Plant Basics


Plants need some basics, they are generally made up of similar parts, and if you learn some of this general knowledge it will help you understand garden skills and timing much better.

plant basics
Get to know the basics about plants

Plants Need 3 Main Things

Most of the information given to anyone wanting to plant a perennial, shrub, bulb or tree will list some of the same bits of a plants characteristics:

  • sunlight needed
  • moisture requirements
  • drainage and soil info

For Continued Growth

That will about sum up all you need to know to plant. Later, to properly maintain or benefit from it, two more bits are added:

  • fertilizer- what kind, when, and how much
  • pruning- when

Large groups of plants come under similar needs. Most like to be fertilized with general balanced food throughout the blooming season. All benefit from removal of dead or diseased parts in some type of pruning procedure.

Your garden will benefit from learning a few basics about fertilizers and pruning techniques.

A shortage of nutrients will limit the growth rate for the plant. This is why fertilizing is important. Adding organic amendments and compost creates a healthy soil which is rich with nutrients.

About Fertilizers

Fertilizers are wide and varied, but basically you need to know the three main numbers on the label: NPK which looks like “10-10 -10” . These are the amounts of macronutrients.

The first number is Nitrogen (N). It promotes the green growth, especially leaves.

The second number is Phosphate (P} which is primarily needed for flowers and fruit.

The third number of the primary three is Potash (K). This is very important for root growth.

Besides the macro- other nutrients found in soil are needed by plants:

  • Sulfur, calcium, and magnesium which are secondary nutrients
  • Boron, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc are the micronutrients

About Pruning

Using sharp tools, the main goal of pruning is to encourage growth, remove dead and diseased plant parts, and shape the plant.

Cut neither too close or too far from the branch collar on woody plants. In all pruning, avoid damaging the bark- for heavy branches that often involves making “three cuts”. One for the underside ( so as not to strip the bark as the branch breaks away). One for the main portion of the branch and one for the upper side close to the collar.

Cut clean and cut at a slant. Jagged remnants invite problems and don’t heal as well.

Chore Calendars

So once you know the basics, many skills become easy and transparent. A few prods to the memory through Chore Calendars  are all that most of us need, after becoming acquainted with beginning gardening. Plant profiles provide information for tweaking the cultivation methods which will assure success for that individual type.

calendar tasks
Monthly Calendar photo by Andreanna Moya Photography

These tweaks range from whether cold period is needed to when to water, or pH requirements, etc. All sorts of other helpful hints, tips, and demands regarding survival make the bulk of “gardening tips”.

The less you have to coddle a plant, the “easier” it is deemed.

From this you might guess that an “easy plant” is one that grows well in the conditions of your gardening region, but it also can be one that is tolerant and thrives under a wide range of situations.

Hardiness Zones

On the Monthly Chore Calendar Index is a hardiness map for the United States. Zones are indicated for climate temperatures, especially for cold. A plants hardiness is how much cold it can tolerate and still survive.

While hardiness numbers are helpful, they don’t tell the whole story. Factors such as drying winds, or “wet feet” from poor drainage combine with cold temperature to “do in” a plant. Some plants won’t survive too much heat or where a long cold period is lacking. This makes the hardiness zone a basic part of the info, but not the complete picture.

Chores can be related to readying the plant for the coming season. For instance, don’t fertilize past July in the midwest of the USA, so your shrubs can be ready for winter dormancy in time.

Plant Parts

parts of a tree
Parts of a tree, labeled

Familiarize yourself with plant parts. It may not be necessary to known all the botanical science, but use diagrams to identify structures which help you properly care for your garden.

Example: When planting or mulching a tree, the instructions are for the soil line to meet the “root flare”.

A very important feature of planting or mulching a tree is the right level of the root flare.

Here’s Your Homework

Now that the overview has been laid out, what are the plant basics you need to know?

  1. Understand as much as possible about your garden conditions: What type of soil do you have? Is it alkaline or acidic? What is the climate zone?
  2. Get the plant profile: How much light, moisture, and fertility does it need? What are the survival hardiness zones?
  3. Learn about skills such as planting and cultivating. Get your hands dirty! Get some garden tools and start using them. Tool Basics, here.
  4. While most garden plants are quite adaptable, pay attention to their basic needs of planting times (spring is the usual time), watering (when the weather gets dry), and feeding (general fertilizer during growth and blooming).
  5. Mastering the art of gardening is a process, led by having fun growing things in your garden. Get a few good resource guides to keep on your bookshelf and use online sites to gather the needed information and skills.

American Horticultural Society Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual of Practical Techniques is a great resource guide to have on the bookshelf.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.