This time of year, plant sales are as abundant as the weeds in your garden.

It’s frightfully easy to buy all the pretty plants, but not so easy to make sure they flourish.

We turned to the expert, John Fech of the Extension Office of Douglas-Sarpy Counties, for his advice on not only picking a plant, but making sure it lives to come up another spring. Here is Fech’s advice, in step-by-step format:

Make a list

Before you head out, there are a few things to consider. First, avoid buying too much. You say to yourself, “Oh, these coreopsis look so good, I just have to buy some. Those coneflowers, and the yarrow and the anemone, and hmm, what is a tithonia? Never heard of it, but maybe it would be good.” The self-talk continues. Instead, take inventory of what you need.

This first step is akin to making a list for the grocery store. We all know how that goes, especially if you haven’t eaten much that day. Hungry grocery shoppers without a list to guide them probably will push the cart up and down the aisles, adding anything they like to eat regardless of whether they already have 10 cans of it at home or if it’s part of their healthy eating plan.

Right place, right plant

The next step in your inventory is classifying the gaps in the landscape by sunny/shady, wet/dry, tall/short, pink/white/blue, spring/summer/fall blooming and so on. That will help you avoid pushing the plant cart down the shady aisle when you need a plant for sun. Calculate how many plants you need, and don’t succumb to the urge to buy, buy, buy. Just because it looks good at the plant sale is not a reason to buy more than you need. In general, plant care tags are pretty accurate; if it says that the eventual size is 3 feet by 4 feet, don’t buy three plants where one will do. After all, plants will grow and be larger at the end of the season or in year two.

Magic formula

After you purchase the correct number of plants, installing them is the next big step. As noted in the Garden Journal and Resource Guide, a publication of the Master Gardeners in Douglas-Sarpy Counties, gardening is complex. But if there is a magic formula for success, improving the physical quality of your soil by loosening it and adding organic matter would be it. Failing to add liberal amounts of compost is a common mistake of first-time gardeners. So is failing to untangle the roots before planting. Once out of the container, roots should be placed so that the top of the root mass is at or slightly above the grade. That is crucial. Follow up with a light firming of the soil and thorough watering.

Read the directions

The final step in ensuring your new plants get off to a good start is to follow care instructions on plant tags carefully. If it says to keep them moist, then avoid letting soggy or dry conditions prevail. A light wood chip mulch is wise in most situations to suppress weeds and hold in moisture. After planting, fertilize annuals lightly after a few weeks and then every three weeks or so for the rest of the summer. Perennials and grasses usually need less fertility, while nutrients for first-year trees and shrubs should be avoided altogether.