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After living most of my life in urban apartments, I bought a house in the suburbs and suddenly find myself with a lawn and garden to take care of. Apart from mowing, which I'm familiar with, I have no idea what to do. What should be, say, my first three actions in the yard?

Update: what's in the yard?

  • 1 miniature Japanese maple (h == 18in)
  • A few hostas
  • Other, unidentified things (photos pending)
  • Does the house already have an established garden? If so, what sort of plants are already in it? (If you can't identify them, that is the first of your three actions!) – alephzero Jul 26 '19 at 20:39
  • @alephzero Fair point. All I can identify is a tiny Japanese maple and some hostas; I'm having trouble posting photos for some reason, but there's other stuff as well. – crmdgn Jul 26 '19 at 21:14
  • Is the area with the hopefully soon to be identified other plants been edged? If so, with what (brick, "bulletnose pavers", plastic, metal)? And - where do you live? – Jurp Jul 27 '19 at 2:34
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Getting local advice is important here. You could spend a few years learning general gardening "theory" and then apply it to your particular situation, but that probably isn't the best way to get started!

Take note of which of your neighbours seem to have "good" gardens, and talk to them. Most keen gardeners are happy to give advice, lend tools, or even donate you some plants.

One universally applicable piece of advice: don't rush to do any major work until you have lived there for a year and taken note of everything you already have. For example you might have a lot of spring flowering bulbs which are currently invisible underground. If you discover them by digging them up by accident, you can usually identify the general species, but it is impossible to tell exactly which varieties or what the flower colors are except by "seeing what comes up" next spring. For example tulip bulbs all look pretty much the same, but the flowers might be any color of the spectrum from white to black, and the plants might grow anything from 6 inches to 3 feet tall.

If you want some "instant gratification" because the garden currently doesn't look interesting, go for annual plants in the first year. After midsummer may be too late to sow seed (depending on your climate, and how soon winter sets in) but you can buy plants either from garden centers or supermarkets. Since they will only live for one season whatever happens, any mistakes or bad choices won't turn into long term problems

As for pruning shrubs and trees, don't forget that plants in the wild get along just fine without people messing about with them every year. You won't kill or damage any established plants by leaving them alone for a year or two, and doing the wrong thing can wipe out the following year's flowers completely if you try to "reduce the size of the plant" but cut off all the new growth that would flower next year, for example. (A good general rule: prune flowering shrubs and trees immediately after flowering, not at a different time of the year).

The most important piece of advice is "have fun." and remember that all gardeners learn by making mistakes all the time. It's just after the first 20 or 30 years, the type of mistakes you make tend to become less obvious :)

  • "Mistakes that you make are less obvious" for me that's usually trying to remove something and saying "who did this?" And realizing it was me – kevinsky Jul 28 '19 at 16:45
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  • Mason jar soil test, sampled from a few different places in the yard, retain photos - this will be useful for you as a baseline for further planning, knowledge of mix of clay, loam and sand that your future plants will be living in, try a search on "mason jar soil test" to get a variety of hints and ideas
  • Collect, identify, press and dry as many different weeds and grasses as you can find in your yard - this will make you aware of different plant features and characteristics and will start your library of useful reference books
  • Consult with your local utility companies to find out if and where utility wires, pipes, pass through your garden to the house and other buildings - this will require a plan of sorts with distances; mark North on the plan and note areas of shade and full sun during various seasons.

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