As the weather warms up and many of us elect to stay squarely within the boundaries of our residential properties, we're faced with a strange dichotomy. Late spring 2020 has a tinge of the summers of our adolescence: we've suddenly found ourselves with an abundance of time while simultaneously being stuck at home. And, because we're (mostly) grown-ups now and beginning the journey of slowly turning into our parents, many of us are turning to yardwork to weed out the tedium.
Whether you're new to gardening, a seasoned lawn pro, or looking to try your hand at urban farming, we've acquired some helpful pointers for your future green-thumbery, care of landscape designer The Ardent Gardener.
Read up, dig in, and get growing...
ON STARTING SEEDS
Potatoes and onion starts [unused pieces can be used to "start" new plants!], as well as snap pea seeds, can go straight into the ground around the middle of March. If you're in the SLC area, seeds of cold, hardy vegetables (such as spinach, lettuce, kale, and cabbage) can be started directly in the ground starting around mid-April. Root plants (such as carrots, beets, and radishes) can be started in the ground around the same time. If you want to grow some of the larger fruits/vegetables (such as tomatoes, melons, pumpkins, squash, peppers and eggplant), it's better to start those indoors in a container that has a hole punched in the bottom for drainage. Place in a southerly facing window and keep evenly moist. Seeds can be started indoors in early March and then transplanted to the garden in mid-May (or once the danger of frost has passed). Homegrown potatoes and tomatoes taste so much better than store-bought!
Green Mound Alpine Currant: boxwood size, low water, edible black berries.
Serviceberry trees: native, white flowers, smaller scale tree, black berries, orange fall color.
Penstemons: low water natives that come in many colors including Firecracker (red), Wasatch (Sky blue), Rocky Mountain (Neon Blue), Whipples (Wine). Tubular flowers that bees love.
Pussy Toes: low mat of silvery foliage with little rose flowers that look like.......pussytoes.
Rocky Mountain columbine: dainty and fairytale-like
Woodland Strawberry: groundcover with little, edible berries
1.) You don't need as much water as you think, but it depends entirely on your soil (sandy? Water more often for less time, otherwise it just runs through it and doesn't keep the soil moist. Clay (water less often for shorter period of time, or it just runs off and doesn't sink in) 2.) Get a soil moisture meter and use it to check the moisture level a couple of inches down until you get the hang of it. 3.) Adjust your sprinklers by the season--don't just set them for the year and go. Put like-water-need plants together on the same valve so you are not overwatering plants that don't need it so much. 4.) Avoid planting in the lawn--it tends to need more water, it should have its own valve. 5.) Put down mulch in planters to hold in moisture and help keep weeds out.
Bees love lavender, catmint (Nepeta), Blue Mist Spirea, Crabapple trees, fruit trees, poppies, foxglove, echinacea, bee balm, penstemon, Serviceberry, geranium, and roses. Birds like things they can hide in: sage, honeysuckle, and shrubby trees like Serviceberry and Hawthorn (which they will also eat the berries off of in the fall). Allowing your perennials to go to seed rather than cutting them down in the fall will give the birds something to eat, as well. Also, provide fresh water for them to bathe in and drink. Make your birds happy and they'll take care of your pests for you!
NEW PLANT CARE TIPS
I was recently called to a job site that I had worked on two years ago and she had lost several trees of the same type and several shrubs of the same type. My suspicion is that the root balls were dry when they were planted, and just like a potted plant that's gotten too dry, the water just pours out and doesn't adhere to the soil. Make sure plants are well-watered before you plant them (either water in the container or kind of inject the hose into the root once it's in the ground, but before you bury it). After that, water lightly once a day for the first week or so, depending on weather, then taper off as the season progresses to deep waterings a couple of times a week, depending on need. Generally, you can taper off watering year after year as plants get more established so that many drought-tolerant and native plants can likely be watered once a week or less in about three years.
BEST SMELLING PLANTS
Mock Orange, Lilac, Spring Snow Crabapple trees, Variegated Iris (smell like grapes), Lilies, Agastache Sunset (smells like root beer), Korean Spice Viburnum (smells spicy!), lavender, roses (check the tags for 'fragrant'), Peony, Honeysuckle, dianthus (carnation), some peonies (like Raspberry Sundae, which is usually readily available), and sages.
WEED CONTROL TIPS
In pavers, stone patios, pathways, etc, pour boiling hot water directly on the weed--it's better than weed killer spray. I'm not a fan of weed barrier under plantings; it compacts the soil, keeps organic matter from getting to it, suppresses the worms (which the soil needs), and looks ugly when the bark blows off. Mostly, I've found that if you love your garden, you will want to take care of it more. Create a space that is nurturing and beautiful to you, and you will want to be out in it all the time. That will allow you to neaten your garden on a more regular basis, and keep things from getting out of hand (it's like not letting your favorite mid-century coffee table get dusty). Also, if you are in your garden more, really appreciating it, you will notice things such as bugs, snails, or weeds prior to them becoming an unmanageable problem.
PEST CONTROL TIPS
Snails and slugs love a good drink of beer. Put out a lid (like a Cool Whip lid) of beer in your garden, and let their farewell party begin. Birds are your pest control allies, so attract them with bird feeders, water sources, and good places to hide.
Generally, deadhead spent flowers all the way down the stem to where they meet the base of the plant. You do this after the flower is done blooming. Deadheading allows the plants' energy to go toward root strength, rather than making seeds, so you will get a stronger plant that will possibly rebloom. Plants that bloom in fall I tend to let go to seed so that the birds can have at it. Woody plants, like trees and shrubs, are usually pruned in the fall, as they are losing their leaves. I like to gently prune to keep a nice shape rather than taking a power tool to and turning into a ball. Prune back wayward branches, crossing branches, damaged branches. If a plant is somewhere that it can get as big as it's meant to, you will have very little pruning to do.
ON USING SMALL SPACES
Everything matters in small spaces. Use beautiful pots, create a sense of a room by adding overhead structure (such as arbors or trellises with vines), and pay attention to what the tag on the plant says so it can get as big as it wants to get. Add art that you love: birdbaths, pots, murals, lighting, statuary, small, self-contained water features.
PLANTS WITH A BIG IMPACT:
Ligularia (dark purple leaves and mustard yellow flowers), coral bells (come in so many colors--from mottled green to gold to purple to near-black--and they are ever-'green'), lavender (evergreen, grayish leaves, great smell), Perfect Purple Crabapple (very small tree, profuse, hot-pink flowers, purple leaves), strawberries (great for eating and for groundcover!), Green Mound Alpine Currant (a cultivar of a native, boxwood size and shape, gets tiny, edible, black berries).
RULES OF THUMB
If you have potted plants that are in shelter areas (such as under a roof overhang) or if you put them 'away' for the winter under a pergola or other solid roof structure, make sure you start giving them water in the spring, as soon as the soil unfreezes. It will not be getting any of our spring rain or occasional snow showers and will need supplemental drinks of water .
Nature rules, and gardening keeps you humble. It's good exercise--even if you are in the greatest shape, you will be sore after gardening for a few hours. Gardening keeps you in touch with the earth, her health, her cycles. It's extremely rewarding to grow something from a tiny seed that you have nurtured along into an edible plant that is organically grown and will taste delicious. The world is running out of space to feed everyone on a large scale, so everything you can grow yourself helps the planet. Strolling the garden in the morning with a cup of coffee and in the evening with a glass of wine helps you transition in your day. You'll observe how quickly everything changes from day to day and notice any issues in your garden's health if you just take the time to stop and smell the roses.