Home & Garden

Planning for Spring

By
From the February 2014 edition
Bore No More

If your home suffers from an invisible front door, a drab deck or boring landscape beds, now is the time to make plans to turn yawns into wows.

Among those we queried for ideas to enliven so-so places are: Molly Johns, landscape designer with M. J. Design Associates; Bryan Joyce, landscape designer with Oakland Nursery; Pete Marsh, landscape designer with Buck & Sons Landscape Service; Tina Bozzuto, Columbus Park of Roses volunteer; and Fredrik Marsh, who gardens in the Clintonville neighborhood.

Welcoming Entries

Can’t see the front door and windows or use the walk due to overgrown bushes? Prune or remove the offenders. Replace with naturally low-growing and small plants that won’t need much pruning—or snag clothes of passersby.

Add flower-filled containers, but don’t create tripping hazards for guests by cluttering steps, stoops and porches.

Paint the front door an on-trend color—perhaps Pantone’s color of the year, Radiant Orchid—and keep the entryway glass clean. Power wash or paint walls as needed for a fresh look.

When budget allows, make a welcoming sidewalk wide enough for two people to walk abreast. Use a paved area to create an al fresco foyer around small porches and stoops. Add low-voltage lighting for safety and aesthetics.

If the garage door is your main entry, flank it with containers and maintain them as living welcome mats.

Containers

Containers are eye candy for porches, patios and even landscape beds. Use different sizes for more pizzazz.

“Pots on pads” is Joyce’s solution for spot color in bland beds. Put containers on concrete pads, such as a paving stone, for stability. Replant containers throughout the year to keep them looking fresh. Water daily in warm weather and fertilize consistently during the growing season for best success. 

Patios & Decks

Install a trellis or awning to shade the space in warm weather. Plant fragrant flowers nearby to perfume the air, and grow a hedge or screen of shrubs or ornamental grasses for privacy.

Fountains

Relax to the soothing, refreshing sound of splashing water. If safety of small children and pets is a concern, use wall-hung types or those that simply recirculate water in a small container.

Beds & Borders

Choose plants for long-term appeal. “The flowers on most plants last only a couple weeks, but foliage lasts an entire season,” says Marsh. Leaves can be burgundy, chartreuse, golden, variegated. Such plants “create a great deal of visual interest even when nothing is blooming at all—from spring through fall.”

Accessorize with bird baths, fencing and sundials for visual interest, but don’t clutter the scene.

Make your landscape pop with a crisp edge between lawn, planting beds and pavements.

Homework First

Learn the mature size of a plant and what it needs to grow. Ohio State University Extension estimates 80 percent of plant disease and insect problems are eliminated if you match the right plant to the right place.

Annual Delights

Colorful annual flowers are workhorses that bring months of visual pizzazz to home landscape beds, borders and containers.

With planting season almost here for cold-tolerant spring pansies, plan now to maximize the annual show.

“Get [the soil] ready for planting,” suggests Al Norman, store manager for Strader’s Garden Center in Grove City. When soil is dry enough, improve planting areas by spreading an inch or so of compost and scattering slow-acting organic fertilizer. Dig this into the top 3 or 4 inches of soil.

“Fertilizer is the key to maintaining plants,” Norman adds. A slow-release, granular fertilizer (effective for about 90 days) should be used at package-given rates when planting annuals.

Provide weekly applications of a weak concentration of a water-soluble fertilizer—using far less than the package recommends—to ensure a light, steady stream of nutrients. Fertilizing is especially important for containers, which lose nutrients more quickly than in-ground plants due to frequent watering.

Norman has other suggestions for success, too.

Remove fading flowers to improve appearance and encourage new blooms. Shop early to get the best selection—especially for popular blooms and hues, such as deep-purple petunias. And wait to plant. While geraniums may be planted in outdoor containers in April, resist the urge to plant the bulk of summer annuals until after May 15, the last frost date in Central Ohio.

 

Get to Know: City Folk’s Farm Shop

City Folk’s Farm Shop, located in Clintonville, helps urban homesteaders do their thing. But you don’t need to be urban—or even a homesteader, for that matter—to benefit from the shop’s unique take on all things home and garden.

Owner Shawn Fiegelist, who runs the store with husband Gerry, says they’re focused on providing things that are missing in the local market. That long list includes Ohio Earth Foods’ organic, Ohio-sourced potting soil; beneficial insects like lady bugs and nematodes; organic vegetable starts that are sourced from within the neighborhood; and non-GMO, heirloom seeds. You’ll even find tools for beekeeping, and if you’ve ever wanted to raise chickens, this shop is your go-to.

City Folk’s Farm Shop is, of course, more than just a place to pick up tools and plants; it’s a store with a mission.

“We want to help people control where their food comes from; we want to help them get the tools and supplies they need to really be successful,” Fiegelist says. “We have everything you need if you want to grow your own food, preserve it and have it available all year long.”

In addition to their products (and chicks, available in January), the shop offers educational opportunities in the form of classes, workshops, demonstrations and discussions.

“We try to connect likeminded people,” Fiegelist says. “A lot of people come through these doors, and we meet a lot of people who are experts in one area or another. We just try to tie all the pieces together.”

 

First Time for Everything

Simple steps for your first flower and vegetable gardens

So you want to grow flowers, a vegetable garden—or even both—for the first time. Forget the “green thumb” adage—there’s no luck involved, just proper preparation. Pam Bennett, volunteer coordinator for the OSU Extension’s Ohio Master Gardener Program, and Bill Dawson, Growing to Green coordinator for Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, share beginner advice.

Flowers

Pick the right site. Is there a lot of sun? Shade? How’s the drainage? Understand your space before you even think about picking out plants, as the difference between failure and success depends on site selection. To ensure your site has good drainage, too, dig a 1-square-foot hole, fill it with water and check in the next day. If the water hasn’t completely drained, choose a new location or tackle your drainage issue.

Next, start designing the garden. January and February are ideal months for figuring out what plants and flowers you’d like to see bloom come springtime, so pick out your seeds now. Match your selections to the amount of shade and sun your space gets, as well as to the type of soil.

It’s imperative that you prep your soil well. “You’ll ideally prep your soil in the fall,” Bennett says. “But if you wait until the spring, just make sure what you’re working with is totally dry.” Remove anything that’s perennial—such as turf grass, thistle and weeds—with herbicides or by hand.

Once the soil’s ready, add organic matter, such as compost and peat moss, to help improve its quality. To fully prepare the bed, you’ll need to add 4 inches of organic matter to 12 inches of soil. Then you’re ready to plant.

But first, test your soil. According to Bennett, most gardeners don’t conduct a soil test until there’s a problem. “I always encourage a baseline test to get an idea of what the PH level is,” he says. “This allows you to be a bit more earth-friendly, too, as you’ll be able to add to the soil only what it needs.” Fertilization is also often overlooked. “You can fertilize at the time of planting,” Bennett says.

Once your plants are rooted firmly in the ground, it’s time to talk watering. Bennett suggests watering thoroughly but infrequently; soak plants down to the roots a few times a week.

If you’ve reached this step, congratulations: You’re ready to garden. But remember that maintenance is important, too. Walk through your garden daily and check for disease and insect problems. When you catch problems early, they’re easier to manage, Bennett says.

Veggies

Dawson’s first piece of advice: Make your produce garden a family affair. Talk with family members about what they like to eat, and encourage everyone to help plant and grow the food.

In January and February, look through seed catalogs to determine what to grow. As with flower gardens, you’ll need to assess and choose the right site. Dawson suggests choosing a site near the home—this way, you’re nearer your water source and you’ll be more likely to stay dedicated to the garden.

Consider water conservation, too. Installing a rain barrel is good for both your water bill and the environment. And, of course, think about the sun. You’ll need six hours of full sun to grow your vegetables, though leafy lettuces can grow with a little less.

Next, think about the garden’s layout. “Stand in the garden at mid-day and put your arms up … see where shadows are cast,” Dawson says. “And think about ease of access. Will dragging a hose from point A to point B damage other beds?” Depending on your yard, you can define the space—and keep out pesky critters—with a fence.

Decide up front if your garden will be strictly organic. And consider adding some color. “A veggie garden can and should be pretty,” Dawson says. Get creative with garden art or homemade plant labels.

Finally, you can get to growing. After you’ve picked the space, done your tilling and worked the soil, you’ll be ready to plant in March (and should be able to grow through November, notes Dawson). Begin with the produce that needs the least light and can handle a bit of frost, and stagger planting so you don’t harvest it all at once.

Speaking of harvest, Dawson suggests growing a little bit extra to designate for a community food pantry that can accept fresh produce. (For their part, the conservatory annually donates thousands of pounds of produce to Ohio Community Kitchen, an organization that feeds about 100 people a day.)

 

Soil Testing 101

Soil samples can be taken in the spring or fall. To do so, you’ll need a soil probe or an auger—contact your lab of choice and they’ll send you a sample kit.

To obtain samples from a flower bed, remove any turf or debris from the soil surface before digging 6 to 8 inches deep. To get a representative sample, collect soil from between the garden rows.

Once you have your collection, send it to a lab. There are several soil-testing labs in Central Ohio, including CLC Labs in Westerville, which both Bennett and Dawson recommend.

 

Your Must-Have Tools

We checked in with Aaron Flick, nursery department manager at the Riverside Drive location of Strader’s Garden Centers, to determine what should make the shopping list of every first-time gardener.

Start with a good shovel. “There are heavy-duty fiberglass ones, and then ones with old-fashioned wood handles,” Flick says. “But you don’t need to spend a fortune on residential landscaping.”

Make sure you have a sturdy pair of work boots or shoes. “Old sneakers won’t do the trick for long,” Flick says. Also, grab a pair of gardening gloves.

Then: Purchase a hand-weeder or soil knife, a landscape rake (not a leaf rake, notes Flick) and hand-held pruners that can be used on trees and shrubs and also for cutting through roots and opening bags of soil. If you’re expanding to a bigger bed, a wheelbarrow becomes a must-have.

Flick says a hoe is necessary for organic weed control, if you can’t—or don’t want to—use chemicals.

 

Trending Blooms

It’s a new year and the perfect opportunity to change your attitude, your look and especially your flowers. Revamp your garden this year with tips from local experts hot on the trend. Here, they share their favorite new techniques and the most exciting blooms for 2014.

The popularity of low-maintenance, space-efficient gardens is gaining momentum. Whether it’s a cluster of small patio gardens or indoor planters, “everybody is trying to put more beauty in color and contrast and fragrance into smaller spaces,” says Ivan Stefanov, wholesale nursery manager at Oakland Nursery.

Ideal in urban environments with limited space, container gardens add a pop of color to any porch or patio and are easy to maintain. Stefanov recommends pairing geraniums and petunias with sweet potato vines for contrast in outdoor planters. Espalier plants, those that can be trained to grow against a wall or a fence, are great space savers, he adds, and recommends cherry, pear and apple varieties.

Herbs such as lavender, thyme and sage are also great additions to container gardens—and relate to another trend: edible gardens that incorporate decorative and colorful fruits and vegetables. These require a bit more attention but are as aesthetically pleasing as they are practical. Stefanov suggests peppers, cabbage, kale, and blueberry and raspberry bushes.

Foliage not ordinarily seen in planters or bouquets is making an entrance this season. Tropical ferns and begonias, especially those that can be used in and out of doors, are popping up in planters and bouquets, says Gretel Adams, owner of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm. Some ferns, such as a silvery Japanese fern, can live outside during the winter or provide interesting contrast in an indoor planter.

Adams says there is movement toward a more natural style of arranging gardens, rather than tight or stiff patterns. Flowering branches and berries can be strewn into pots for a more “woodsy and natural” design.

A new variety of blush rose lisianthus has a full bloom, similar to a double rose, and provides a subtle, neutral color to a bouquet, planter or garden.

 

Too Late? Try This

If you still haven’t gotten a jump on that dream garden you thought about back in the fall, you’re too late.

“As our motto says, fall is for planting,” says Ivan Stefanov, wholesale nursery manager at Oakland Nursery.

But fear not. With a few tips from local gardening pros, there is still hope for a bright and colorful garden this year—and quick fixes in the meantime.

Though it’s cold and snowy, winter is actually a great time to prepare for springtime gardening, says Joanne Dole, a master gardener with OSU Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteer Program.

“If you already have a garden bed, it is most important to get the chores done in the winter,” Dole says. Trash the debris from last season’s flowers and cover beds with a leaf mulch or compost to pack the soil with nutrients for spring.

Dole also suggests using the down time to prepare a new bed by using a “lasagna” technique: Layer organic materials, including soil and compost, on cardboard or newspaper placed on a plot of grass. The layered bed will break down and kill the grass, leaving behind soft, nutrient-rich soil for springtime planting.

There are even some flowers and vegetable plants that tolerate cold temperatures and can flourish in the winter. Try planting alyssum and butterfly weed for a pop of color, or kale, spinach, carrots and broccoli for backyard veggies throughout the year.

Green thumbs who miss the boat in the fall should “be looking for the earliest possible starts for planting in the spring,” Stefanov says. Early March is usually a good time to plant perennials and shrubs. Roses should wait until late March or early April, he says. Keep in mind the possibility of a late frost, he warns, and cover tender plants with sheets of burlap at night.

 

Hit the Ground Running

There’s a rule of thumb about working with soil: Don’t do it when it’s wet. That rule’s pretty limiting during the winter months, when inclement weather can make the ground at best too muddy and at worst totally frozen. But there are still plenty of options for the restless gardener who wants to get a jump on spring, and it starts with planning.

“[The winter months] are a good time to evaluate what you may have had success with [last year], and come up with a strategy or game plan,” says Tom Sedor, a nursery supervisor at Strader’s Garden Center.

If you’re an experienced gardener, you have by now cleared away any plant debris from last season, which Sedor advises doing in order to avoid any insects or disease that can carry over into spring. Gardeners sometimes describe this kind of post-season work as “putting the garden to bed,” and this analogy applies well to Sedor’s suggestion of adding a “blanket” of leaves on top of the bed.

Mary Ann Brouillette, communications specialist for the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, says covering up the bed prevents erosion and helps protect the living things in the soil that keep it healthy. “Just like with the farmers who are going to ‘no-till’ and cover crops, those practices work for home gardening as well,” Brouillette says. Although it’s too late to plant a cover crop, you can still reap the benefits from adding about a foot of litter—with an inch of top soil layered on top—that can later be added to the compost pile.

To speed up the composting process, which happens faster in warmer temperatures, try adding nitrogen (in the form of a lawn fertilizer) to the mix.

Winter is also a fine time to get your soil tested, as there should still be time to apply the appropriate amount of lime needed for successful soil come spring.

 

Weeding & Pruning 101

Aaron Flick, nursery department manager at the Strader’s Garden Center on Riverside Drive, shares the ins and outs of weeding and pruning.

Pruning

When: It depends on the plant, but perennial material that dies down completely when it gets cold should be pruned to the ground at the end of the season. Shrubs and evergreens should be pruned after new growth begins in the late spring and again mid-summer.

How: Hand-held pruning shears will do the trick for most residential landscapes.

Why: You’ll keep your plants much healthier by removing old or diseased materials. “We want and need fungus, but if there’s too much old plant matter, you’ll end up with an overgrowth,” Flick says. “This weakens the plant.” Pruning also encourages new growth, mimicking nature’s storms and wildlife snacking, Flick says.

Weeding

When: Start early, and weed often. There’s the easy route (spray a weed-killer early in the year), but organic physical removal and suppression works, too. Weed control works best when you remove them before they flower and set seeds. Some weeds, Flick says, can spread seeds within 48 hours of flowering.

How: Hoeing is a comfortable (and organic) option, as it keeps you upright. Mulch, too, is a great weed suppressant and comes with a load of other benefits. After you’ve removed weeds, dispose of them carefully—never compost weeds.