Gifts for Gardeners – Books to Grow a Green Thumb

Looking for a book to give the gardener in your family this holiday season? Here are some of my favorites.   

One of my favorite gardening books is “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, first published in 1998. The most recent 3rd edition was published in 2017. I like this book because it’s written by a professional gardener with a wealth of experience maintaining landscapes. She discusses in very practical terms all aspects of garden maintenance. For example, if you have ever wondered if a perennial plant should be cut back, when, how much and will it rebloom, this book will answer your question.  

Tracy helps gardeners choose those plants best adapted to their landscape conditions and design dreams. The final section of the book (over 100 pages) is an encyclopedia of garden perennials including a brief description, pruning needs and other maintenance required to keep the plant looking it’s best.  “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” is a good read for those who love to garden and a great reference for plant maintenance in future years. Amazon cost $22.85, 416 pages. 

Herbaceous Perennial Plants – image from the website

Selecting perennials for my garden is made easier by referring to “Herbaceous Perennial Plants” by Allan Armitage and the 4th edition is now available. A professor at the University of Georgia, Dr. Armitage has gardened in both northern (Montreal, Canada) and southern climates, which is reflected by his recommendation of plants for these diverse growing climates.  Dr. Armitage provides a wealth of information on the many cultivars of each plant commonly available at garden centers and detailed discussion of the growing requirements for each type of plant. Cost $89.80 hardcopy, 1092 pages. Each book is signed by the author. Find it at  

Two books I find very helpful in identifying wildflowers would make a great gift for the naturalist in your family. Both are organized by flower color making plant identification much easier. Just catch the plant in it’s blooming stage and leaf through the pictures in the appropriate color section to find your wildflower. The first is called “Field Guide to Wildflowers: Fontenelle Forest & Neale Woods Nature Center” (2004) by Roland E. Barth and Neal S. Ratzlaff. It’s available for purchase at Fontenelle Forest & Neale Wood Nature Center, (402) 731-3140.

Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska – image from an Amazon bookseller

The second book is “Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains” (2011) by Jon Farrar, which can be purchased from Nebraska Game and Parks by calling 1-800-632-5263. (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday).  

Weeds of Nebraska – image from the NDA website

Weeds are a constant challenge to gardeners.  The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has a great book to help in weed identification called “Weeds of the Great Plains” (2003) by James Stubbendieck. At 605 pages, this is a comprehensive manual for weeds in the Midwest.  Colored pictures and a detailed description of over 400 weeds make this an excellent reference for weed identification, which is the first, step to control. An order form is available on the NDA web site. Credit card purchases can be made by calling (402) 471-2351. Allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.  Cost is $35.00.  

A great manual for identifying garden insects is available from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas State University, called “Insects in Kansas”, Glenn A. Salsbury and Stephan C. White.  Don’t worry – it’s also very useful to Nebraska gardeners! I use this book all the time and it’s a great reference for anyone with an interest in entomology.  Insects are grouped into easy-to-understand families, such as moths & butterflies, bees & wasps, beetles, etc.  Each insect is shown with a color picture, description and botanical name.  Many beneficial insects are covered, along with non-plant damaging insects like spiders and millipedes.  It’s available from K-State Research and Extension bookstore, or call (785) 532-5830. Cost is $25.00. 

Kansas Garden Guide – image from KSU bookstore pdf download of publication

Finally, if you started vegetable gardening this year or are planning a garden next year, check out the “Kansas Garden Guide”. Published by the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, the Guide is full of science-based information on growing vegetables and herbs. It includes sections on planning the garden, container gardening, soils, compost, seeding, watering, pest control, container gardening, season extension, harvest, storage and more. The final section focusses on each vegetable crop individually providing cultivar recommendations, garden spacing, growing tips and common problems. It’s a soft-bound, 80 page, full color publication costing $6.10 each. Find it, search for “Kansas Garden Guide”. Perfect for vegetable gardeners of all levels.  

Find more book suggestions from the National Garden Bureau

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