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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Green Thumbs Matter

THE SPRING RUSH at garden centers is officially on. We are accustomed to the early spring gardeners who just can’t wait to start getting their plan together. We thought it was kind of wild the way people reacted to the pandemic last spring. Garden centers were deemed ‘essential,’ and now I see what a great thing that was. Not only did that allow us to keep our staff employed, but it quickly became evident how much people really needed an outdoor area they could safely spend time outside their homes. I can think of more than one occasion that a customer was in tears while they thanked us for being there for them during these anxious and confusing times.

We saw a lot of new faces during 2020. People who had never stepped foot in a garden center were making regular trips to the nursery. We loved having new people coming in, admitting they were first time gardeners and asking for help getting started. That was music to our ears, because it gave us an opportunity to educate them about how to correctly, and hopefully, successfully, begin a new way of life in their garden spaces. Some of the new gardeners were interested in growing their own veggies, especially when it looked like the grocery stores might not be able to keep up with the demand.

Plus, people just didn’t want to go into the stores to buy produce that had been handled so much. Most of the vegetable gardeners wanted to start growing in raised beds, and I saw a lot of great ideas that people had come up with to create planting boxes that would produce their bounty.

I have developed and easy raised bed soil recipe that creates a great raised bed soil mix. This is what we use when we are filling another box or creating new beds for landscaping. This is the recipe: for every scoop (1/2 yard) of bulk grit mix, add one bag of mushroom compost, one bag of Black Kow manure and one bag of SunGro potting soil. The grit mix is just like it sounds; it’s gritty, barky and sandy. Our bulk grit mix is not a soil that I would plant directly into. It’s for breaking up our clay soil so oxygen and water can pass through easily, which is the key to healthy roots. The grit mix doesn’t have much nutrition to offer, but it’s as equally important as the composts, because it allows water to keep moving away from the roots. The mushroom compost and the cow manure have the nutrients that those healthy roots need to get the plants going.

The SunGro potting soil is the growing medium we started using back in 1990, at the greenhouses where we grow our bedding plants. We have had such fantastic results using SunGro, we thought everyone should know about this great soil, so we started selling it at Garden Works to our customers. It’s a double plus when the customer transplants those bedding plants into more of the same soil when they get home. It’s a recipe for success when planting into pots or into the ground. The reason we like SunGro so much, is that contains perlite, peat moss and other organic matter which gives the soil medium a perfect balance of water retention and release. It holds water long enough to give the roots what they need, but doesn’t hold it long enough to do root damage by staying wet too long.

We’ve noticed some confusion about mulches with some of our new gardeners. It’s very common for homeowners to use a lawn maintenance company. These crews cut the grass, keep their bed edges clean and then blow away the cuttings when they are finished. These maintenance crews often refresh their clients’ plant beds with pine straw twice a year, which makes the beds look great. Pine straw is a great mulch. It’s relatively inexpensive and can be applied quickly. Since so many homeowners have this service, when driving through neighborhoods, it looks like pine straw is the only mulch used around here. Because of this, I think many new gardeners think of pine straw as the only mulch choice.

The definition of mulch in plant beds is anything that, when used correctly, will keep moisture in and weeds out. Mulch is also the finishing aesthetic touch to your beds and can really change the whole look of your house. I like pine bark mulch best, because it has a very clean, neat look that has a way of making the plants look great. There are all kinds of wood mulches such as Cypress, pine bark nuggets and hardwood mulch. Some of the wood mulches have been dyed black, brown and even red, which gives the mulch more time before it begins to age and fade to grey.

ONE THING I’VE NOTICED about new gardeners and seasoned gardeners is that when they come into the nursery during the change of seasons, people are attracted to the flowers currently in bloom around town and in our permanent plantings around the nursery. In the early weeks, like right now, pansies are still looking great around town, so people want pansies. We have to explain that last seasons’ plants will soon have to be replaced with plants that will tolerate the heat headed our way.

If you truly want a profusion of blooms early in the season, you should get some of the tempting plants blooming right now. But don’t overlook the green plants while shopping. These green plants are likely either perennials or later season blooming annuals that will get you through the heat of our Mississippi summer. Believe me when I say, I definitely can’t pass up those rich and loud petunia colors early in the season. If you’ve driven past my nursery on Highway 51, you know how I feel about petunias. But, I will back those up with something more heat tolerant, so when the petunias poop out in the summer, we still have a color show for y’all’s enjoyment.

That’s when those nondescript, green perennials come in handy to keep color going all the way through the summer and into fall, or, at least, until it’s time to replace them with pansies. Those colorful, heat tolerant perennials will come back year after year. In my case, I treat our landscape in front of the nursery like my own miniature Epcot, keeping it fresh at all costs. It’s a great idea to add some later blooming plants, so your place can look great year-round. It’s also a great idea to do a little homework before you make big purchases. It can be overwhelming when you enter our overflowing bedding plant area, and it’s easy to get knocked off track from your original plan.

Many of the new gardeners we met last spring were young couples with children who wanted to attract hummingbirds. They are so much fun to watch. There is so much available information out there about hummers’ habitats, that to try even a little bit to begin building up their population and lure them into your yard is to be successful. It’s time now to clean your feeders and begin filling them, as the earlier arrivals are not far away.

I think the best way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is to have some of their favorite plants growing for them to notice. Some of those plants are Coral Honey Suckle, Cypress vine, Bee Balm, Red Buckeye and Butterfly Bush. You will want to keep pesticide use to a minimum in those areas where you are trying to attract birds, because the pesticides are dangerous to them, and it depletes the bug supply that are part of the hummingbird’s natural diet.

There are lots of new green thumbs in town, and we are seeing new faces every day, so this year should be another good year for growing more green thumbs. We often hear customers say that they kill everything they try to grow. I believe that there are no black thumbs. Everybody can garden. Green thumbs aren’t born. They are made. I believe the key ingredient is perseverance.

We hope to send people home with great plants and enough key information that they will be successful in their gardening trials. We garden center folks would rather a person ask us questions about those things they are confused about. The customers’ budding green thumbs are our success. We believe once a person has had some good luck in their garden, it becomes a way of life to them, which is our end goal. We want you to keep coming back to garden during the good times and the bad times.

ONE THING I DO KNOW is that we almost have Easter behind us, which seems to be most people’s magic planting date. Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s time for us to have our plans in place, so we can have the best gardening year ever. Try shopping at your local garden centers this year and see how much more fulfilling it can be to get good information when purchasing your new pets. We want to see your green thumbs.

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