One way to master garden basics is to consult a garden coach.

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IF YOU didn’t grow up gardening, or even if you did, there’s always much to learn. I was so daunted by my first garden that I looked up the name of every plant I recognized in the “Sunset Western Garden Book” and wrote down how to care for it — how much water, shade and sun, when to pinch back or prune. I added to and consulted this database for years.

As I look back, it seems such a methodically picky approach to a pursuit that’s as much art as science. Still, we all need to master the basics, and for some it’s more intuitive than it was for me. I literally studied every plant from root to flower in the hopes of keeping it alive.

There are easier ways to go about it, and one is to consult a garden coach. Robin Haglund of Garden Mentors hangs out with clients in their gardens, works alongside them teaching skills like pruning, weeding and how to choose the right plant for specific conditions.

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“Why hasn’t it bloomed?” is a question she hears often. Haglund says we’ve usually pruned hydrangeas, rhodies or azaleas at the wrong time, decimating their buds. A general rule for ornamental plants is to prune them soon after they flower.

“How do I get rid of weeds? Everyone struggles with them, says Haglund. She sees clients try to rip and tear through their entire property in a couple of hours. “If you leave a piece of weed, you get a two-for-one deal,” warns Haglund.

Start by going through your garden and getting all the flowers and seed heads off weeds before they spread their seeds. Effective weed birth control can save you dealing with the next generation of eager colonizers.

Then weed thoroughly, one small area at a time. Dig down to get out the entire root. Effective tools, such as a flat-tined garden fork and a sharp digging tool like a Japanese hori hori, make the task quicker and more effective.

Before you move on, do yourself a favor and blanket your freshly weeded area with mulch. Haglund likes the fertile mulch, or “Chicken-n-Chips” from de Jongs Sawdust and Shavings ( in Redmond; she also recommends Cedar Grove Compost. “Weeding really doesn’t need to be as endless as it seems,” she says.

“What about those pesky snails and slugs?” Haglund encircles edible plants with crushed eggshells to keep slugs at bay and suggests putting shallow dishes of beer around the garden so slugs die happy. Then there’s handpicking on damp mornings and evenings, which is my slimy control of choice. Haglund doesn’t even use Sluggo, advertised to be nontoxic to pets, because she’s seen too many dogs sickened by it.

“Edibles?” Haglund suggests newbies will find success by growing a cherry tomato in the middle of a pot, surrounded by leafy greens. Lettuces, spinach, chard and kale do well in our climate. If you want to venture into growing full-sized tomatoes, varieties acclimated to our chilly springs, like ‘Oregon Spring’ and ‘Siberia,’ are your best bet.

Sometimes you need to hire someone to weed, as Haglund did for her own garden this past spring. Getting help when you need it is an honorable, and sometimes smart, approach to garden maintenance.

Check out Haglund’s blog at for updates on practical tips and techniques.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at Susan Jouflas is a Seattle Times staff illustrator.

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