Here it is……..That time of year again when we all feel the urge to commune with Nature. As a veteran gardener and co-owner of a nursery I have come to view the month of April with mixed feelings. It is wonderful to observe the trees awakening from winter slumber. The spring bulbs and wildflowers are putting on a splendid show. Business is good and we always look forward to seeing old friends plus making some new ones. However, there are those days when things get just get too hectic. The nursery loads up with novice gardeners who desperately need our help. They all have questions, apprehensions, and the misguided belief that they are either too early or too late and something must be done RIGHT NOW!!
Of course we who have the knowledge to help are stretched so thin during April we just don’t have time to spend with everyone. Our feelings of frustration and inadequacy due to this annual occurrence often takes the edge right off of what should be our most enjoyable season. This article is intent on making your nursery visit a pleasant and productive one. Also included will be some reminders as to the optimum times to plant certain things. Let’s face it, we ALL feel the need to plant something. It is the perfect ritual to affirm the coming of Spring. Consider these things before you leave the house.
1. Make a list. Whatever your needs are from seed to soil amendments, a list comes in mighty handy (especially if you are over 50). It’s OK to do some impulse buying, that is one of the great pleasures of the sport of shopping. However, if you don’t have the items you intended to buy on a list, you may find that in your excitement over the new plant you discovered you totally forgot the compost and mulch you need. Avoid making two trips, make a list.
2. Make a drawing. If you are making a new bed or planning to expand an old bed then take time to make a drawing to show dimensions. Include windows, pathways, gates, nearby trees and anything else that may have a bearing on plant selection. At the very least you should jot down the dimensions. Trying to help people with plant spacing is impossible unless we know the area. Don’t assume you can guesstimate.
3. Do some research. One of the best uses for the plant catalogs we get in the winter is reference. Most of us already have learned (the hard way) that live plants don’t do very well being shipped across the country. Seeds, on the other hand ship very well. If you discover a plant you would like to try in your landscape then simply take the catalog to your local family nursery. Chances are if they don’t have it, they can get it, or at least they can tell you why your plant is not well suited and come up with something similar that will work better. We can do a much better job of helping once we have an idea of what you prefer. More often than not we hear “ I just want to look,” or “I’ll recognize it when I see it,” or “ Y’know the green bushy thing with the pretty yellow flowers?”……..Yeeesh!
Read a book, go online, stop and ask the nice lady down the street, at the very least cut off a sample branch (not JUST one leaf, please) or pick a flower. Don’t assume you can put together a pleasing and functional garden by trial and error or impulse buying.
4. Tuesday is better. What I mean by this is in order to avoid the crowds that are inevitable on weekends you should (if you can) try shopping the nursery on a weekday. Most nurseries will work longer hours in the Spring. Go by after work or during your lunch hour or take a day off during midweek and you will find less people plus (presumably) a more relaxed atmosphere at the nursery.
The general misconception of novice gardeners in my part of Texas is that EVERYTHING must be planted sometime between mid-April and the first of May. The following is a list of optimum planting times for North Central Texas.
Trees and woody shrubs- September through February
Flowering perennials- September through March
Lawn grasses- May through September
Warm season vegetables- April through August
Cool season vegetables- September through February
Warm season annuals- April through August
Cool season annuals- September through November
Wildflowers- September through October
Spring bulbs- December through January
Fall bulbs- May through August
Although this is a very general list, you will notice that most categories listed actually have optimum planting times in the Fall but some do occur in the Spring. In reality we can plant container grown plants at any time of the year (including Summer) but our success rates are better with Fall and Winter planting. When we plant in Spring we have the hot dry season of Summer just ahead. Furthermore, studies have shown root growth on most long living plant species to be more vigorous in Fall through early Spring while the top of the plant is dormant. So why all the big rush in Spring?
Two major reasons. First of all we humans that are fortunate enough to be among the living can’t help but notice the renewal of life in the Spring. Our spirits are lifted as the new flowers bloom, the days are comfortably warm, we actually want to be outdoors, the birds are singing, the fish start biting, animals are mating, and……..you get the picture. Secondly, the advertising and marketing folks are well aware of this positive attitude, so they begin scheming to lure us into the Mega marts so that we will cash in (literally) on all the great bargains offered. As good little consumers we fall for this ploy and like lemmings, we hurl ourselves into the abyss thinking that this is a good and necessary thing.
I sincerely hope that you can count yourself among the wise gardeners who planted most of your stuff back in the Fall or Winter. When Spring comes you can sit back and enjoy as your new plants come to life. You may also take comfort in knowing that while they seemed lifeless during the dormant season, they were actually busy growing roots that will help them survive that critical first Summer. You may also decide to go ahead and visit the local nurseries now to do a bit of impulse buying so you too can affirm the rites of Spring. Pick up a few petunias or tomato transplants and have some fun.
If not, and you are in a feverish state of panic to do something NOW, then please check these suggestions and planting times. Shop at a reputable family nursery, the Megamart may be a good place to get your Spring wardrobe but it is not a place you can expect to find true landscaping professionals. Remember that Fall begins right after next summer. Don’t bite off more than you can chew,…………Come see us!