How does your garden grow?

Don’t dig yourself into a hole: Follow our five tips to beautify your new yard

Can’t bear to get your hands dirty? Enter the Regional Water Authority’s Ultimate Garden Makeover Contest. The grand prize is a front yard “water smart” makeover valued at up to $40,000. Learn more at

So you’ve bought a new house that’s perfect inside but, perhaps not so beautiful on the outside. Don’t put on your gardening gloves and kneepads just yet! Taffetta Lassen of The Gifted Gardener at 1730 J Street in Midtown says many new homeowners make the same mistake when starting a garden or revitalizing an existing one. “They come in and ask what kind of plants to buy,” she says. They’re getting ahead of themselves. To prove it, Lassen gave us her top five gardening tips for new homeowners, and buying flowers barely made the list.

Get introspective
Before starting any landscaping project, ask why you’re doing it. Do you want something pretty to look at? Trying to keep up with the horticulturist next door? Or maybe you love to cook and dream of growing your own ingredients? Determine your goals, then sketch out where you want to plant what—flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs? Look at gardening magazines and take garden tours to get ideas. “It’s so much easier to erase than to dig something up,” Lassen says.

Get soiled
The soil type determines how you water, fertilize and care for plants. New homes without landscaping often have what Lassen calls “contractor’s soil”—hard-packed, nutrient-deficient and tough to cultivate. Adding soil “amendments,” organic stuff like compost and manure, can improve the soil and encourage root growth. Purchase a soil testing kit from a hardware store or nursery.

Observe sun, wind and rain run-off patterns
If the front of your house is mostly shady, sun-loving plants like zinnias won’t fare well there. Likewise, shade-loving impatiens will quickly wither in full sun. Rain runoff can over-saturate ill-placed garden beds. Take note of the conditions where you hope to cultivate your garden and plan accordingly.

Of all the gardening books on the market, Lassen recommends the Sunset Western Garden Book, a bible for anyone with a shovel west of the Rockies. Use other resources, too. Your county’s agricultural extension office likely has a master gardener available to answer your questions for free. The Sunday morning Garden Show on KFBK features sage advice from master gardener “Farmer Fred” Hoffman.

Buy plants!
We said you’d get here eventually. Lassen says local sales are best because their plants are native to the area (unlike those found at big-box retailers, which are typically imported). Check out the Shepard Garden and Art Center’s annual spring and fall plant sales, or visit local nurseries like Matsuda’s Garden Center at 8501 Jackson Rd., (916) 381-1625; Talini’s Nursery & Garden Center at 5601 Folsom Blvd., (916) 451-9388; or Capital Nursery at 4700 Freeport Blvd., (916) 455-2601.