Looking for ways to social distance and keep yourself occupied could be giving you Instagram envy of all sorts: baking bread, redesigning your home or even planting a garden.
If the latter has caught your eye lately, Nikki O’Rourke, owner of Modern Foliage Designs, LLC, is here to help. Gardening not only will get you outside and in the fresh air, but it will also give you the opportunity to turn a small patch of land into something even more beautiful.
In highlights from our conversation below, find tips on how to plan for your garden, what you should and shouldn’t be planting in early April and how to add a few plants to your life even if you don’t have an outdoor grassy patch.
If someone is trying to plant a garden for the first time, what are a few starting steps they should take?
Before you even think about breaking ground, think about how much time you will actually spend in the garden. Are you willing to go weekly, or are do you just want to let it do its thing? Knowing your realistic gardening time allotment, you can start to select the plants you want to grow. Annual and perennial flowers require more work than shrubs and trees (with exceptions).
The next thing I would recommend is understanding what type of light you have. Are you full sun, no sun or part sun? South-facing yards get the most sun, while north-facing get the least. East gets morning and cool sun, while west gets afternoon’s hot sun.
The beginning of spring is warm but still has those cooler nights. What are the best things to plant in early April for the mixed weather?
Now is a great time to get your cold crops growing: broccoli, kale, cabbage and peas. You can even get your early flowers in too. This year may prove to warm up sooner than last, so I’ve been taking risks in my own garden and getting some summer flowers in the ground early.
If you want to plant shrubs and trees, you’ve got a small window to get things in the ground and established, I would wait no later than Friday, May 1. Otherwise, I would wait until fall to do a major overhaul. With proper care you can plant anytime, but for low maintenance I would abide by these suggestions.
Since many might be planting gardens with some newfound free time, what advice would you give them on enjoying the process?
Don’t strive for perfection. Gardens are organic and growing and evolving; don’t stress over perfect pruning (unless it’s a hedge). Let plants do what they want to do for the first year. If it gets too leggy, clip it. If you prune too much and it’s ugly, wait two weeks and it’ll grow back. It’s the imperfections in a garden that make it perfect. I think that’s why I enjoy gardens so much is because my lack of perfectionism allows the gardens to move organically in the space. Nature does a much better job of designing than any person can.
How do you make the most of a garden with only a small amount of space?
I love planting annuals in my small-space gardens and coupling them with just a few evergreen plants to last all season. Annuals can get expensive to change season after season, so I reserve them for my smaller spaces where I can afford to go all out and make a bigger impact.
If you don’t have space for a garden but are dreaming of one, what are some good balcony plants for early April, or indoor plants to adopt this spring?
All your indoor plants can make it outside in one location or another. But just like people, they can get sunburned. Don’t just put them outside in bright light without expecting damage. You need to acclimate them to the sun, maybe a couple morning hours at a time, before they can stay out all day. I love putting palm trees on my deck. They screen me from the neighbors and are easy to maintain in a pot. For flowering plants, try hibiscus or mandevilla. They bloom most of the summer and are pretty no-fuss.
Are there any plants people should avoid planting right now?
Monday, April 20 is our usual last frost day. This year has warmed up significantly early so I’m taking the risk, but anything below 45 degrees has a chance of causing damage to sensitive tropical plants or flowering annuals.
What is your personal favorite springtime plant?
This year I’m loving my newest addition to the garden—Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ (for full to partial sun). It bloomed even before my daffodils came up and is still going strong. I divided it from a friend’s garden last fall and it has tripled in size. It’s a ground-cover plant and hopefully will take over some of my bare spots in the garden. But each year my favorite plants change season to season. I always love finding something new!
Why do you think it’s a good activity to get out and plant during social distancing and quarantine? What about it can be beneficial?
This can be a little hard to answer without sounding cliché, but a garden is such a peaceful oasis away from all the city life. I can really focus on watching the little bugs move around or the squirrels hopping around in my trees (and stealing my tulips). I love to focus in on these sounds and colors and it just feels rejuvenating. There are also the many therapeutic qualities of dirt itself and how it has been shown to decrease anxiety and even increase health.
Is there anything else you would want readers to know about starting spring gardening in early April?
Don’t be afraid if your plant hasn’t come to life yet. Some plants wait until late May to even put on new leaves! Gardening is a lesson in patience, so just wait and see what happens.
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