Navigating the Spring Garden Center

11/23/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Tips, Uncategorized

Following a hard winter in our Arizona mountains, we gardeners are eager to get on with our work outdoors. With hundreds, even thousands, of tempting plant choices now in bloom at garden centers this “back to the earth” impulse can bring on anxiety that can lead to overspending.

Freed from the caged-in feeling brought on by snow and cold weather, it’s hard to avoid walking out of a nursery with either too much or too little of what we need for our yards and gardens. There are a few steps that can help size up what we must have, assess a nursery’s inventory, and shop it with the ease and confidence of a professional. All it takes is some planning and a bit of shopping savvy to feel secure that when you return home your time will have been spent efficiently and without frustration, and you’ll have exactly what you need to make your garden grow. So, to turn your first spring nursery visit from problematic to utter pleasure simply follow these smart simple steps:

1. Set your budget, take stock, and make a list. Walk the landscape and take note of plants that were damaged or decimated by winter. Guesstimate how much potting soil, plant food, mulch, and other materials you need. Check expiration dates on old fertilizers or insect controls. Check and test the condition of tools. The start of the season is the best time to add or replace a garden tool.

2. Photograph and measure containers. Clean and place your pots where they will be for the season. Take a picture and print it; then pencil the correct width and depth of each pot. Check to see if saucers are damaged or cracked. With these bits of information you’ll be able to ask for specific help at the garden center and take home the perfect plants in the right quantities.

3. Recall last year’s garden. Photographs are the best means to jog your memory about those lackluster plants that should be replaced or those that need to be moved, divided, or supplemented with new additions. Also, garden journals are good sources for details.

4. Determine colors. Choose foliage and bloom colors that make you feel good. Get inspiration from famous gardens, or from a neighborhood garden. For inspiration to make color choices, look to a favorite painting or clothing outfit, and to pages torn from magazines. The colors you choose set the tone and emotion of the garden.

5. Bring photos. Most nursery staff members want to help you find what you need, but can be tripped up because common plant names and their pronunciations vary greatly by region. You’ll get an instant identification with a snapshot or a picture from a magazine.

6. Make a floral and foliage bouquet. As plants wither and die they leave gaps in the pot, bed, or border. Before you go shopping to fill the holes, cut samples of leaves and flowers that are established. Tie the clippings together with twine and take the bouquet to the nursery. As you shop, compare your samples with the plants you’re thinking of adding to your garden. This is any easy way to make sure new plant purchases visually work in harmony with your current garden.

7. Assemble possible plant purchases. Instead of walking back and forth at the garden center, place plants on your shopping cart as you consider them. Use part of your cart as an audition area, arranging plants as you would in a bed or container. When you find interesting new plants swap them around to see which you like best.

8. Walk the whole store. A nursery is far more than a collection point of annual flowers. Cruise the whole store to discover and create interesting additions to your garden. Explore tropicals, houseplants, perennials, and succulents for your porch or patio. Look for attractive flowers, fruits, and foliage that complement each other. Try adding edibles into the mix. Nothing screams ‘Southwest style’ like the blue of artichoke plants in a container spilling over with strawberry plants setting fruit. In other words, get creative!

9. Try something new each season. We all have our favorites, but should leave 10% of a garden’s space for experimenting. Trying new varieties really brings out the gardener within each of us. Have fun, reach out, and live on the edge of your plant world.

10. Shop all season. You’ll find that local nurseries offer new stock all season long because of our mild temperatures. Keep in mind that: you’ll find fresh annuals after the early planting season is over, perennials have their best show in June, and that larger specimen plants are available in summer. Make a point of browsing the nursery each season as the plant mix changes. You may even happen upon a sale.

11. Let the artist within you sparkle. Drawing closer to Mother’s Day centers will fill their aisles with large pots brim-full of instant party colors. As pretty as they are, consider the fun of customizing and bring your containers to the nursery to make your own. If you find a pre-planted cachepot you like, simply drop its plant into your own glazed container. There are no rules here, so express the artistic touch that suits your needs.

Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.