"A key first step for any home gardener is to make sure you have the right plant for the right spot and you can do that by consulting our websites," said Greg Stack, a U of I Extension horticulture educator based in the Chicago area. "The whole basis of gardening is getting the right plant in the right spot. Doing that saves not only money but a great deal of frustration."
Another key, he added, is matching the plant with the proper soil type and preparing the soil for planting.
"We need to take time to do the least glamorous activity of gardening--digging and preparing the soil--first," Stack said. "When we do that, we'll have good results on the other end of the gardening process."
Stack said three U of I Extension websites--Gardening with Perennials, Gardening with Annuals, and Our Rose Garden--are good places for the home gardener to start.
Gardening with Perennials (http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/perennials/) is a treasure-trove of information, he noted.
"Folks often think that planning perennials means less work in the garden but that is not always the case," said Stack. "Even though they bloom every year, perennials often require attention, particularly in terms of maintenance, if you want to keep the plants vigorous and healthy.
"You can't just walk away and expect to have a good-looking perennial garden."
For both perennials and annuals, knowledge about the plant or plants selected is crucial.
"Do your research on the plants so you will know when it will bloom, the plant's maintenance requirements, its hardiness and disease resistance, and its color," he said.
One goal home gardeners might want to strive for is mixing plants and varieties to produce a flower garden with a succession of blooms throughout the season.
"That gives your garden a more colorful look during the entire season," he said.
The Gardening with Annuals site is located at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/annuals/ .
While flowers are important, Stack recommends taking foliage color and texture into account when selecting plants.
"With some plants, the foliage is as nice as or nicer than the flowers," he said.
Stack recommends that home gardeners thinking about adding roses consider the miniature varieties. Information about them and other roses can be found on the Our Rose Garden website at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/roses/ .
"The miniature roses tend to be suitable for small-space or container gardens especially," he said. "They are extremely dependable plants in the garden and will generally grow and bloom season-long."
One good use for these roses is as part of a garden border area, particularly as the front row of a border with taller perennial plants behind.
"If a container garden is large enough, these roses can be used in mixed plantings with other roses and annuals to add interest and variety," Stack said.
An interesting group of miniatures, he noted, is marketed under the Little Mischief Series.
"These roses are about 12 inches high, are hardy and disease-resistant, and come in a variety of colors," he said.
More traditional roses should not be discounted, he added.
"Roses classified as shrub or landscape roses tend to be dependable and good roses for the garden, especially for a gardener who wants roses but without the headaches," he said. "But sometimes the plant may not always be as good as it seems. That's why it is important to do the research. Some of the plants under the classification of shrub or landscape roses are not as hardy or as disease-resistant as others.
"You have to select by variety, not class. That's the watchword for the consumer," he said.
Stack noted that a wealth of garden information is available under the "Hort Corner" section of Extension's Urban Programs Resource Network at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/ .