Gardening: Hit the books to plan your spring plantings

Nancy Szerlag

If you’re sitting around pouting while you wait for spring, pop out of that blue funk and get over to the library, a bookstore or a used book emporium. Winter is the time to make plans for spring, and gardening books and magazines are the tools of choice.

For many gardeners, coloring up a garden and keeping that color coming throughout the growing season can be a real challenge. I know many gardeners who grow great plants and have nice looking yards, but their gardens lack the “Ohhh” factor – that “look” that takes your breath away.

For others, the wow factor comes and goes all too quickly. Many gardens peak in June and and then limp through the dog days of summer. Let’s be honest, at one time or another we have all uttered the gardener’s lament – “You should have been here last week.”

If you’re gardening with perennials and would like a road map on how and when to care for them throughout the season, here are two must-have books for winter reading. They were first published a decade ago, but still remain in print, so you can buy them new or used, as your budget allows.

■“The Well Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, a Timber Press best seller, originally printed in 2006, remains in print today in an expanded edition. This is a must-have for any gardener who hopes to get the most out of perennials. Its groundbreaking information on pruning for extended color was hailed by gardeners around the world. Mine is well used and loaded with sticky notes.

■“Caring for Perennials: What to do and when to do it,” by Michigan gardening maven Janet Macunovich, originally published in 1997, still remains a popular title for Story Press. Those who fear taking scissors or pruners to plants to dead head or cut them back will love the line drawings that take the mystery out of when and and where to cut.

Houseplants are back guys, so if your library is void of titles and you are new to indoor gardening, now is a good time to start collecting books as well as plants.

■“Success With House Plants” by Reader’s Digest editors, published in 1979 and now out of print, is one-third how-to, as in potting, watering, pruning, etc., and two-thirds plant encyclopedia. The colored line drawings are top notch and each plant includes a special care category and in some cases special points. Put this one on your shopping list.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at