The Northside Chronicle sat down with Lynne Weber and Joan Kimmel of the Urban Gardener to talk about growing green things in flower beds and those ubiquitous — and versatile — flower pots.

If you’ve never gardened before, try starting with easy to plant and maintain annuals like impatiens, geraniums, begonias, marigolds and petunias. Also check out the Phipps Conservatory website at www.phipps.conservatory.org for a list of native plants and tips on sustainable gardening.

For flower beds:

  • Dig up the soil and mix in compost, manure, leaf mulch or top soil. “It’s going to feel like they’re digging in hard clay, because that’s what it is,” said Kimmel. The soil needs to be looser than clay for a healthy garden, so compost or leaf mulch is an important addition.
  • Check the flower bed throughout the day to see how much sunlight it gets, and plant appropriately. Different plants have different light requirements.
  • Plan your garden. Choose native and sustainable plants, as they will grow better and require less care. “Read. The. Label,” Weber said. Make sure you know how tall and wide each plant will grow. “Be sure it’s appropriate for where you want to put it …, [because] things look much better when you allow them to grow naturally.”
  • Fertilize perennial trees and shrubs once in the spring and once in the fall, as those are the times they require the most energy.
  • Water in the morning, as watering in the evening will attract slugs and give fungi a chance to grow.
  • Don’t over- or under-water your garden. “If the dirt feels moist, don’t water it,” Kimmel said. For trees and shrubs, turn the hose on low and let it run for a half hour to ensure water soaks deep into the soil — that will ensure that roots grow downward rather than horizontally.
  • Identify bugs before you try to eliminate them. Some bugs are helpful. “You can sacrifice a couple leaves to bugs” without harming the plant, Kimmel said.

For flower pots:

  • Don’t use soil from your garden. Buy potting soil or potting mix.
  • Make sure the pot has good drainage, or the plant’s roots could drown. If the pot has a pan to catch water, don’t let water sit inside it — always dump it out.
  • Use fertilizer to keep the plants healthy. Something like Miracle-Gro works fine.
  • Large pots are better than small pots. “We firmly believe in packing stuff in there” to get the largest impact, Weber said. Most potted plants will only last one season, so you don’t need to allow them as much room as you would in a traditional garden.
  • Don’t over- or under-water your pots. Generally, you will need to water potted plants much more often than ones planted in the ground. Check to see if the soil is moist each day, and water when it feels dry.
  • “Dead head” your flowers. This means removing wilted or dead blossoms before they turn into seed pods. Weber suggests removing not only the dead blossoms but the green part beneath them because the plants will bloom more if you prevent them from producing seeds.
  • Don’t be afraid to put multiple plant varieties in one pot. Create texture and interest by using plants of different heights, colors and shapes. “You are only limited by your own creativity,” Kimmel said.

If gardening is still a mystery to you, Kimmel and Weber suggest purchasing an already-planted hanging pot — all you have to do is water it. The Urban Gardener also offers gardening help, planning and landscaping services. For more information, call 412-232-GROW or stop by at 1901 Brighton Road.

Click here to read the Chronicle’s community gardening feature.