Care and How-To Articles - Garden Management and Maintenance and Design

Picture of a cell phone taking a picture of a plant

Your smartphones can be wonderful tools, and several apps on our phones can help with plant identification. These apps are best utilized to aid in identification rather than as a tool to definitively identify the plant. Learn more about how to best utilize these convenient tools for plant identification. 

Reiman Gardens

Public gardens are a wonderful source of inspiration, relaxation, and beauty for the community.  Many provide educational programming year-round to help you learn more about gardening, plants, and the environment.  Below is a listing of public gardens across the state.  Visit the one closest to you and check each of them off your list as you travel the state.  

Cold Frame by Martina Berg/

In the fall, cooler temperatures signify an end to the harvest of many vegetables in the garden. However, if you use cold frames, you can extend the growing season. These simple structures allow you to continue to garden and harvest fresh produce even when temperatures turn cooler. 

Cold Frame by Martina Berg/
Cold Frame by Martina Berg

Spring Garden with Redbud in bloom

As winter fades and spring arrives, several things can be done to prepare the garden for the upcoming growing season.

Below are tips for the perennial garden, vegetable garden, annual containers, trees & shrubs, and lawns.

Composted Manure in Wheelbarrow Photo by gabort.

Manure is the oldest fertilizer known to civilization and can be a cost-effective soil amendment with many beneficial qualities. Many gardeners feel manure is superior to synthetic products. Careful and appropriate use of manure, especially in vegetable gardens, is important. 

Blueberries Photo by Andris Tkachenko AdobeStock

Iowa soils are very diverse and so are the chemical characteristics that make up these soils.  Soil pH is one property that can vary widely across the state both naturally and due to how we manage the field or garden.  It is also one of the most cost effective and easy to manage soil properties that can be modified to improve plant health and crop production.

Learn about how to decrease and increase your soil pH below.

Variety of Seeds

The late growing season is a good time to collect seeds from vegetables and flowers. Seed saving allows gardeners to preserve heirloom varieties or their favorite plants from year to year.  Below are the basics of harvesting, preparing, and storing seed from your garden.

Potted plants on a cart at the garden center

In spring, many gardeners will be at nurseries, greenhouses, and garden centers looking to buy plants. Selecting the right species and cultivar of a plant for the landscape by matching sun, water, soil, winter hardiness, and other growing requirements is important. Equally important is selecting high-quality plants. Below is advice on how to purchase high-quality plants from the garden center.

storing seed in an air tight container

Storing Seeds

Proper storage conditions for seeds are essential to maintain viability and good germination at planting time. Seeds should be kept dry and cool.  A sealed glass jar can keep excess moisture out and protect seeds from pests like mice or insects. Store jars in a cool, dry location such as a cool closet, root cellar, or refrigerator. Test the germination rate on the seeds about one month prior to planting.

Sowing Seed in Plug Tray.  Photo by Adobe Stock

Mid-March is the best time to start many vegetables and annual flowers indoors for transplanting outside once the threat of frost has past. 

Regardless of what type of seed you're growing, to have the best success follow these basic tips:

  • Start with fresh seed and clean materials. 
  • Consult the package to determine how early to start the seed indoors - do not start seed too early. 
  • Provide abundant light. 
  • Do not over or under water.
  • Raise the humidity during germination.
  • If possible warm the germination mix/soil. 

More details about starting seeds indoors can be found below.

peat pots for seed starting

There are many different options for containers that can be used to start seedlings. 

sowing seeds photo by Adobe Stock

For many home gardeners, starting seeds indoors is great fun. Successfully growing seedlings indoors requires high-quality seeds, a germination medium, containers, lights, and other supplies.

sowing seeds photo by Adobe Stock

For many home gardeners, it's fun to get a head start on the upcoming garden season by starting seedlings indoors. Growing quality seedlings indoors requires high-quality seeds, a germination medium/potting mix, containers, proper temperature and moisture conditions, and adequate light.

Learn all of the steps to successfully start seeds indoors for your garden.

A variety of indoor plants

Due to improved construction methods, buildings are better sealed to maximize energy efficiency. Yet, these "sealed" buildings often trap gases from synthetic materials that can pollute the indoor air. These air pollutants can cause problems for inhabitants especially during the winter when people are forced to spend a great deal of time indoors.


There are many traditions associated with the holidays. Many involve plants. Evergreen trees, poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe played important roles in ancient legends and rituals, but have evolved into traditions associated with the Christmas season.

Wreath made from fresh cut evergreen branches

A wreath is an attractive decoration for the holiday season. Making a wreath isn't as difficult as you might think. Follow these steps to create a holiday wreath using evergreen branches from your own yard.

Salt and Sand Deicing Material on Patio

Snow and ice are headaches for motorists and pedestrians. To prevent accidents on slippery surfaces, deicing compounds are used by highway departments, businesses, and homeowners to melt ice and snow on roadways, parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways. While deicing materials improve travel conditions, they can damage automobiles, concrete surfaces, and landscape plants. 

Learn about the important considerations that must be taken for using deicing materials in your landscape.

Newly Planted Windbreak on Farm

Windbreaks are common sites around Iowa farms and acreages. A well-planned windbreak will moderate hot and cold temperatures, reduce dust and snow, save money in home heating costs, and add monetary value to your property.

Learn about siting, planning, planting, maintaining, and selecting the best tree and shrub species for your windbreak.

Newly planted tree

While spring is the traditional planting season in Iowa, late summer and early fall (mid-August to early October) is an excellent time to plant many landscape plants.  Below is advice on fall planting of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, spring-flowering bulbs, lawns, and vegetables.

Trees & Shrubs  |  Perennials  |  Annuals  |  Bulbs  |  Lawns  |  Vegetables  |  More Information

Picture of unmown turf alternative

There are several options for creating a lawn using turf-like alternatives to the traditional grasses typically grown in lawns.

In Iowa, the most commonly grown turfgrasses are Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, and fine fescues.  These cool-season grasses require many inputs to keep them healthy and attractive.  Additionally, they typically go dormant for part of the summer, leaving the lawn brown in July and August unless regularly irrigated.  Several plants that look much like the turfgrasses we are familiar with but require fewer inputs are available.  Most of these turfgrass alternatives can be minimally mowed, or in some cases, not mowed at all. 

picture of lawn with clover

Pollinator Lawns, Bee Lawns, Freedom Lawns
All of these terms refer to the same idea - creating a lawn that is more friendly for insects.

Picture of new garden bed being planted

The first step to creating any new garden bed in your lawn is to remove the existing sod.  There are several methods you can take to remove the turfgrass and each has its own advantages and limitations.  Which method you choose depends on the time it takes, the amount of work it requires, and your personal preferences. 
Use the guide below to determine which method of sod removal is best for your situation.

Multiple perennial plants in containers partially buried in soil.

 If a tree, shrub, or perennial cannot be planted in its final spot before winter arrives, you will need to take steps to make sure it survives the winter while still in the container.

Container-grown plants should not be left outdoors above ground over the winter months. The roots of most trees, shrubs, and perennials are far less cold hardy than their aboveground stems or trunks. Container-grown plants are growing in relatively small amounts of potting soil. The temperature of the potting mix may drop into the single digits if container-grown plants are left above ground in winter. Single-digit temperatures may damage or destroy the root systems of plants. 

Fall Garden

When autumn arrives, several things can be done to prepare the garden for winter and the following growing season.

Perennials | Vegetable Garden | Annual Beds & Containers | Woody Trees & Shrubs | Lawns | More Information

What is "well-drained" soil and how can you improve "poorly-drained" soils?  Learn how to test soil drainage and what to do to improve soil drainage.

watering annuals in a container

Watering is one of the most frequent tasks performed in any garden or landscape.  Proper watering utilizes water responsibly, reducing evaporation and runoff.   There are many ways to make the process easier and better for the gardener and the plants.  Use the tips below to water the perennials, annuals, containers, hanging baskets, lawns, trees, shrubs, and vegetables in your landscape.


Weedy vines can be some of the most difficult to control weeds in the garden.  They are fast-growing, getting very large in a relatively short amount of time and often climb and cover other garden plants.  These tenacious plants climb by twining, rambling, or utilizing specialized structures like tendrils or aerial roots.  They are often botanically classified as eudicots and can be woody or herbaceous, perennial or annual.  Examples of vining weeds include poison ivy, honeyvine milkweed, bindweed, and Virginia creeper. If left to grow, they can smother other plants, blocking light and killing the desirable plant.

mulch over newspaper

Organic mulches serve several important functions in gardens and landscape plantings.

These many benefits make the use of mulch very beneficial in a wide range of garden settings. When choosing which organic mulch to use, consider availability, cost, appearance, function, and durability.

Suckers at the base of a crabapple tree

Suckers are vigorous upright growing stems that form at the base of a tree or from the root system causing stems to appear inches or feet from the base of the trunk.  They are problematic because they can reduce flowering and fruiting, alter the form of the tree, harbor pests and diseases, and look unsightly. 

Learn about what causes suckers to form and how they can be managed in the home landscape.

Inspecting the root ball of a tree before planting

To successfully establish trees in the home landscape, it's important to follow proper planting techniques.  Follow these steps to plant and care for containerized or balled and burlapped (B&B) trees.