Rules for Gardening in Detroit and Southeast Michigan

Planting in the Metro Detroit Area

One of many display gardens at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Laura Sternberg

Are you looking to fill a flower bed? Do you want to beautify the homestead? You'll need to follow a few hard and fast rules for gardening in ​Detroit and Southeast Michigan in order to be successful here. Here's what you need to do:

Start Small!

Don't try to plant an acre of a garden if you've never planted one before; you'll only get frustrated and have a sore back. A three-by-five foot plot would be ideal.

Start with Good Soil

Most plants like loose, slightly sandy soil that is rich in organic nutrients. This means that if you have heavy clay soil, you'll need to loosen it up and add compost, sand, rotted manure and/or leaves. Soil should drain well. In other words, it should not hold water for long after it rains and be fairly level.

Put the Right Plant in the Right Place

Don't try to grow full-sun plants in shady areas or vice versa; it just won't work.

Know How Hardy the Plant Is 

For instance, plants that are labeled "Zone 7" or higher cannot survive Michigan winters and should be treated as annuals. Up until recently, most areas in Michigan were considered Zone 5, but climate changes over the last decade have resulted in warmer temperatures. At least one climate-zone map, posted by The Arbor Day Foundation, reflects the change and depicts southeast Michigan, including the Metro Detroit area, as Zone 6. What does this mean to you? That some plants labeled Zone 6 may survive, but you won't know till you try.

Read Labels

Know what you're getting. Many plants have several names, including a Latin name. For simplicity sake, the plants named in this guide are all listed by their common Michigan names.

Ask for Help! 

Trust your local nursery to help you out. For instance, most nurseries provide lists of plants that do well in certain areas. 

Always Look for Low-Maintenance Plants

Who wants to spend Michigan's relatively short summer deadheading, staking, pruning and digging?

Use Organic, Slow-Release Granular Fertilizer

You can get away with once-a-month feeds; but if you build your soil well with compost, you may not even need that.

Weed Consistently

Weeding a few minutes a day as you walk through your garden is much easier than spending hours catching up once a month.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch! 

Adding mulch conserves moisture, keeps weeds down, and makes the garden look nice.

Water Infrequently but Deeply

Don't sprinkle daily. Instead, give a deep watering once a week or as needed.

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