For everything, there is a season

Gardens: For everything, there is a season

For everything, there is a season

As with many things around the house, spring is a good time to make a “clean, fresh start” with your landscaping, according to BrownWoods & Associates Maintenance Operations Manager Gwen Wilson.

Story: Christine Walsh

Photos: provided

As with many things around the house, spring is a good time to make a “clean, fresh start” with your landscaping, according to BrownWoods & Associates Maintenance Operations Manager Gwen Wilson.

As you begin thinking about how to extend your growing season, one thing to consider is increasing winter interest with items like interesting rocks. And you can choose some plants that will be left outside in the winter. “Some plants look really pretty when snow falls on them, and they’re good for wildlife like birds,” Wilson said. “It might be that you leave out other things that don’t look great but have another purpose.”

Water features and statuary also make for garden interest in the winter, Wilson said.

“Water features, especially, are wonderful in the winter since they can be active all season long if the water levels are maintained,” Wilson said. “We have a couple of customers who keep theirs operating all year. When ice begins forming around the water flow, you can see some wonderful forms and shapes in the ice.”

BrownWoods & Associates Landscape Architects President Dan Swartz said ornamental grasses, trees like birch and shrubs like red twig dogwood are good for creating winter interest in your yard. “They help introduce character into the landscape, besides the evergreens,” he said.

And when the cold weather hits, that doesn’t mean you have to stop thinking about your plants. “It’s a really good time of year to do your planning,” Wilson said. “There’s never not something to do in the garden. It’s a wonderful thing to do when you’re sitting in the house.”

Wilson suggests looking at garden catalogs to get ideas and place orders for seed packets. “You’re not having to pull weeds right now,” she said. “You can start growing seeds indoors, using a grow light or a window. It’s a wonderful thing to do to get ready.”

In order to extend the growing season, there are steps you can take that will allow you to plant your garden earlier and protect your plants from the cold weather. “Some people will do a raised bed and create cover,” Wilson said. “You can also use a sheltered spot on the south side of your house to shelter it from the north winds. I’ve seen people start a flower or vegetable garden in early to late February by moving plants they started in the house.”

Swartz added that a structure like a cold frame can also be helpful.

Wilson, who helps with the Champaign County Master Gardeners’ Idea Garden on the University of Illinois Arboretum grounds in Urbana, explained that the volunteers who work on it utilize a cold frame in late October and early November. “For early vegetables like greens and spinach, we may be harvesting by March or February,” she said. “It’s going to depend on how early you start things.”

Sometimes, your money might be better spent on seed packets than on plants when trying something new, Wilson advised. “Gardeners are great at trial and error,” she said. “The more you harvest will lead to more growth.”

First-time gardeners might start with something simple like containers, Wilson advised. “Try to be realistic in your plan,” she said. “Start small; you can always add. Ask yourself, ‘Do I really have time for this?’”

In addition to making a garden too large, one mistake new gardeners can make is not following up with tasks like weeding, Wilson said. “Once a problem begins – a pest or a disease – it may be too late. Find out what the problem is and get out and take care of it,” she said.

Wilson recommends calling the Extension Office for questions about diseases or pests that show up. “If you don’t know, investigate,” she said.

Swartz warned that weeds will compete with your plants for nutrients. To make the job of weeding easier, Wilson said, you might set aside a time for a specific part of your yard, rather than trying to do the whole thing at once. “It might make it a little less daunting,” she said. “If appearance is important to you, keep things neat and tidy. It’s easier to keep things neater later in the season. And it’s nice to have a break day a week from weeding.”

Swartz suggests planning to have plants coming to maturity at different times and even going so far as to get a soil test, which will tell you which nutrients and organic matter you might need.

Overwatering is a common mistake in container gardening, Swartz said. “It can look the same whether it has too much water or not enough,” he said.

Wilson recommends filling a compost tumbler in a corner of the garage with food scraps and regularly turning it. “By the time you’re ready to start planting, you’ll have compost,” she said. The Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana is another good resource for compost, Wilson added.

Like farmers, home gardeners should rotate their “crop,” according to Swartz. “Certain crops will deplete certain nutrients,” he said. Some plants are naturally pest-repelling, he added, and therefore eliminate the need to use chemicals to treat your garden.