Gardening 101

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    Spring has sprung! It's time to put away the snowblower and tune up the lawnmower ... Lose the snow shovels and find the rakes ... Stash the ice scrapers, and sharpen the shears. It's that time of the year when your garden comes alive again … finally. There are two kinds of gardeners, the doers and the directors. If you're a 'doer' get outdoors and evaluate your lawn and gardens. Where your trees, shrubs and gardens a regular dining spot for the deer and other critters during the long, snowy winter? If you're a director, you've already been thinking about what flowers should go where and you're anxious to point your ‘doer' in your creative direction. Hold on though, advices Sparta homeowner and gardener Esther Tham, "Even though we might get some warm days, it's best to wait until after Mother's Day to do any outdoor planting, because of the dangers of frost." A healthy garden is filled with diversity of color, shapes, texture and heights. Give plants room to grow. Overcrowding means there's not enough air circulation or light to reach each one, making them easy targets for slugs and diseases. Tham's gardening tip: Peonies. "They are nice flowers that grow well in the ground, and the deer don't seem too interested in them." You can still get started early by planting your flower seeds in seed starting containers. You may be thinking why would anyone grow flowers from seeds when there are many wonderful nurseries offering healthy, mature specimens? Well, because it is less expensive, that's why. Plus, packaged seeds sometimes offer more variety. Check the back of the seed packet for starting times. Easy seeds for beginners: tomatoes, marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, and coleus. For those gardeners who need to see immediate springtime bursts of colors, beautiful pre-made planters are available at DiAngelos' Garden World in Andover Township. Some people have given up on gardening because of the deer. That is why container planting has become so popular. "You can put the containers anywhere conditions are good, out of the deer's reach," says Chris DiAngelo. His best advice: "We sell great products that we strongly recommend to our customers for use in planters. One is a slow release fertilizer and the other is soil moist granules which retain moisture, cutting the chore of watering." Proven winners for potted plants; bacopa, swan river daisy, verbena, and ivy gerainum. Best tip: "Do not reuse soil. Last year's plants left that soil depleted of any nutrients and good, rich, soil for the flowers to absorb," warns DiAngelo. Grab the gloves and the rakes, it's time to hit the garden! Start carefully raking out the beds and removing the winter mulch, rose collars, cones, and the protective deer netting. But watch your step! or you'll be wondering what ever happened to that particular perennial planted last season. Emerging plants are hard to recognize and are often destroyed, having been mistaken for weeds, or trampled on . Location, location, location tip: Keep last year's garden design map for easy reference. Watch your color pallet. Diversity tip: Mix up early and late season bloomers to ensure color throughout the season. The more color, shapes, texture and heights, means having less insect and disease damage in your garden. a Remember that a garden is an integral part of your home. Treat it that way. After years of gardening Diane Koncelik could have used a map before construction to her home destroyed the garden that she and her son Bradley created at their Sussex County home. They'll be on a scavenger hunt soon, trying to salvage plants from what was once their beautiful garden. "Now we're looking through catalogs getting some new ideas and trying to remember where everything else was planted. We saved as many of the perennials as we could," says Koncelik, anticipating all the hard work in front of her. Hot tip: Burning bushes. "They are one of our favorites" says Koncelik "They are green in the summer and red in the fall." Dirty tip: "Get your soil tested." You can do that at Rutgers Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Laboratory 932-932-9295. a Fact or Fiction? Ivory soap repels deer, keeping them from eating your gardens? Fact. According to Koncelik and a number of landscapers, ivory soap placed sporadically throughout the garden seems to work as well as many commercial deer repellents. However, they all share the opinion that if the deer and other creatures are hungry and desperate, they will eat just about anything. a The folks at Mohawk Gardens in Sparta, know firsthand how popular deer resistant plants are in this area and therefore have a wide variety available. However, first they advise green thumbers to fertilize their soil before planting. "Anything you amend the soil with is a huge plus for this heavy clay soil area. Loosen the soil with a garden rake down about 12 inches as you mix in the fertilizer and compost. This will open up channels for air and moisture, and make it easier for roots to penetrate the soil. We recommend an organic pine soil condition, which is a wonderful amendment to the soil, in any application," states Judy Leckburg. Big sellers at Mohawk Gardens: Ornamental grasses, which add movement, texture, and interest to any garden, and a wide array of deer resistant perennials and colorful annuals. a At this point your soil and garden are shaping up after a long winter. John Towasnick of JP's Landscaping in Ogdensburg reminds gardeners that their trees and bushes need attention too and a spring clean up. ‘‘This is the time of the year when the trees and bushes need to be pruned. Not only will this remove dead branches but also shapes them up, enhancing their beauty," says Towasnick. Black dyed mulch is his recommendation for gardens. "Mulch defines the line between the garden and lawn or walkways. And black mulch seems to last longer." Discount tip No. 1: Now is the time to look for coupons and money saving flyers offered by many area landscape companies. Discount tip No. 2: Often neighbors with connecting properties will be given a discount if they collectively hire one lawn maintenance company. a Now stand back and visualize the panorama of your freshly spruced up garden. "Take your color scheme into consideration before you start planting, including your shrubs. You want some bushes and shrubs to remain green throughout the winter months," suggests Chris Hordych owner of CH Landscaping in Vernon. "If people are spending thousands of dollars on landscaping, they need to love the end result." Hordych educates customers new to the area about what grows well here. He cautions homeowners to consider the color of their house when choosing garden items. "Red mulch against a green house can look like Christmas for instance." Problem areas? One of the many varieties of junipers can turn a grassless hill, or an eroded eyesore into a lovely focal point. They are deer resistant and low maintenance. a A big mistake often made in new home landscaping, as well as landscape replacement, is planting mature bushes and trees too close together, and too close to the house, windows, and walkways. "People want their gardens to look full right away, so they buy things that are too large, causing overcrowding. To ensure healthy growth over time, less is best, at least in the gardens," recommends Andrew Kattarmen, of Kattarmen Farm and Garden Center located in Lafayette. a With all the trees in Sussex County why would anyone plant anything other than an ornamental, or flowering tree? To eat. No, not the tree, the fruit. That's right, fruit bearing trees spark the interest in the county's gardeners. But don't get your hopes up for succulent fruit or bushels of apples with profits lucrative enough to pay a college tuition, at least not right away, warns Jim Paulison, from Vernon's Heaven Hill Farm. "Even with proper care a tree may not produce edible fruit for four to five years. And, unfortunately when the fruit is just right to harvest, the birds instinctively know it and eat your crop." Many fruit trees need to cross pollinate with one another. Fruity neighbor tip: Since the trees don't necessarily need to be close to one another to cross pollinate, ask your neighbors to join you in your fruit tree venture. Sussex County's prize fruit tree picks: Apple, pear, peaches, and cherry. Other winners: raspberry, blue berry, and strawberry bushes. a If you want to reap the benefits of the seeds you sow sooner than four years, then vegetable planting should satisfy your appetite. Ruth and John Bennett of Sparta have been growing their own crops for decades. Ruth's father and grandfather farmed the land that the Bennetts now call home, so, you could say that gardening is second nature to them. "The first spring job to do in a vegetable garden is to roto-till the ground, loosening and turning up the soil. Next is getting plenty of horse manure to add to the soil," states John. The Bennetts not only grow a wide variety of vegetables, fruit trees and herbs, they also ‘can' roughly 100 quarts of tomato juice. Biggest obstacle: outsmarting the crows and other critters. Best Tip: "Homegrown, organic tomato juice makes the best Bloody Mary drinks!" says John with a chuckle. a Growing a healthy lawn from the ground up means taking time to do some prep work. John Iwanicki from Newton, is the owner of Beautiful Lawns and Gardens. "A very important lawn procedure this time of the year is thatching and aeration, which gets rid of dead grass, creating loose, airy soil. If you don't do this any treatments and fertilizer you've applied will just sit on top of the lawn, not being absorbed, only to run off your lawn into local ponds and streams, or on to your neighbor's recently aerated lawn," cautions Iwanicki. a Most homeowners have rather simple lawn care wishes: Healthy lawn: Death to weeds. "Crab grass is a weed and very hard to get rid of," says Troy Gialanella, owner of Meticulous Lawn Care in Andover Township explaining that the best time to plant grass seed is in April and September. "The type depends on your property." Fertilize your lawn, recommends Gialanella, the nutrients will promote growth. Green thumbs up for sod! Immediate gratification. Well, not quite. Initially sod is a winner with its immediate picture perfect green carpet, weed free appearance. But it often becomes difficult for the average Joe Gardener to maintain if it was not put down in ideal conditions, warns Gialanella. "You must have a lot of good soil down first for a good root system. And, the grubs and moles are very attracted to sod." Tip: Keep mower blades positioned high for sod lawns. a The folks at Garden State Koi, in Warwick, NY have what they believe to be the best garden idea of them all. "Gardeners with black thumbs are successful with our low maintenance water feature gardens and ponds," states Doreen Daly, an aquatic garden specialist. "There is practically no care involved in the wide variety of water plants we sell, because there is no need to worry about over or under watering them." According to Daly, water garden features are relaxing, soothing, and stress reducers, which is precisely what a garden should be, right?