The Best Gardening Advice I Ever Got (and Blogoversary Giveaway)


Before I get into the heart of this post, let me get into, well, the heart of this post.  The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man blog is turning one today, and I want to thank all of you for helping to make this year inspirational and educational, as well as for joining me on a journey that I never imagined could happen by simply clicking “publish.” 

Perhaps the best illustration I can offer is the picture below, and it’s an image that completely astounds me.  WordPress recently added this feature to the stats page – a visual depiction of where the readers of this blog live and garden.

 This occasion has also brought to mind all of the lessons and tidbits of knowledge that I have picked up over the years.  In fact, it’s safe to say that gardeners dispense advice as if it is seeds – casting them about and hoping that one or hundreds will take hold and root and grow.

My earliest advice probably came from my mother.  I have very clear memories of being a child and pulling weeds from the yard and then replanting them in the beds of my toy dump trucks – a gardenscape if ever there could be one.   Mom’s advice probably went something like this: “Kevin, stop planting weeds in your dump truck.”

Then, she taught me the importance of deadheading to keep a flower in bloom, especially marigolds and geraniums.

From my father came lessons in weeding and crop rotation, even if each summer’s crop was wedged into the sunniest corner of a suburban backyard – the corner he referred to as the lower 40. 

My maternal grandfather was the one with the green thumb.  He was a farmer and cattle rancher in Louisiana, and from him came the knowledge of talking to plants.  He was as gentle with green things as he was with a newborn calf.

Over the years, other pieces of advice have landed in my brain – and I’m not sure from where they came.  One of the best pieces I picked up came in handy when I re-landscaped the walkway to the front door.  It went like this: look at the landscaping around local businesses and shopping centers.  Chances are the owner hired a professional landscape designer, who then selected plants that would grow best in that zone.  Once you have an idea, visit nurseries and try to match the plants that inspired you.  

I then became curious about the advice other gardeners have accumulated.

My friend Lorraine and I can talk for hours about plants, swapping stories and sharing stories of horticultural success and failure.  One of her best stories is about her Uncle Richie, a man who created his own mixes of soil for each specific plant.  Now 87-years-old and no longer with sight, his heavy-duty gardening days have passed him. However, on a recent visit to Lorraine’s garden, he “looked” around at the hydrangeas and gagoots (zucchini) – and although his eyesight was gone, he pronounced like a king blessing her yard, “Lori, you did good.”  Lorraine still gets misty-eyed at the memory — and I have  to agree with her.

I asked her to find out the best advice he ever got, and through her father, this is what Uncle Richie had to say, “Make sure that where the plants live is the place they’re supposed to be, with the best light and the best soil.  The best soil — that’s your foundation.  It’s like how you build a house.”

My next stop was the local branch of Cornell Cooperative Extension.  According to Sandra Bonczyk, horticultural consultant, it was difficult to choose just one piece of advice — there’s a lot for her to consider since a large part of her responsibilities is dispensing advice.  But she did narrow her answer down to two ideas.

“You can’t fix dead,” she explained.  “I like that one.  Or, you can always water a wilted plant, but once it’s crispy, you can’t go back.”

I then wondered, just how far could I go in finding the best gardening advice a gardener ever got.  Would a celebrity gardener answer the question?

Yes, they would.

Photo courtesy of

P. Allen Smith is one of the few remaining true gardeners remaining on television.  His show, “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home,” is like a visit with an old friend.  His gentle southern charm draws viewers into his world — and he is more than happy to share — as he did for this post — all that he knows about gardening basics, landscape structure and design, and living.  Responding to my email through his assistant, he answered:

“The best advice I ever got was from my grandmother: ‘start small.’  She gave me a little space in her garden to start growing, but I wanted a whole row.  She told me to start with something small and let it grow into something bigger.”

Now, this is where you all come in.  How much advice is out there?  How big could the advice list grow?

If you add your answer to the comments section below, you will be entered into a drawing for a set of gardening hand tools and a selection of seed-embedded products, courtesy of Bloomin, including a bag of “Growfetti,” three greeting cards, and a journal — items that can be given and planted (although you may want to hold onto the journal for yourself).

And if you post another answer on Nitty Gritty Dirt Man’s Facebook page, you’ll get a second entry.  Want a third chance?  Then post an answer on  Nitty Gritty Dirt Man’s Pinterest page.

I’ll keep the response time open for one week.  The names of all entrants will be put into a hat and a winner selected.  I will then contact you via email to arrange shipping information.  And if you consider the amount of advice that could potentially be posted here, we could all walk away winners!

So, what’s the best gardening advice you ever got?

89 thoughts on “The Best Gardening Advice I Ever Got (and Blogoversary Giveaway)

  1. The best advice i got, from a fellow garden blogger, was that sometimes you get it wrong (my poor tomato plants) but the best thing to do is ask for advice from people like yourself and try again – she told me gardening was the eternal learning curve !

    • How true! There’s always something new to learn. And as much as gardeners offer advice, their ears are always open to hear any little bits of information that are floating about. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I “plant” a plastic milk jug beside each tomato plant. Each jug has three small holes in the bottom side, aiming at the tomato plant’s roots. Each jug is filled with water every day – at any time of day – to let the water seep in at the root zone. Keep the caps, to keep bugs and debris out of the jugs, but don’t screw them down tight, or you’ll stop the water flow. This advice came from a ninety-year-old friend who was raised in a much colder climate, and it has always worked well for me. Thanks!

    • Wow. That is genius! I’m going to file that one — It will probably come in handy for any plant during dry summer conditions. Thanks for sharing!

    • We could also add, “Don’t forget to not overwater them.” Glad to hear that you’re jumping into gardening at your own pace. Have fun with it!

  3. I really enjoyed this post and reading all the excellent advice. I can’t remember any advice being given me to help me along in my gardening pursuits – but I do remember reading a gardening book when I first started, that said ‘you can do a quick job, a cheap job or a proper job: you can even have any two, but never all three together’. Congrats. on your blogoversary I only wish I had come across your blog sooner.

    • Excellent. Your advice reminds me of friends who had purchased a house in the cold and dark of winter. They knew there was a garden in the back, but had no idea how it would look. When spring arrived, their garden burst forth in an explosion of color — stunning! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Hooray on your first year! Throw some slugs over the fence in celebration!!! The best advice I can think of right now is….It all starts with soil. Prepare the soil and plants will be happy 🙂

  5. Happy Blogoversay Kevin! What a wonderful posting. I think the best advise is ‘grow what you love and make your garden your own’. Sometimes we make gardening all work with so many details and keeping up with other gardeners. Your garden should not be a job but a please that gives you pleasure.
    Have a wonderful week.

  6. Oh man there is so much I can’t think of just one. I guess this one came to mind first. You can pull quack grass and pin it up on a clothesline and it will still grow. Have not tried it, but I think it’s probably true.
    Congrats on one year!

  7. Water your grass everyday when reseeding and after water it once a week. Add nutrients to your fruits, vegetables and even your flower beds. Great Giveaway!

    • Nancy, glad you liked the prize and thanks for the sound advice. I just reseeded last weekend, and I’m thrilled that the weather has been cool and damp. It saves me from dragging the hose and sprinkler around. No sprinkler system for me — but that’s a long story! 🙂

      • I guess you’re referring to the weed seeds — once they start self-sowing, it’s a major effort to get rid of them. That’s one of the reasons I personally stay away from wildflower mixes — it can be the gift that keeps on giving. 🙂

  8. I will definitely respond in your other areas…I really enjoy your posts, and even though we are in very opposite regional climates, I learn a great deal from you. Congratulations on your one year anniversary. Mine is next week! Whew! Debra

  9. Don’t plant caladiums until it’s 60 degrees or above at night! I wasted a lot of money on caladiums before someone told me that. (Just because the stores have plants for you to buy, doesn’t mean it’s time to plant them!) Love your blog!

    • I’m so glad you mentioned this. The nurseries near me have been selling impatiens and petunias — we had a stretch of very summer like weather. Then Mother Nature said, “Ha! Not so fast all you gardeners — we do things on my terms.” All those summer annuals have now have a bit of a chill. 😦

  10. Happy blogoversary!

    The best gardening advice I’ve ever gotten… The plant wants to grow, it will do its best. Sometimes you have to step back and let plants do their thing.

    And never underestimate the effect different amounts of water can have!

    • Maya, thanks for visiting! I like the idea of stepping back — maybe the plant knows what it needs to do. After all, plants have been doing their own thing long before I set foot on the earth. 🙂

  11. I’ve heard this one two ways, “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s footsteps” and “The best fertilizer is a gardener’s shadow.” I took both to mean I need to be out working in the garden.

  12. Just this year a farmer said to me, “Plant early, plant often.” By which he meant I shouldn’t plant early because I’d just have to do it again when the frost hit. Um, do I actually have to take his advice for it to count?

    • Not at all. It’s good advice, and after the mild stretch of weather we’ve had, it’s also quite perfect. There are many gardeners in my area whose summer annuals have a bad case of the chills.

  13. Hi Kevin
    First, Happy Anniversary!! I have enjoyed each and every blog–humor and info–a nice combo.
    Best gardening advice I received is to prune early in Spring. Advice includes looking at the plant before cutting and not being afraid to cut back, leaves you feeling a little like a hairdresser!!

  14. Happy Blogaversary!!!! The best advice ever got was to never, ever use Round Up anywhere near roses. They react very oddly to it, even if it’s not used on their foliage, but near a weed that their roots come into contact with. Since I have roses everywhere (except the vegetable bed where I won’t use Round Up anyway), this has made me pretty much an organic gardener. Which is a good thing. 🙂

    • Many thanks! I wasn’t actually sure about Pinterest — but I’m starting to get the hang of it. It’s an interesting way to organize thoughts — even if I’m only part of the 3%. 🙂

  15. ‘You can’t fix dead’ – that had me in stitches. hmm, reading the advice above I can see where I’ve gone in the complete opposite direction several times! oops. The best advice I ever received was maybe not advice exactly but really resonated with me. I was told by a group leader at a botanical garden to know when to remove a plant. Even if it was a tree. People hang on to plants simply because they’ve put a lot of effort into them when they don’t always make sense anymore. So know when to pull something out cause you might just open up a vista that changes the view completely.

  16. In regards to the planting depth of trees… “Plant’em high, they’ll never die. Plant’em low, they’ll never grow.” Happy first year!!

  17. Hi Kevin, Happy 1st Blogoversary! The best garden advice I’ve received was to plant in odd numbers when planting a group of identical plants, either three or five, etc. Odd numbers are more appealing to the eye in the garden.

    • Beth, great advice. Ive also heard that odd numbers occur in nature, and so the odd number groupings appear more natural. I can’t say, though, that I’ve actually done any counting. 🙂

  18. A great way to celebrate Kevin, loving it.
    Oomph best advice? My mother was a great gardener, and my brother is a gardener by trade but to be honest some of the best advice I’ve had has come from fellow allotment holders. Just gentle words, none of the you must do this or that, just a hint or an idea – like cover soil when you’ve dug it or else you will be weeding the same time next week.
    But I have to say my favourite (most useful) was picked up online and relates to growing cucumbers – to pick all the flowers off the plant as soon as they appear, until the plant gets to be about 12 – 18″ high, that way the plant sends its energy into growing nice and big and strong and not putting effort into growing fruit when it is so tiny. It works every time!
    But then I recently got some great advice from a fellow blogger about growing Brussel Sprouts, so who knows come this winter maybe that will be the best 🙂

    • Excellent! I’ve also used a similar technique with roses and dahlias. Snip off the secondary buds and let all of the energy go into the center bloom. The result: a bigger flower! Thanks for your input!

  19. Hi Kevin, congratulations on your first anniversary! I think my best gardening advice is one that I was told years ago from someone who was working at a nursery “don’t believe everything you read in gardening books, your plants are not reading the books! Instead, look at what your neighbours grow and do.”
    I have followed this advice for years and grown plants that weren’t meant to survive where I live, planted plants in positions they according to books were not supposed to thrive in and managed to overwinter plants in the ground that you are meant to lift in autumn. I do gardening by trial and error, it is a great way to do gardening, I learn something new all the time and have great fun 🙂

    • Helene, great to hear from you! Risky gardening. I do like the idea of learning by trial and error. There’s always the chance of a wonderful surprise, a lesson learned, and, I guess, a post. 🙂

  20. Congratulations on your anniversary! I stumbled across your blog when I Googled a plant that I can’t remember Googling now, but am so glad that I found you.

    Some advice I recently acquired is to leave the tools in the shed (garage, storeroom, etc.) and just enjoy the garden. It HAS been nice to just be out in the garden to enjoy its sights and smells. Sure, I’m still tempted to pull out a weed or two, but at least I’m not scrutinizing every inch of my garden. Happy blogging!

    • Thanh, thanks for commenting. There’s a lot to be said for your advice — just being in the garden and breathing and enjoying the fruits of your labor.

  21. Happy One Year…that went fast! The best advice I ever got was to move a plant somewhere else if you’re not happy with it where it is…your plants are not married to one particular spot (sort of reminds me of hair advice…don’t be afraid to cut it; it’ll grow back). Slug confetti…still giggling.

    • Lori, that’s one of the beauties of gardening. It can be a mobile activity — no different than repainting a room, moving furniture, and yes, cutting your hair. 🙂

  22. Overwatering of house plants is their death….pick ONE day a week to water and only give your plant 1 cup. I chose Sunday to water my house plants. Another important tip is to read the plants label and plant accordingly…..a happy plant will give you much pleasure!

    • Beverly, thanks for commenting. I’m sure there has been many a houseplant that has either withered away or drowned. Indoor gardening is an art unto itself. Thanks for the advice.

  23. I should be pounding out my Monday post, but you’ve distracted me again, Kevin. Thanks. Some very early advice I received from a friend and some that may be timely for your more northern readers is to be patient in April when plants are still emerging and don’t pull things up until you’re sure you recognize last year’s work in its first stages.

    • Amen to that. After the wild weather we’ve had, it’s safe to add: don’t be so quick to plant during those summer-like spring days. The thermometer may say June, but the calendar says April — and anything is possible. Now, get back to posting. 🙂

  24. Happy Anniversary Kevin! My Grandad used to say Plants want to grow… we just need to listen to them! Simple but true… most of my failures have been due to ignoring the plant’s requirements. Great blog and I look forward to the next year of Nitty Gritty 🙂

  25. As a novice gardener, I would plant new shrubs and grasses too close together. Advice that would have served me well? “Remember – plants grow.”

    • It’s funny how the simplest, most sensible of ideas is often the most difficult to do. This piece of advice is certainly something for which to aim.

  26. Hi Kevin, I’m late to the party (just taught my last class of the semester today — yeah!!), but I just wanted to wish you a very happy blogoversary! -Jean

  27. The best adivse I can remember right now was “Don’t plant any more than you can take care of”. You will be happier and the garden will look better and perform to it’s maximum. This is oh so true. Happy Blogaversary.

    • Lisa, very true. Sadly, I can’t seem to get that one perfected. I start off each season with that in mind, and inevitably, I always end up wondering, “What did I get myself into?” Thanks for the advice.

  28. Kevin have just joined your blog after reading your blog on insects, loved it, so funny! My mom gave a tapestry lots of flowers and the saying : “plant me a garden to heal my soul”. My garden is my favorite place to be. Looking forward to reading more of your blogs soon!

    • Lesley, thrilled to have you here! I agree with your mother’s tapestry. A garden — and gardening — does wonders for the soul. Thanks for commenting!

  29. Hi Kevin, excellent post and idea 🙂 I’ve only been container gardening for about two years so I’m not much of an expert. All I can say is I’m never more at peace than when I’m tending to the plants. It’s an amazing feeling. This has probably been said before but I think what has helped me and my garden is observation. The plants will always tell you what they need, if they are getting too much sun or too little, too much water or too little…. I think the trick is learning to read the signs, hence the continuous learning curve. Happy Anniversary, I’m glad you are still enjoying your blog, more great posts for us 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting and for the advice. I agree. Gardening requires its own special language — like a horticultural Dr. Doolittle. 🙂

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