Tips for getting started or adding to your existing green space
For gardeners, spring is our time. We start our seedlings, get them into the ground, and care for them as they grow into something that will provide us either sustenance or something beautiful to look at—or both. Being a gardener in springtime is a thrill.
Whether you’ve been toying with the idea of incorporating native plants into your gardens, are fairly new to growing your own vegetables, or are simply ready to redo your landscaping, there are some basic steps you can follow to ensure your garden sees success this year.
Since many landscapers are already knee-deep in projects, that might mean you’re on your own this year. Don’t panic. Rylan Thompson, UT Extension’s Knox County agent, says to simply start with a plan: “You should really put thought into what your goals are for your space.”
A good place to start is with your soil. “East Tennessee soil is clay and rich,” says Mike Newman of Northshore Nursery. “Clay particles are very fine which means the water doesn’t drain very well. A lot of East Tennessee soil holds water and plants don’t like that.”
If you’re wondering how your soil fares, you can have it tested through the University of Tennessee Soil, Plant and Pest Center. Pick up a soil sample test kit from Thompson at the UT Extension office and mail it in. Within the week, you’ll have a clearer understanding of your soil and recommendations of how to move forward with it.
Once you’ve built up your soil, Newman suggests identifying the right plants for different areas of your garden. Go to different nurseries and talk to staff about your goals, your garden spaces, your soil, and what you’d like to see in your garden. Then go home and do your own analysis. “The biggest thing is to research your plant materials,” Newman says; buying a larger plant will mean you need to have the space for it to grow. And while you can buy and plant anytime, he says, “later in summer, you’ll have to keep up with the maintenance.”
Issues to Watch Out For
Winter wrecked havoc on plants across East Tennessee. Thompson advises that you keep this in mind as you care for your green spaces. “We did see a lot of browning and a lot of freeze damage,” he says, adding that not all plants were impacted, but many were, and the freeze impacted parts of the same plant in different ways.
“On the same plant, certain tissues can vary with hardiness—leafs, buds, stems—with roots being pretty sensitive to those low temperatures as well. A lot of it can depend on what the plant is and its micro-climate.” A plant that was protected in a corner of the yard during winter might hold up differently when compared to one in the yard’s center. Pay attention to those seemingly small details.
Another thing to watch out for? “If we have a year like we did the last two or three where we get frequent rains, and then the sun comes out and we have a humidity spike, that does create a lot of fungal issues,” Thompson explains. “If leaves or stems get spots, it’s time to act.”
Of particular note is boxwood blight, a fungal issue that Thompson and his team have been hearing a lot about recently from local gardeners. “If somebody has a plant that’s losing leaves and they see black lesions on the stems of the boxwoods, then give us a call. We can help them figure it out.”