One thing that I have learned over 20 years of garden experience, is that you are definitely going to make mistakes with your plant choices. As gardeners, we have so much information at our fingertips, in books, websites, and the tags on the plant we are hoping to buy that it can feel overwhelming when we are trying to decide what to plant and where. Experimenting in the garden can take your garden to the next level.
The best thing I have found to tell myself when gardening now is, lets just see what happens? That doesn’t mean I will put in a zone ten plant and expect it to overwinter at zone three; but I might be willing to push into one zone warmer and be ready to lose the plant or baby it to make it survive.
Let’s look at how we can play and experiment in the garden at home, to add enjoyment and ease frustration.
Your garden has its own unique micro-climate, which means that although you may be zone 4, there will likely be parts of your garden that will support a zone on either side of that. You need to consider the layout of your property; what causes shade? Are you lower than the house across the street? How much sun do you get and where is the wind going to hit your garden?
A good example in my garden is that because I am the lowest property on the street, we always get frost later in the spring and this has an impact on what I will plant and when I start to put plants into the garden.
Make some notes about what climate hints you see around your yard and use that to plan how you will experiment with new plants.
Playing with Zones
Garden centers want to sell plants so they will often carry “perennials” that are truly pushing the boundary of what will work in your climate.This can be good if you are paying attention and purposefully decide to try a zone warmer to see if you can make a plant work, but it can also be deceiving if you assume your garden center will only offer appropriate perennials. Be sure to examine the tag carefully or use your phone to determine if the plant will work. Experimenting in the garden with perennials is one of the easiest ways to try new plants.
With that in mind, it can be fun to try to grow a plant that might be one zone away from what you are classified as. Don’t be afraid to push the limits a little bit! Keep notes in a garden journal or on your phone so that you remember what you planted and can see how it fared over winter in your area.
In Canada, look at this government site to find your current garden zone. In the US, look at the USDA plant hardiness map for your zone guidelines.
Sun or Shade
I have successfully grown full sun plants in shade to part shade, and encouraged a shade plant to grow in a sunny location! Using the plant tag can be very helpful for a beginner gardener to try to figure out how to plan your garden, but be a little adventurous and try a plant in a location you are unsure of. Thankfully, if you do notice that something isn’t thriving, most plants are forgiving and could be pulled out and moved to a new location.
In order to grow a plant that you may not normally be able to grow in your zone, you could try adding some winter support to help that plant survive.
A layer of straw or other mulch might be able to help protect a temperamental perennial make it through winter. You could also consider wrapping a shrub or tree in burlap to create a barrier against the winter elements.
Ask a neighbor
Finally, if you aren’t already friendly with your neighborhood gardeners, now is a good time get to know them and see what they are growing in their garden that might work in yours. It is likely you have similar micro-climates, soil and pests.
Who knows; since most perennials need to be divided after a couple of years, you may also leave with a couple of new plants and a better understanding of your neighborhood! Sharing with neighbors will also help you save money in the garden.
Experimenting in the garden makes gardening more interesting and fun, so go ahead and try that new plant out today.