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You have probably told someone who enjoys gardening that they must have a "green thumb." We usually say this to mean we were not blessed with one and they must have a natural born talent for it. As a first time gardener, I can tell you it is a lot easier than you may think. With each flower you plant, you learn so much and gain confidence. You can apply this new knowledge to the rest of your flowers. There are a few exceptions, as I will point out later, but all plants require 4 things to survive: Water, oxygen, food, and some amount of sunlight.

Water is the substance of all living things and so is true with plants. When watering, it is best to do it in the morning before the afternoon heat hits. When you water in the afternoon, 2/3 of the water evaporates, leaving your plants thirsty. Watering just as evening hits is ok too, but be sure to do it before it gets too late or you leave your plants open to catching diseases and growing fungus. You should water the ground until it floods, let the soil soak it up, and then repeat once more. If your plants are not getting enough water, they will begin to look as if the leaves are shriveling on the ends. To test if your plants need more water, stick your finger in the soil, about an inch deep, and check to see if it is damp. If not, the water is not getting to the roots and you need to water again. Using a slow drip watering hose is great, but you can also use a normal hose, just don't turn the water on too much. The normal spray nozzles don't adequately soak the ground; even a watering can is better than this option.

As with humans, plants need oxygen. This may seem like an obvious thing, but most people forget this one. The plants need to get oxygen to the roots to enable them to grow and be strong. If you have them packed into soil that was not turned and aerated before hand, this might be a problem. Some plants need lots of aeration, such as azaleas, or they will not thrive. It is best to make sure you have turned the soil about 4-5 inches down from where the root structure will be. This will give them a good supply of oxygen as well as an easier time with growing into the soil. Also, when you transplant into the ground, try to loosen the roots of the plant. If you have to cut them, go ahead, but not too much. This will help the roots to spread out and your plant will be more likely grow and fill in your flowerbed.

Your plants need food in order to thrive. Not necessarily fertilizers, but the soil needs to be full of nutrients. The best way to do this is to mix organic compost into your soil as well as some topsoil. These are fairly cheap and really do help. Your plant needs this in the soil to help it grow. Vegetables need the nutrients not only to grow, but so that they produce fruit. We also want the fruit to contain vitamins for us to eat. A lot of times when a crop is planted over and over again in the same area, the soil is depleted and therefore the foods we eat are not as vitamin rich as they should be. This overgrowing in one area of a particular vegetable also ups the chances of the plant getting diseases, so be sure to rotate your vegetables every year. Using a spray-on fertilizer is also helpful to many plants, but especially vegetables. You should only use it on vegetables when they are flowering and producing fruit. This will help them to produce more blossoms, which are necessary for it to bear fruit. Certain plants require a special plant food. As an example, azaleas need their own food because they need the soil to be acidic, but you need to watch it the first growing season because too much will burn the roots.

Sunlight is the easiest ingredient for a healthy plant. Most plants require lots of sun, so they are very easy to satisfy, but there is also a group of shade loving plants as well. The easiest way to determine this is to read the labels on the plants when you buy them. They will tell you exactly how much that particular plant needs: Full sun, part sun, part shade, or shade. The only hard part is that certain climates are too hot or too cold for certain plants. Usually, the plants you see at your local nursery are a safe bet for your climate, but if you are not sure, just ask. Plants like tomatoes require a lot of sun, whereas impatiens are a shade-loving flower.

Something else you may need to know are the two main types of flowers for planting. Annuals are flowers that have one flowering season. They usually last only one year and then die. Most of these will last longer than a year if in the right climate, but generally they don't. Perennials are plants that come back every summer. They usually die down in the winter, but come back up in the springtime. These are usually harder to take care of, but well worth it since they last for years.

It is a good idea to "deadhead" your flowers. Flowers such as marigolds, petunias, impatiens, and dahlias do much better when you use pruning shears to clip off the dead bloom. This enables the other blooms to get the much needed sunlight that the dead ones were blocking as well as putting all the plant's efforts to the new blooms rather than holding onto the dying one. Petunias will spread and bloom again and again all summer if you pick the bloom as it wilts. There is no need to wait til it shrivels. Once it loses the strength to hold itself up, pick it off. Dahlias really do well with this too, but they go even a step further. If you want this plant to have larger, prettier blooms, then clip a few of the smaller buds on the same stem.

Taller plants may also need to be stalked. This is where you put a stake in and tie the plant to it for support. Sunflowers are good candidates for this. Certain vegetables need support to help hold their fruit, in which case trellises or wire cages should be used. Good candidates for this are tomatoes, peppers, and all vining plants, like beans and cucumbers. Melons and squash will do much better if left to crawl along the ground since the fruit is too heavy for the vine to sustain.

All of these rules apply to potted plants as well. The great thing about these is that you can move them to the correct climate. Many of the annuals, such as pansies, can be brought in during the winter and will bloom up until January. In fact, in some climates they will do this outdoors as well. After your first year, you will know what works for your climate, soil, and personal tastes. Here is a list of ones that I have found to be easy to maintain:

African Marigolds
Petunias
Alyssum
Impatiens
Dahlias
Snapdragons
Verbena
Lobelia
Dianthus
Sunflowers (Mammoth Russian, Teddy Bear, and Chianti)
Morning Glories
Globe Amaranth
Coleus
Silver Thyme

Vegetables:
Tomato-all varieties
Peppers-all varieties
Summer Squash
Cucumber
Pole Beans
Cantaloupe