soils and plants; choose the wrong mulch and the only plants that thrive are the weeds.”  Linda Chalker-Scott – Using Arborist Wood Chips As Landscape Mulch (Home Garden Series – Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center)

Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of soil usually for the purpose of improving the visual appeal of a landscape, suppressing weeds, and conserving soil moisture.

Organic mulches are those that contain carbon which is the primary fuel source of soil micro-organisms.  Organic mulches are typically derived from plant materials such as wood chips, leaves, straw, or nut hulls.  Used correctly, organic mulch materials will add to the formation of new topsoil and contribute nutrient materials to the organisms living in the soil below as they decompose over time.

Arborist Wood Chips

One example of an organic mulch is arborist wood chips.  According to Linda Chalker-Scott, arborist wood chips are one of the best mulch choices to use in areas containing trees and shrubs.  Arborist wood chips actually contain bark and leaves in addition to wood chips.  One feature that makes arborist wood chips a good mulch is that these materials vary in size.  Therefore, they resist compaction which can block the gas exchange between the soil and the atmosphere.

“Additionally, (according to Linda Chalker-Scott), the materials vary in their size and decomposition rate, creating a more diverse environment that houses a diversity of microbes, insects, and other organisms.  A biologically diverse soil community is more resistant to environmental disturbance and will, in turn, support a diverse and healthy plant population”.

I have seen arborist chips used successfully to suppress weed growth in many landscapes over the years.  I find this material to be very attractive and economical, and it may actually be available for free.  Contact your local professional tree care companies to find out if they provide that service in your community.

For details on how to correctly use arborist wood chips, refer to the fact sheet noted above.

In my experience, arborist chips, other organic mulches, and even weed-barrier fabric do not eliminate the need for regular maintenance for weed control.  A common mistake many people make is to apply mulch and/or weed fabric and expect to not have to do anything more to control the weeds.

First, arborist chips must be replaced every two to three years in order to be effective at suppressing weeds.

Second, I suggest people plan to spend roughly an hour per week inspecting and maintaining their landscape.  Whether you do it yourself or someone else does it, part of this time should be dedicated to weeding.  The time may be longer or shorter depending on the size of the area, and initially, there won’t be many weeds to pull.  Doing a little at a time is much easier than spending a weekend cleaning up a weed-infested yard.  If you get out there once a week to take a look, you will at least know what needs to be done.  When it comes to removing weeds, the sooner, the better.  They are easier to pull when young, and you will have fewer if you never allow them to set seed.

So, if growing healthy plants is a priority for you, consider avoiding the weed fabric. Its use may hinder the processes that build healthy soil over the long term.
Using weed fabric may also turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth.  I’ve had several landscapers share their stories about how clients have insisted on using weed fabric only to pay them later to take it all out.

If you have ever used weed fabric, I would very much appreciate hearing about your experience. Please share where you used it and how it worked out for you.

If comments are not visible, click on the title of this post.

Thank you!


Don’t do this to your Crape Myrtles!

Don’t do this to your Crape Myrtles!

I love Crape Myrtles, and it saddens me when I see them ruined by improper pruning.

Crape Myrtles are popular throughout the U.S. primarily because of their showy flowers that bloom from June through Fall.  The beautiful branching structure, seed pods, and smooth trunks of Crape Myrtles provide attractive winter interest.

Also, according to ornithologist Gary Graves, although Crape Myrtles are not native to the United States, a significant number of native U.S. bird species have adapted to eating their seeds.

Too much pruning potentially eliminates all the winter interest except for the beautiful under-bark of the trunk which appears in varying hues of brown and gray after the outer bark is shed throughout the summer.



The photo above shows how beautiful Crape Myrtles can be even in winter with no leaves or blooms.



Pruning Crape Myrtles can increase flower production, however, many people prune too severely.  I’ve even seen gardeners and landscapers doing this!

This photo (above) shows an example of a tree that has been pruned far too severely.  You can see that the beautiful branching structure has been completely destroyed. There is no cover for birds and all the seeds that might feed birds during the winter have been removed.  Even in Summer when the tree has leaves and flowers, the appearance of this tree will be much less attractive and the growth will be spindly and weak. Which tree would you rather be seeing during the cold months of winter?



As a general rule, I don’t remove more than 1/3rd of the growth when pruning a Crape Myrtle.  If the goal of pruning is to increase flower production, pruning off too much defeats the purpose.  In the photo above, I would only remove what is above the red line.  There is no need to prune off all the leaves, spent blooms, and twigs.  Those add to the winter beauty of the tree and provide cover and seeds for birds.


Tips for Success!

Purchase a mildew-resistant variety.

Purchase a variety that will be small enough at its mature size that it will not require pruning to control size.  Frequent pruning to control size not only creates more work but can sometimes diminish the attractiveness and health of the plant.

Prune in early Spring just as the buds have begun to swell.  Pruning in Spring (rather than Fall or early Winter) preserves beauty and seeds for birds over the winter, and the swelling buds will make it easier to identify the best places to make your pruning cuts. Pruning only in early Spring will avoid stimulating new growth which is more susceptible to mildew.

Avoid pruning off more than one-third of the growth.  This will be enough to increase flower production.  Some people like to prune Crape Myrtles after the flowers fade in order to stimulate a new flush of flowers.  If you want to prune for repeat bloom, do it as soon as the flowers fade, and do it only once if you want the plant to produce seeds to feed the birds and add beauty during the Winter.



If supporting birds and other wildlife is a priority for you, consider incorporating some native tree species into your landscape.  Although Crape Myrtles may provide seeds for some birds during winter, their overall food value to birds is very low compared to other native trees.

Not all native plants are equal when it comes to providing food value to birds and other wildlife.  To find out which native trees and other plants are native to your area and provide the best value for wildlife support, check this Native Plant Finder based on the scientific research of entomologist, Dr. Douglas Tallamy and Research Assistant, Kimberly Shropshire.  Using this tool, you can enter your zip code and pull up a list of native plants ranked by the number of butterflies and moths that use them as caterpillar host plants.  Caterpillars are a critical primary food source for most birds.

Are you growing Crape Myrtle?  Do you allow the seedpods to remain over winter?  If so, please let me know in the comments below where you are gardening and whether you have noticed any birds feeding on the Crape Myrtle seeds.
Please also share any other trees or plants you are growing that are providing food for wildlife either through fruit & seeds that they eat or through caterpillars and other insects that feed on the plant itself.

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Thank you!










Is broccoli one of your favorite superfoods?  Don’t discard those leaves!

Is broccoli one of your favorite superfoods? Don’t discard those leaves!

*This post may include affiliate links.  That means if you make a purchase through one of them, I will be compensated.  Using affiliate links does not result in a higher price for the consumer.  If you choose to purchase through one of my links, I thank you in advance for your support of my small business.

Did you know that the leaves of broccoli plants are highly nutritious and very prolific?

Most people only eat the flower head (the crown) of the broccoli plant, and completely disregard the nutrient-rich, tasty leaves.

Per a 2018 study, published in the journal, Molecules:

Broccoli florets had higher concentrations of amino acids, glucoraphanin, and neoglucobrassicin compared to other tissues, whereas leaves were higher in carotenoids, chlorophyll, vitamins E and K, total phenolic content, and antioxidant activity.  Leaves were also good sources of calcium and manganese compared to other tissues.”


How to Use Broccoli Leaves

In addition to being nutritious and tasty, broccoli leaves have a wide variety of culinary uses.

Broccoli leaves are similar to collard greens in texture, but with a distinct broccoli flavor and a slightly sweet taste.  Because they are somewhat thick, they are not quick to wilt.  They could essentially be used as you would any other greens such as kale, chard, and cabbage.  Raw leaves could be used as wraps or in salads such as carrot-raisin salad, broccoli salad, and coleslaw!

The youngest leaves will be the most tender and mild.  Medium-sized leaves are firm enough to use raw as wraps or stuffed with fillings and cooked like a cabbage roll.  Large leaves are best for soups and stews.  When using large leaves, you may want to remove the leafy portion from the center stem portion which may be too fibrous even when cooked.


When to Harvest Broccoli Leaves

The leaves will become tougher and less flavorful the older they get.

Leaves can be harvested well before the main crown is mature, and long after it is harvested.

Prior to harvesting the main crown, begin harvesting the outermost leaves.

Broccoli is best eaten as soon as possible after picking.

Broccoli begins to lose its cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours of harvest.  In order to get all the vegetable’s much-touted benefits, you have to grow it yourself or purchase it directly from a farmer and then eat it as soon as possible.  Many foods do not lend themselves to centralized production and long-distance shipping, and broccoli is one of them.  When we stopped eating locally grown produce and abandoned our home gardens, we lost at least half the protective properties of our fruits and vegetables as well as much of their flavor“.  – Jo Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side

Tips for Protecting Nutrient Value and Flavor of Broccoli (Also from the book, Eating on the Wild Side)

Cut broccoli leaves or crowns just prior to consuming them (or as close as possible).

If you are harvesting during warm weather and are gardening away from home (such as at a community garden), keeping broccoli on ice will help preserve it until you get home.

If not eating them immediately, store leaves (or crowns) in a micro-perforated bag in the produce drawer of the refrigerator.

Broccoli is best used immediately or at least within two days.


Broccoli is one example of a plant that produces nutritious edible leaves that are commonly discarded.  Others include cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts.

If you haven’t been using your broccoli leaves, I encourage you to give them a try!  Considering the nutritional value and culinary versatility they offer, you may discover a new appreciation for them.

If you are already using broccoli leaves (or other leaves that are typically discarded, I’d love to hear about your favorite ways to prepare them.  Please share in the comments below.

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Thank you, and enjoy!

Evaluating Your Yard Space for Growing Food & Herbs

Evaluating Your Yard Space for Growing Food & Herbs

*This post may include affiliate links.  That means if you make a purchase through one of them, I will be compensated.  Using affiliate links does not result in a higher price for the consumer.  If you choose to purchase through one of my links, I thank you in advance for your support of my small business.

When evaluating your space for growing food & herbs, these are the key factors to consider:

  • Light
  • Water
  • Soil Quality
  • Proximity to the House
  • Growing Method Options

When evaluating your space for the suitability of growing food & herbs, you will most likely find that you have multiple locations where you could grow something.  Obviously, the smaller the space, the fewer options there will be.

My goal with this article is to help you determine if you have at least one location that could be used for growing some food or herbs.  Finding more than one suitable location would be great!  This article will focus on outdoor growing with natural sunlight.


Considering the Key Factors


Lighting is a critical factor (second only to adequate water, of course).  Without adequate light, plants will not be able to thrive.  All the other factors are irrelevant if plants are not receiving enough light (and water).

Plants have varying requirements for light.  When growing plants for culinary or medicinal purposes, plants need enough light to be able to grow to a level of maturity at which they can be harvested for use.

Many food plants and herbs need a minimum of six hours of full sun per day during their growing season.  Other plants can thrive with less light.

In order to estimate how many hours of sunlight plants grown in a particular location will receive, you need to track the sun in that location over the period of an entire day.

Keep in mind that shadow patterns change with the seasons and over time.  An area that is mostly shaded during the cool seasons of the year may get more intense sunlight for a longer duration in the warm and hot seasons of the year.  Also, some areas will receive more or less sun as trees grow and other structures are added or removed from your landscape (or your neighbor’s).

Tracking the sun can be done for just a few select locations or the entire yard.  There are various methods to choose from depending on what you want to do.  Below I will share the method I use for tracking the sun in a few locations of the yard.


Track the Sun for Your Selected Spaces Using a Camera in Two Easy Steps


Step 1:  Identify and List Areas of Available Growing Space

Walk through your yard and identify the areas where you have space available to grow something.  As you look around, consider various growing methods that might be a fit for a particular space as well as your individual needs.  In addition to looking for space for an in-ground garden or raised bed, consider container-growing methods such as an elevated planter, a vertical planter, or hanging baskets around a patio.

Tip:  If you’re having difficulty finding space for growing plants, look for ways you might be able to make some space available by finding another location for what is currently occupying a given space in your yard.   For example, if you have a side yard where various things seem to accumulate because you don’t have a designated space to store them, could you create a space to store those items and free-up that side yard (or part of it) for growing plants?

If you have a lot of tools there, could you install a tool rack in your garage or set up a storage shed to contain them?  Sometimes side yards have really good light for growing plants.  Prioritize the spaces in your yard with the best light for growing plants, and use other locations with the lowest light for other purposes.  Be sure to check the lighting and other factors mentioned above before investing in items like storage sheds.  🙂

Make a list of all the areas you have found that might work for growing some new plants.  Be sure to describe each area so that you can easily identify each one – for example: “West Side-Yard”.

For easy recording, create a chart using an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper.  Along the short side, list your identified planting areas.  Across the top of the long side, list each hour from 8 am to 7 pm.  Add two more columns:  Total Hours Sun and Light Classification.  Be sure to note the date that you do your tracking.

Here is an example:

Step 2:  Photograph Each Space and Record Your Observations

For each area you’ve identified, take a photo of the space each hour from 8 am until 7 pm and record whether the area is sunny or shaded.  If you don’t want to take photos every hour, try to take them at the following times:  8 am, 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, and 6 pm.

Use these terms to describe the light conditions you observe:

Full Sun:  The area is completely sunny with no shade.

Part Sun/Part Shade:  These terms are confusing.  There is disagreement as to their meanings, so not everyone uses them in the same way.  The important thing to know is where/when plants would receive hot afternoon sun (and where/when they would be protected from the hot sun by having shade in the afternoon).  Your tracking will tell you that.

The following is my understanding of the two terms:

Part Sun:  An area receives four to six hours of sun at any time of day.  The sun exposure doesn’t have to be continuous.  For example, plants might receive sun in the morning, shade from noon to 2 pm, and then hot sun again in the late afternoon.

Part Shade:  An area receives less than six hours of sun and plants would be protected from the hot sun by shade in the afternoon.

Filtered or Dappled:  The sunlight is coming through trees, lattice, fence boards, shade cloth, etc.

Shade:  There is no direct sun reaching the area.  There may be indirect light, but the sun rays would not directly reach the plants.  If you hold your hand out flat above the ground, it does not create a shadow.

Tip:  As soon as you are finished taking your photos each hour, label your photos with the date, time of day, and area so that you won’t lose track of which time of day (and the season of the year) that a photo was taken.

When you finish taking all of your photos, you will be able to see where the sun/shade falls on a particular location throughout the day.

With this information, you can then determine approximately how many hours each area receives sun.

Knowing how many hours of sunlight a certain location receives will enable you to make an informed decision about which plants you might be able to grow there.


How to Use the Information You Have Gathered

For each of your selected potential growing areas, total the number of hours of sun received and label the area accordingly on your chart:

Full Sun:  Six or more hours of direct sunlight per day

Part Sun:  Three to six hours of sunlight at any time of day

Part Shade:  Less than six hours of sunlight per day with shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.

Shade:  Fewer than three hours of sunlight per day.

Now, when you are ready, you can shop for plants to match the estimated light conditions of your selected growing locations!  Plants sold in nurseries or garden centers should have an information label that will indicate how much light the plant requires.  At least one of the terms discussed above should be listed on the plant label.  (You might see a range listed such as “Full Sun to Part Sun”.  This means that the plant is expected to thrive in either full sun or part sun).  Choose plants with light requirements that match the light conditions of your various growing locations as indicated on your sun-tracking chart.  Bring your chart and photos with you when you shop for plants.  If you feel unsure about which plants to choose, ask a nursery salesperson to assist you.   🙂

Here is what I’ve grown in the areas listed in my example:

North Wall Under Master BR Window – The only time this area gets any sun at all is in summer.  As I mentioned, the sun hits it in the late afternoon, and it is blazing hot.  In this area, I have successfully grown rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, mint, and many flowers.

West Side Yard – This is where I grow my Aloe vera plants.  The only sun they get is at mid-day for a few hours.  Sometimes I shade them if we have an extended heatwave.  There is no irrigation here, so I only grow low-water plants in this area.

Behind the Pool Against the West Fence – This is the best spot in our yard for growing items that need full sun.  I’ve grown all of the following plants in full sun in half-barrel planters:  Blueberries, Tomatoes, Rosemary, Basil, Zucchini, Bell Peppers, Oregano, Thyme, Lemon Verbena, Lemon Grass, and many flowers such as Alyssum, Yarrow, Mexican Petunia, Sweet William, Geraniums, Penstemon, Salvia Hot Lips, Mexican Sage, Snapdragons, and others.

East Side Yard – This spot gets morning sun and afternoon shade.  It’s perfect for a wide variety of plants.  Here I’ve grown Cilantro, Mints, Chives, Oregano, Spinach, Geraniums, and a variety of succulents.  This is also where I grow my seedlings and any succulents or houseplants that I may start from cuttings.

So, as you can see, different spots in the yard might be just right for certain plants and some plants can thrive in multiple locations!



Do you have an easily accessible supply of water?  If watering your plants is difficult or inconvenient, it is less likely to get done.  Water stress is a serious cause of plant decline or death.  Plants that are water-stressed are very vulnerable to being overcome by insects or disease.  On a hot summer day, plants can die in a matter of hours if they don’t have enough water.

An automatic watering system is great, especially for busy people, those working full time away from home, or those who don’t particularly enjoy watering and caring for plants.  An automatic watering system saves time and lessens the chance of losing plants because you forgot to water them.

If you plan on hand-watering, can you create an easy to use, convenient set-up?  Where will you connect a hose?  Will you need more than one hose?  Will you want to roll it up after each use, and where will you store it?

If you don’t use an automated system, be sure to remind yourself to water.  I keep an alarm set on my phone to remind me to check my plants by 10 am. Ten o’clock is when I take my first break from working to move my body and refresh my energy, so it’s a perfect time for me to take a walk through the yard.  I routinely check my plants earlier in the morning, but the alarm helps make sure I don’t forget.

Soil Quality

Elevated Planter BoxWhat is the condition of the existing soil?  A primary concern is drainage.  Edibles must have good drainage.  If it takes more than a day for water to disappear after a rain, your soil may not drain well.  In that case, it may be best to use raised beds or a container gardening method for growing your food and herbs.  Are there too many roots underground from nearby trees or shrubs?  It may be difficult to dig up enough soil to plant a garden, and you may not be able to know until you get out there and start digging.  Keep in mind that digging into or cutting away roots causes damage to trees.  Removing some small roots is usually not a problem.  Removing many large ones will potentially cause the tree to decline and eventually die or become unstable.  This may be another situation in which raised beds, elevated planters, or other options might be better for growing your edibles & herbs rather than growing directly in the ground.


Proximity to the House

The closer and more easily accessible the garden, the more likely you will be to care for the garden and use what you grow on a regular basis.


If you are feeling apprehensive about purchasing plants or getting started gardening, I encourage you to start small and just get started!  Each season, we build on the knowledge we gained previously.  So, the sooner you get started, the sooner you will learn from your own experience and the sooner you will be able to begin enjoying the many benefits of gardening.

Take your time to get to know your space and learn about plants.  Learn about the climate and seasons of your local area.  Become the expert of knowing your own yard and your seasons.  Just as no one else knows your body better than you do, no one else would know your yard better than you do.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Try a variety of plants (perhaps in multiple locations) and see how they do.  Keep notes of what you try (when/where) in a garden journal, a simple notebook, and a gardening app.

You may be surprised at what grows well in certain areas of your yard.  For example, quite unexpectedly, I had good results growing rosemary, thyme, mint, parsley, and oregano in containers located against a north wall.  These plants only received sun very late in the afternoon for about three to four hours in summer!

To my delight, a couple of volunteer cherry tomato plants sprouted up in the ground between these containers very late in the summer.  I enjoyed their presence, so I just let them stay.  These plants did great!  They seemed to be the happiest of all the plants in the yard, and they produced a bunch of tomatoes!

In late November, they were still loaded with tomatoes.  I picked some while green, and they ripened on the counter. (Most of the tomatoes in the photo on the right were green when I picked them.  I kept them spread out on a cookie sheet to ripen.)  I also cut some large branches with green tomatoes and brought them into the house.  Those ripened too!

This story illustrates the fact that many plants are surprisingly adaptable and resilient.  It won’t be long before you get to know your space and get a feel for the types of plants that do well in various locations of your yard.

With the information you gather from using the key factors explained in this article to evaluate your space, you will be able to make informed decisions about which plants to purchase and where to grow them.

To learn about your local area, connect with your local Master Gardeners Association, a local garden club, or a gardening friend or neighbor.

I have a Facebook garden group called Central Valley Gardening Friends & Neighbors.  The group was created as a way for gardeners in my local area (California Central Valley) to connect with one another and help each other.  If our group might be a fit for you, please check us out here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/709831455776403

Above all, have fun with gardening. If you would like to introduce your children to gardening, get them involved.  Letting them help with the sun tracking and charting would be a fun way to get them outside and learning about nature in the context of their own yard.  Depending on their level of readiness you could possibly let your child create the chart, take the photos, and fill in the chart.  When you are ready to plan what you will grow, get them involved in that process too.  After you’ve done the planning, consider taking them with you shopping and letting them pick out some of their own starter plants or seeds.

If you get overwhelmed, stop, take a break, and go back to it later when you feel better.  Reach out for help when you need it.  Gardeners in general love to talk about plants and help each other.  If there is anything I might be able to help with, please post a question in the comments below.  If you prefer, you may email me directly at melthyme@gmail.com.

Thank you, take good care, and enjoy!


Think you can’t grow houseplants?  Let’s change that!

Think you can’t grow houseplants? Let’s change that!

You may have heard the common myth, “I have a brown thumb.  I can’t grow anything”!

If thoughts like that have led you to give up on growing houseplants or kept you from ever trying, I’d like to help you change that!

Below are four steps to help you overcome feelings of doubt related to growing plants and set yourself up with resources to help you move forward if you get stuck.

Step 1:  Believe you can!

The first thing to do is change any negative thinking or fear you might have around your ability to grow plants.

This famous quote by Henry Ford emphasizes how much attitude determines our success or failure: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right”.

I believe this to be true in my own life.  Many times when I have thought, “I can’t do this”, sure enough, I was not successful at it.

When I find myself believing I can’t do something that I absolutely know I’m capable of, the first thing I do is change my thinking.  That is something that often feels hard.

However, if I don’t take the time to change my attitude, I may as well not bother attempting to accomplish whatever it is I have set out to do.  It would be a total waste of time for me to spend any more time “trying” to do something because if I’m thinking I can’t, I most likely won’t.

So, whenever you notice yourself thinking that you can’t grow plants, stop that thought!  Do whatever works for you to replace thoughts of doubt with thoughts of positivity and belief in your own ability.

Repeat this as needed!  Negative thoughts can come back, so just expect them and be prepared to stop them, replace them, and move forward.

It may seem silly, but believing in our own ability really is the most important first step in having success growing plants or accomplishing anything else we want to do.

Step 2:  Find a resource for learning the basics of growing houseplants.

Plants are very similar to humans in that they have specific needs that must be met in order for them to survive, thrive, and reproduce.

At the most basic level, people need air, water, food, shelter, and love.

The basic needs of plants are sunlight, water, nutrition, air, and temperatures & humidity within a certain range.

To get started growing houseplants, find a resource that will introduce you to some beginner-friendly indoor plants, and help you learn the basics of houseplant care.

For example, you might check out my ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Beautifying with Indoor Plants, in which I introduce 13 of my top recommended plants for beginners and share a chapter on Plant Care Basics.

The guide comes with email support from me.  If you have a question about something in the guide or anything houseplant-related, I’ll try to help you out.  🙂

Step 3:  Get Started!

Once you have some basic knowledge of houseplant care, get started actually growing something!

When it comes to growing plants, hands-on experience is essential to learning.  So, the sooner you get started, the faster you will progress in your success.

If you are brand new to growing plants, start small, and keep it simple.

Start with just a few plants at most.  Learn how to care for those, then gradually add to your collection.

A common mistake people make is to buy a whole bunch of plants at once and think they will just figure out where to put them and how to take care of them.  This can turn out to be a huge waste of money and a big disappointment.  So take it slow, and learn as you go.


Step 4:  Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

The fear associated with not knowing how to care for plants can be very intimidating for beginners.

Keep in mind that learning how to care for plants takes time, and there is help available if you need it.

If you have internet access, there is a wealth of information instantly available on the internet and most houseplant lovers are happy to share their knowledge!

When a plant-related problem comes up, look into it as soon as possible.  One key to success in growing plants is responding to plant needs sooner rather than later.

A common mistake beginners make is to put off dealing with a plant-related issue because it feels overwhelming.

Here are some ways to get help with a plant-related issue:

  • Check the resource you selected to help you get started in learning about houseplants.  If that resource has a search feature, a user forum, or another place to submit a question, ask there.
  • Google it!  Simply enter a question into the Google search field, and you will get a list of results showing possible answers to your question.  Here is a sample question:  “Why is the foliage color fading on my houseplant”?
  • Ask a plant-loving friend or neighbor, or perhaps post the question on your own social media.  Doing so might lead to making a new plant friend!
  • Join an online houseplant group and post your question there.

I have a gardening group on Facebook called Central Valley Gardening Friends & Neighbors.  The group was originally created as a place where people could connect with other gardeners in our local area (California Central Valley:  primarily USDA Zone 9 / Sunset Zone 14) and support each other in our gardening efforts by sharing information.

Our main focus is gardening & landscaping, however, we talk about houseplants too.

I invite you to check us out.  You may find the group here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/709831455776403


You don’t need a “Green Thumb” in order to be successful at growing plants.  With the right information, you can learn to care for your plants.  With time and experience, you will get to know your plants and learn more about plants in general.  Plant care can be learned, just like anything else!

If you would like to be growing houseplants, I encourage you to give it a try.

Caring for plants can be very enjoyable and fulfilling, even therapeutic.  You might just discover a new hobby for yourself!

Do you want to be growing houseplants, but haven’t yet started?  What’s holding you back?  Have you tried before and given up?  What did you try growing and what happened?

If you are already growing houseplants, I’d love to hear about how you are enjoying them in your life. Do you grow them because you enjoy caring for them?  Do you grow them because you want to have live plants as part of your decor, but plant care doesn’t really light you up?  Do you grow them and sell them for extra money?  Do you grow them with your kids?  Which plants are your favorites?  I’d love to see pics!  Let me know what you’re up to or what you’re dreaming about for yourself.  🙂

Thank you, and enjoy!

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14 Easy Care Plants for Introducing Kids and Teens to Growing Plants Indoors!

14 Easy Care Plants for Introducing Kids and Teens to Growing Plants Indoors!

There are many ways in which children and teens can benefit from the experience of growing plants indoors!

Here are just a few:

  • Growing living plants provides connection to nature, and an opportunity to focus and enjoy the present moment.
  • Caring for plants teaches patience, gentleness, and responsibility.
  • Growing indoor plants can stimulate early interest in nature, gardening, and science.
  • Indoor plant gardening is a great outlet for creative expression.


Growing indoor plants provides wonderful opportunities for teaching and learning.
The possibilities listed below can be modified to fit the readiness level of your child: 


Introduction to Plant Names

Begin by explaining that plants have names just like we do, and that plants actually have two names – a common name, and a scientific name (botanical name).  

For young children,  focus on common names first.  Botanical names can be introduced later.

The following plants would be good selections for introducing plant common names to young children:  Spider Plant (Variegated Spider Plant is included in this post), Watermelon Peperomia, Hens & Chicks.

Here is an activity you can do with very young children who don’t yet read or write.  Set two or three plants on a table.  Simply introduce the plants by the common name.   Then, point to one plant, and ask the child if he/she can repeat the plant name back to you.

Children learning to read and write can write the plant common names on flash cards (one plant name per card).  Set up the corresponding plants on a table.  Review all the names with the child.  Ask the child to place one card with a common plant name in front of the corresponding plant that it belongs to.

Learning plants by their botanical names and being able to spell them correctly would be an advantageous first step for teens who may be interested in growing indoor plants as a hobby, getting a summer job in a nursery or garden center, starting a plant related business, or considering horticulture as a career.

Note:  As you may know from your own experience, some plant names seem to make sense while others don’t seem to “fit” at all.  Considering the Swedish Ivy plant (Plectranthus verticillatus) for example, the plant is native to Australia and Africa, not Sweden.  It is also more closely related to mint than Ivy.  


Spelling and Memorization

Learning the spelling of plant names is good exercise for the brain!  Begin with plant common names, then add the botanical names later.




Research a plant to learn where it originates.   Find that location on a globe or map.  Determine the native growing conditions of the plant.  For example, does the plant originate from a desert environment, rainforest, etc.?  Learning the conditions of a plant’s native environment can help us understand the care requirements for the plant such as whether it can thrive in direct sunlight or must have only indirect light, or whether it is a low water user or it must have consistently moist soil.


Beginning Botany

The possibilities are endless here.  There are many resources available online or in parent/teacher supply stores for teaching about the Identification and function of plant parts (Leaves, roots, stems, flowers, seeds and more).  Life on earth is powered by the sun.  Plants capture energy from the sun, and use it to create food for themselves.  Plants also transform the sun’s energy into forms that can nourish animals and humans.  Plants are the beginning of the food chain.

Plants also provide the oxygen we need in order to breathe.  Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.  This is the opposite of what humans and most animals do.  Humans take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.  Without an abundance of thriving plants on the planet, we humans would perish.

Learning about botany at an early age could inspire a young person to explore a plant related field of study or career such as floriculture, organic gardening/farming, regenerative landscaping, herbology, nutrition, wellness coaching, horticultural therapy, or integrative medicine.


Observation and Attention to Detail

Here is an activity to help a child notice and compare differences in the appearance and texture of various plant leaves.  Set up several plants in a row on a table.  Ask your child to look at them all, and tell you anything they notice about them.  (Write down the answers you are given).

Depending on the child’s answers, ask additional questions such as, “what can you tell me about how the leaves feel?”
Ask comparison questions such as, “Which leaf is flat, and which one is plump”, or “Which leaf is smooth, and which one is fuzzy”, etc.


Record Keeping 

Kids can keep a simple plant journal!  As your child acquires new plants, have them enter information into their plant journal such as the date,  plant name (common and botanical – parents can help with botanical names as needed), and who the plant was received from if it was a gift.  There is all kinds of other information that could be recorded in a plant journal such as when the plant was watered, fertilized, or moved into a larger pot, etc.  Record whatever suits the purpose for your child.  The objective is to help the child develop consistency in recording information.  The information recorded will be especially valuable to a child or teen who chooses to grow indoor plants as a hobby or start an entrepreneurial project.

I created a Houseplant Journal and Care Logbook as a supplement to my Beginner’s Guide to Beautifying with Indoor Plants ebook.  Although initially created for use by adults, this journal can also be used by teens or by an adult and child working together to learn about plant care. Tracking of plant care activities can easily be done by a child with guidance from an adult. Simply allow the child to do most of the filling-in of the plant care log pages as appropriate to their skill level.  There are also several coloring pages and blank pages for drawing and doodling!


Plant Reproduction

A child can observe the natural process of how plants make new baby plants.  There are actually many different processes or methods by which plants reproduce.  For simplicity, we will consider one such process, called vegetative reproduction, which could be easily observed in either of these two plants:

Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum  (Variegated Spider Plant) and Sempervivum tectorum  (Hens & Chicks or Houseleeks).

When Spider Plants and Hens & Chicks reproduce vegetatively, they send out stolons on which new plants grow.  This is the same process that happens when strawberries send out runners.  🙂


Idea for Hobby or Entrepreneurship Project

Help your child or teen build a collection of beautiful and unusual plant varieties, propagate more of them, and then gift, trade, or sell them!  Plant lovers will pay more for hard to find varieties, or be thrilled to receive one as a gift! 

This is something that could be developed slowly over the long term with a child or teen who shows interest and has already developed the skills needed to keep easy care plants (such as those in this post) alive and thriving. 

Begin by acquiring some plants that can easily be propagated such as the beginner-friendly favorites listed below.  Consider these plants “Mother Plants” from which new plants of each variety can be propagated.  Mother plants are typically kept for years (not sold or gifted unless it is no longer needed for providing propagation material).

  • Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’   Variegated Spider Plant  
  • Plectranthus verticillatus  (Swedish Ivy)
  • Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’  Marble Queen Pothos
  • Crassula ovata  Jade Plant  
  • Sempervivum tectorum  (Hens & Chicks)


Next, assist your plant hobbyist or budding entrepreneur in learning plant propagation.

There are many resources for learning propagation on YouTube.  Search on YouTube by entering the terms, “How to propagate (the plant name)”.

As skill at propagation develops, new plant varieties can be added to the collection!
Consider any plants of interest as well as less common varieties of those listed above.

As mentioned previously, unusual or rare varieties are highly sought after by plant lovers!


Let’s Check-out Some Plants!

The majority of plants included in this post are beginner-friendly, easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and easy to propagate (start new plants from the stems, leaves, seeds, or other parts of a plant).

The experience of growing plants will be more fun for kids if they are allowed some freedom to choose their own plants.  Perhaps young children could make a choice between some that you “pre-select” while at the nursery, and teens could choose their own from this post.


Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’  (Variegated Spider Plant)   

An exciting feature of this fast-growing beauty is that when mature and thriving, the flowers will transform into new plant-lets.

These “Baby Spiders”, can be grown and later given as gifts to friends and relatives, traded for other plants, or sold! 

If you wish to propagate (grow new plants) from your Spider Plant, allow the flowers to turn into new leaves.  When roots (about ¼” long) appear below the leaves, snip the plantlet from the stem of the mother plant and place it in a shallow container of water or directly into a small plant pot filled with potting soil.

Whether growing the new plantlet in water or potting soil, be sure the leaves are not submerged under water or buried below the potting soil. Ideally, the leaves should not be touching water or soil.  Keep the newly potted plantlets evenly moist.

When the plantlets growing in water form roots about ½ – 1 inch long, transfer them to a small pot filled with potting soil.

Spider plants are best displayed in hanging baskets or elevated plant stands. They look amazing when they have an abundance of plantlets hanging in the air!

The Spider Plant is ideal for learning about all of the following topics:  the ability of certain plants to  store water in their roots, plant reproduction (how a plant makes more of its own kind, plant propagation (the process of growing new plants from seeds, stems, or leaves), gifting and sharing, and entrepreneurship.  🙂

Light:   Medium to Bright Indirect 

About six hours of morning light from an east-facing window would be ideal.
No direct afternoon sun.

Water:  Low 

Mature plants store water in their roots.  For mature plants, allow 50% of the soil to dry between waterings.  With too little water, leaves will fade and droop. With too much water, leaves will turn yellow and mushy.  Avoid watering with flouridated water.


Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’  (Marble Queen Pothos)  

Once growing this popular plant at home, your young plant enthusiast will likely recognize it growing in restaurants, offices, and the homes of family friends. This beginner-friendly superstar can often be found growing up the walls and along the ceiling in restaurants.  

There are several varieties of Pothos available with differences in leaf colorings.  Most have heart-shaped green leaves with marbling in some shade of creamy white to bright gold.  There are some varieties with solid color leaves and no marbling such as Epipremnum ‘Neon’ (bright chartreuse) and Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’ (blue-green).

Pothos can be grown on tabletops when small, then in hanging baskets, or on elevated plant stands when larger.

 Pothos is very easy to propagate using stem cuttings, which makes it great for sharing or selling.

Note:  Pothos is toxic to people and pets when ingested.  Also, there is another plant sometimes labeled as Scindapsis pictus (Silver or Satin Pothos) which is highly toxic.  Take appropriate caution if you have young ones or pets in the home who may be tempted to eat plants.

Light:  Low to bright indirect (If leaf coloring fades (and plant is not dehydrated), it may need more light).  If leaves look bleached out, they are getting too much sun.

Water:  Medium – water when the top inch of soil is dry.


Peperomia caperata  (Emerald Ripple Peperomia)

Emerald Ripple Peperomia has thick, dark green leaves with deep fissures that provide interesting texture.  Every time I see one, I want to touch it!  This would be another good plant to use when teaching about similarities and differences or textures.  You could have a child feel the leaves of various plants and have them tell you what they notice about how they look and feel.  

Like many Peperomia plants, this one stays small and compact.  It would be ideal as a tabletop plant.

Light:  Bright Indirect 

At least six hours from an east or west-facing window is ideal.  Not enough light will cause this plant to stop growing.

Water:  Medium to Low 

Allow the top 50% of soil to dry between waterings.  Try to water the soil without getting the leaves or stems wet.  This could be done by adding a small amount of water at a time, and allowing it to soak in before adding more.


Peperomia argyreia  (Watermelon Peperomia) 

Watermelon Peperomia is easy to grow, stays small, and has pretty leaves with silver stripes that resemble the skin of a watermelon.

Here’s a fun way to use this plant in an observation exercise with a young child:  Place this plant along with a few others onto a table.   Ask your child to tell you anything they notice about any of the plants.  (Let them know they can gently touch the leaves if they like).  If the child doesn’t mention that the leaves of this one looks like a watermelon, ask if any of the plants have leaves that look like a sweet fruit that people may eat in Summer.  When finished, be sure to remind a young child about the plants in the home that we don’t eat.

Light:  Medium to Bright Indirect

Leaf color and patterns will fade and look bleached out if the plant is getting too much light.  With too little light, leaves will become darker green.

Water:  Medium 

Allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry between waterings.  If leaves droop, the plant may need water.  Leaf tips turning brown could indicate over-watering.


Peperomia obtusifolia  (Baby Rubber Plant)

Although named, “Baby Rubber Plant”, this plant is not tree-like in form and is not related to the Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant).  The Baby Rubber Pllant is small and compact.  If stems are not pruned, they will grow long like a vine.

There are over 1000 varieties of Peperomia plants with vast differences in form, leaf color, size and textures.  All varieties are considered non-poisonous.  Most have small root systems so they will stay small, and not require frequent re-potting.  A child who enjoys growing plants might want to try out other varieties, and grow their own personal collection!

Light:  Bright Indirect  

About six hours of indirect morning light from an east-facing window would be ideal.  No direct sun.

Water:  Low 

Allow the top 50% of soil to dry between waterings.  Peperomias are similar to succulents in that they store water in their leaves and stems.


Pilea involucrata ‘Moon Valley’  (Friendship Plant)  

The look and feel of the leaves of this plant are very interesting.  This is another plant that I want to touch every time I see one!  🙂

The leaves are thick,  appear quilted, and have saw-toothed edges.  The center of the leaves are reddish brown, and the edges are bright green.  

Because of its unusual appearance and texture, Friendship Plant would be a good one to include in an observation exercise for young children such as comparing the visual and textural differences in the leaves of a group of plants, or perhaps looking at leaves under a microscope.

Light:  Bright Indirect

Water:  Medium – Water regularly when the top 25% of soil is dry, but be careful not to overwater.  Try to avoid getting the leaves or stems wet.


Pilea numulariifolia   (Creeping Charlie)

Creeping Charlie is my number one favorite indoor plant!  This beginner-friendly super pretty plant is a trailing vine that can be used as a tabletop plant when young, then moved to an elevated plant stand or hanging basket.

Creeping Charlie is fast-growing, and easy to propagate from stem cuttings.  Creeping Charlie stem cuttings will also root in a jar of water.

Light:  Bright Indirect

Water:  Medium – Water regularly when the top 25% of soil is dry.


Plectranthus verticillatus  (Swedish Ivy)

I have seen Swedish Ivy sold under the name of Creeping Charlie and vice versa.

The plant I know as Swedish Ivy has leaves that are smooth to the touch.  The leaves of Creeping Charlie are covered with fine hairs, and have deep fissures which form a somewhat quilted appearance. 

Swedish Ivy is one of those special plants that brings joy to my heart every time I see one!  There are many things I love about them.  First, they are very fast-growing and super easy to grow.  Second, they have pretty, bright green leaves with scalloped edges, and mature plants will produce 2” spikes of white or very pale lavender  flowers in early summer.  A large hanging plant in bloom is an eye-catching sight!

This plant can be used on a table top when young, and an elevated stand or hanging basket when larger.

Swedish Ivy may not be easy to find.  Its stems break easily so it does not transport well. You may have the best chance of finding this plant through friends, neighbors, and hobby growers (people who grow plants and sell them yard sale style or online through platforms like Facebook).

This plant is super easy to propagate (start new plants) from cuttings.  Broken stems can easily be turned into new plants!  Swedish Ivy would be a great plant for a teen interested in propagation as a hobby for gifting or selling plants.

Note: the sap from this plant will temporarily stain the skin orange, but it is harmless.

Light:  Bright Indirect 

About six hours of morning light from an east-facing window is ideal.  No direct sun.  Plants will become leggy (long thin stems with wide spaces between the leaves) if they are not getting enough light.  Leaves will scorch if light is too bright for too many hours.


Medium – allow the top 25% of soil to dry between waterings.  If the plant foliage (leaves) fade and droop, the plant needs water.  If  the leaves turn yellow, the plant may be receiving too much water.  Err on the side of too little water.  Over-watering is a common cause of death for these plants.



Aloe vera (Common Aloe)

Aloe vera is super easy to grow.  The most critical factor in growing Aloe successfully is to avoid over-watering.

Aloe plants are very easy to propagate.  In fact, a mature plant will produce new baby plants called “pups”.  These new plants can gently be separated from the mother plant, and potted into their own containers.  That’s all there is to it!  It doesn’t get easier than that!

Light: Bright Indirect.

Light from an East facing window that gets several hours of morning sun would be ideal.  Aloe can be grown in west or south exposures as long as the plant is not right up against a window in direct afternoon sun during summer.  Plants too close to a hot window in summer will burn.

Water:  Very Low

Aloe can hold water in its leaves for very long periods of time.  Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings.  This could mean that it may be as long as a month between waterings.  When in doubt, don’t water.

When in need of water, the leaves will become puckered rather than plump, firm, and smooth.

When an Aloe plant is receiving too much water, the leaves will turn brownish toward the tips.  Eventually, the leaves will turn completely brown and will droop rather than standing upright.

Aloe plants have small spikes on the leaf edges that are soft when young, but get sharper with age.  Mature plants with sharp spikes would not be safe for handling by very young children.


Crassula ovata  (Jade Plant)  

Jade would make a great starter plant for kids because they don’t need much attention.  They are also very common, and fairly inexpensive to purchase.

Although they don’t often flower indoors, they may produce pink or white flowers in December.   

There are several interesting varieties of Jade Plants available including Crassula ovata ‘Variegata’  (Variegated Jade Plant) which has pretty green and white leaves.

Jade plants are easy to propagate (start new plants) using stem or leaf cuttings. 

Healthy leaves can be removed from the plant, and planted directly into a pot of fresh potting soil.  Keep moist like a damp sponge. 

In addition to being a super easy, beginner-friendly indoor plant, Jade also makes a great container plant for the patio in full sun or part shade.

Jade is considered safe for kids, but toxic to pets.

Light: Bright Direct 

Jade plants are somewhat adaptable to lower light conditions.  Jade plants can live in low light, but they won’t put on any new growth.

Water:  Very Low 

Jade plants are succulents.  Allow soil to dry between waterings.  Indoors a plant may need water only once in two weeks during summer.  The plant leaves will fade and shrivel if they get too dry.  Leaves will turn yellow and drop off when over-watered, and the stems will become soft and mushy.


Portulacaria afra  (Elephant’s Food) 

As the common name suggests, this plant really is eaten by elephants in South Africa.

Elephant’s Food Plant is similar to the Jade Plant in appearance and has the same care requirements.   Elephant’s Food Plant has thick reddish brown stems and fleshy green leaves like the Jade Plant, but is faster growing and more loosely branched.

In this photo, there are actually two plants in one pot.  Portulacaria afra is the tall plant with reddish stems.  The plant with blueish green leaves and pink flowers is Delosperma cooperi.  Both plants have the same light and water requirements.

Outdoors in the ground, Elephant’s Food can grow quite large (6-8’ x 3’ or more).   It will be much smaller indoors when growth is restricted by a pot and indoor lighting.  Use it as a tabletop plant when young, then as a floor plant when it grows large.

This plant might be appealing to a teenager who favors minimalist decor, or who is interested in learning Bonsai (the art of growing trees or shrubs in miniature through regular selective pruning).  For a teen interested in earning money or establishing a business, selling bonsai plants is a good opportunity.  People pay good money for beautiful bonsai plants.

Light:  Bright 

At least six hours of direct or indirect light from an east, west, or south facing window should allow this plant to thrive.  In its natural outdoor environment, this plant grows in hot full sun desert areas.  It is also known to thrive in humid areas with high rainfall such as Florida.  If you find your indoor environment doesn’t provide enough light for this plant, try growing it outdoors on the porch or patio.

Water:  Low 

Although categorized as a succulent, this plant is also known to thrive in humid areas with high rainfall such as Florida.  I have noticed that my plant seems to prefer more frequent watering than my Jade plant.   Check your plant weekly, and allow soil to dry between waterings.  The plant leaves will fade and shrivel if they get too dry.  Leaves will turn yellow and drop off when over-watered, and the stems will become soft and mushy.

Additional Varieties of Portulacaria afra to Explore:

Portulacaria afra ‘Aurea’ – very low growing plant with chartreuse (yellowish-green) leaves.

Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’ – very pretty plant with deep red stems and light green leaves outlined in creamy white.  This variety stays low, and has trailing stems which would make it ideal for hanging baskets or as a “Spiller” in a container planting.  For example, Portulacaria afra (or any upright growing plant with similar light and water requirements) could be planted in the center of a pot, and Portulacaria a. ‘Variegata’ could be planted closer to the side of the pot and allowed to spill over.  


Sempervivum tectorum  (Hens & Chicks)

These eye-catching succulents form beautiful rosettes, and are fun to grow!  The main plant (Hen) produces clusters of baby plants (Chicks).  Because these plants spread via underground runners, the best type of pot to use to grow them in would be a shallow wide dish or bowl.

There are many varieties of Sempervivum available with vast differences in appearance.

A young person might enjoy creating a personal collection of favorite varieties which could then be shared, traded, or sold!  I would love to have a collection of these myself.  There are so many that I like!

Light:  Bright Direct or Indirect

At least six hours of bright light from a west or south-facing window would be ideal.  In their native outdoor environment, these plants can grow in full sun or part shade.

Water:  Very Low 

Avoid over watering.  Allow soil to dry between waterings. 

Hens & Chicks also make ideal rock garden plants.  If your young plant enthusiast grows an abundance of “Chicks”, you might suggest experimenting by growing some outdoors.  If space allows, grow some in full sun and some in part shade, then compare the results. 



Generally, edible plants and herbs require a minimum of 6 hours of bright light per day during the growing season.  Many are normally grown outdoors in full sun, so the challenge when growing them indoors is providing enough light.

Here are a couple of herb plants you might try indoors:

Ocimum basilicum  (Basil)

Basil is a wonderful plant which might be most appealing to teens who are interested in trying out new foods and flavors, or who are just beginning to explore the worlds of cooking or nutrition.  Popular in Italian and Greek cooking, Basil has a very distinctive flavor used in many common favorites such as pizza, lasagna, pesto, salads, bruschetta, and hummus.

There are many varieties of Basil which have their own distinct flavors.  For a person who likes Basil, it might be fun to grow several different varieties.  Perhaps some could be grown indoors, and others could be grown outdoors in the garden or in pots.

For beginners, using established plants grown in a nursery would be the easiest way to get started growing herbs.

Light:  Bright Direct 

Six or more hours of direct light from a west or south-facing window would be ideal.

Outdoors, Basil can grow in full sun all day.

Water:  Medium to High

Basil needs regular water.  Keep soil moist like a damp sponge.  Water when no more than the top inch of soil is dry.

Tip:  Basil is a summer annual.  It grows during the warm season, then dies when it gets too cold (or when it does not get enough light when grown indoors).  Once the flowers form, the plant will set seed and begin to die.  Flowering may change the taste of the leaves.  Some people don’t like the flavor after flowering.  To prolong the life of the plant, trim it regularly before flowers form.  

Trimmed stems can be rooted in a jar of water.  Place the jar where it can receive some morning light.  Leaves from these rooting stems can be used fresh.   Change the water every couple of days, and the stems will stay alive for months.

When roots form, the rooted stems can be transferred to pots of fresh potting soil, or planted in the garden.

The leaves that are trimmed off can be used fresh, or preserved. Basil and many other herbs can be preserved by drying,  or by making a pesto using olive oil.  The pesto can be frozen in single serve portions (2 TBS is the amount I often use when cooking).  Instructions for various methods of preserving herbs can be found on YouTube.


Thymus (Thyme)  

Thyme is a perennial herb.  Perennial plants can live over many years, as opposed to “annual” plants (such as Basil) which complete their entire life cycle in one year (or season).  Thyme is commonly used to flavor meat, fish, vegetables, and salads, and has become one of my essential herbs.  Variegated Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Variegata’) is an especially beautiful variety that smells and tastes wonderful!

For herbs you use frequently, it is ideal if you can grow them in a kitchen windowsill or outdoors close to the house.

Light:  Bright Direct 

Six or more hours of direct light from a west or south-facing window would be ideal.  If you try growing Thyme indoors and find that it is not getting enough light, try growing it outdoors.  Outdoors, Variegated Lemon Thyme can grow in full sun or afternoon shade.  Note:  Potted plants will dry out faster than those growing in the ground,

Water:  Medium to Low

Water when the top 25% of soil is dry.


A Note About Plant Toxicity

With the exception of our known food plants, all plants used to beautify our indoor or outdoor spaces are potentially toxic to humans and pets to some degree.

Even some plants we consider “edible” can be seriously problematic for some individuals.

Those most vulnerable to toxicity in plants are infants, young children, and pets.  Ideally, plants should be kept out of reach of babies, toddlers, and pets.

Be sure to talk with your children about the difference between plants we eat and those we don’t eat, and point out those that may be growing in your home or yard that should not be eaten.

If you suspect a child (or adult) has eaten any part a plant, or if you notice symptoms of illness or dermatitis after handling a plant, call your Poison Control Center for additional information:  800.222.1222

The University of California provides lists of poisonous garden plants on their website including plants toxic to pets and those considered least toxic for young children:



Want to Learn More?

Would you like to learn more about growing indoor plants or Plant Care Basics?  Check out my Beginner’s Guide to Beautifying with Indoor Plants!


Let’s Connect!

I’d love to hear about your experience growing indoor plants with your kids.  If you have a question about the information in this post or comment to share, please let me know in the comments below.  If the comments are not showing, enable commenting by clicking on the title of this post.


Thank you, and enjoy!  🙂













The Landscaping Process: From Plan to Planted Project, How Long Might It Take?

The Landscaping Process: From Plan to Planted Project, How Long Might It Take?

Landscaping done right takes some time.  Creating a plan and implementing that plan is a process.  It doesn’t happen as quickly as it appears on popular home shows you might see on HGTV.  There is a great deal of work that takes place behind the scenes of those shows to make those beautiful makeovers happen.

Landscaping ProcessIt all begins with you deciding that you want to beautify your outdoor space.  You may already have a pretty solid idea of what you want, and you have a vision in mind.  On the other hand, you may not have a clear vision of what you want, and would like to explore ideas and possibilities.

There is a wide range of options for working with various landscaping professionals to create a design plan and install a project.  For the sake of simplicity, this article will focus on the example of working with a landscape designer for the design portion of your project, and a landscape contractor for the installation. Some landscape contractors provide design and installation services, so it may be possible that your entire project would be handled by one company.

Outline of Process and General Time Frame

Initial Site Visit (One or two hours)

The first step in the landscaping process is usually an On-site Consultation with a landscaping professional.  These initial site visits are typically scheduled for one or two hours.  Some companies will provide consultations at no charge, others charge for their time.  Many will charge for the consultation, and apply the payment to the design plan or the installation if you also hire them to create the plan and/or install the project.

One primary purpose of this visit is for you (the client) and the designer or contractor to get a feel for whether you would be a good fit for working together to create a design plan and/or an installation for your project.

Landscaping ProcessThe designer’s job is to get a clear understanding of what you want, and share information about him or herself and his/her ideas & inspiration for your space so you can get a feel for whether this person’s ideas, personality, qualifications, etc. will be a fit for you and your project.

The process often begins with the designer asking you to fill out a client questionnaire prior to your first appointment.  Then when you meet for your consultation appointment, you’ll do a walk-through of your yard together.  Typically, you’ll discuss your “Must-Have” items and “Wish-List”.  The designer will share ideas on ways to incorporate some of your requirements, and present some plants that may appeal to you and work well in your project.

If after the initial consultation, you like the designer’s ideas and feel the person is a good fit for you and your project, you can request a price for the cost of having that person or company prepare a design plan and/or install your project. Usually at this point, a proposal will be prepared to specify the cost, process and payment schedule that will apply if you want to hire that company to design and/or install your project.  Most companies require a deposit at this point before moving forward.  Typically, once a deposit is received, the next step in the process is the creation of a Conceptual Plan.

Creation of Conceptual Plan (Typically five days or longer)

A Conceptual Plan is basically a rough draft drawing of possible ideas for your project, and is the first step in putting the vision for a space onto paper.  Depending on the size of your project and your “Wish List”, more than one Conceptual Plan may be prepared.

To gather information needed to prepare the Conceptual Plan, an appointment will be scheduled to evaluate the site, and take measurements and photographs.

How quickly the Conceptual Plan can be prepared depends on the size of your project, the complexity of the features you want, and the availability of time in the designer’s schedule.  Conceptual Plans might be completed as quickly as five days.

Conceptual Review (Usually one hour)

Once the conceptual plans are completed, an appointment will be scheduled to review them.

As mentioned, the conceptual plans are a representation of a general vision for a space that illustrates the major features and requirements expressed by the client.  During the Conceptual Review, changes and adjustments are made if needed.  The Conceptual Review is the best time to request any changes to the plan.  Changes requested after the Conceptual Review appointment may delay the completion of the final plan, and may add to the cost.  This appointment usually takes about an hour.  Assuming the client is happy with the conceptual plan, and wants to move forward, the final plan(s) will be prepared.

Preparation of Final Plan (Usually two to four weeks)

Landscaping ProcessThe amount of time it may take for your final plans to be completed depends on the size and complexity of your project. Depending on the features of your project, plans for things such as lighting, irrigation and drainage, and construction details may be needed in addition to the planting plan which only shows the placement of the plant material.  Once your project is scheduled, it may take anywhere from 25-35 hours over a period of two to four weeks for all the plans to be completed.

Once you have a design plan, your project needs to be installed.  Depending on the size and features of the project, there are a few options you may consider for installation.  If you are only adding or changing plants in an existing landscape, your plan is probably very simple in terms of landscaping. You may choose to do the work yourself, or hire a gardener to do it.  For a small planting project, the work can probably be done in one or two days.  Larger projects which may include the construction of new features such as planter bed borders, sidewalks, patios, irrigation, lighting, etc.should be done (and may be legally required) to be done by a professional landscape contractor unless you have the skills and abilities to do the work yourself.

Check with your city and state for regulations pertaining to landscaping projects in your area before starting any project.  If your home is bound by the regulations of a homeowner’s association, be sure to check their rules also.  HOA’s can be very restrictive, and they can require that your entire project be removed if they determine it is not in compliance with their regulations.  Also, like other home improvement projects, a landscaping project may require a permit.

Contractor Interviews and Bid Collection (About one to two weeks)

Once you have your plan in hand, you can begin collecting bids from landscape contractors for the installation of your project.  A landscape contractor holds a C-27 landscape contractor license, and is a landscaping professional.  A general contractor may be able to legally perform landscape work, but is probably not a landscaping expert and may not have landscaping experience.

Landscaping ProcessI always encourage people to collect bids from at least three contractors.  Your new landscape is an investment.  The design plan is just one part of the process.  The plan is a drawing of a vision.  It is the contractor who will turn that vision into a physical reality.  You want that job to be done with professionalism and quality of workmanship by a person with landscaping experience.  You also want to be sure that company is licensed and properly insured. Take the time to meet and interview several contractors, verify references and licensure, collect bids, and choose wisely.

Generally, it could take anywhere from one to five days to get a bid from a contractor once he or she has seen your property and received a copy of your plan.  When you have collected all the bids you want, compared them, and chosen your contractor, let that person know right away so that you can accept the bid (sign the contract), and get your project on his or her calendar.  It is not uncommon for quality landscape professionals to be booked several months out.

Project Installation (Two days to several weeks or longer depending on size)

The length of time it takes to install your project will depend primarily on the size and features of your project.  Your contractor will provide you with an estimated time of completion.

Your contractor will let you know when your job will begin and about how long it should take to complete. Be aware that there are factors that may delay the completion of your project that the contractor cannot control.  Such things may include rain, frozen ground, plants or other materials that may need to be special-ordered, materials that were ordered, but in error are not delivered when promised, etc.  Also, landscaping projects can be similar to other home improvement projects in that other problems may be encountered that were not expected.

In Summary

Landscaping ProcessDepending on the size and features of your project, contractor scheduling, and possible delays, it could take a month or longer to complete the entire landscape design and installation process.  Unless you have a very simple project, one that may only require the planting of five-gallon size plants or smaller, and mulch application (no installation or modification of irrigation, no construction of hardscape which is anything other than plant material such as sidewalks, planter beds, and patios), it is going to take some time.  🙂

What has been your experience in working with landscaping professionals?  If you’ve had a project installed, I’d like to hear about how it turned out.  How did you find the professional you chose?  Was the work completed on time and on budget?  Were you pleased with the overall outcome?  What if anything didn’t go right?  What was your biggest frustration or difficulty related to the project, or in working with the landscape designer or contractor?  What would you do differently next time?  What advice would you have for someone considering making an investing in a new landscaping project for their home? Do you have any tips on how to save time or money in the landscaping process?  Please comment below with anything you care to share.  Your comments may be used as inspiration for future blog posts.  🙂

Thank you!