Get Your Spring Green On - Angie Eckert's quick tips for gardening succes

May 9, 2014 

Rebekah Hoffmann
Contributing Writer

Everywhere you look, flowers are now bursting into bloom, bringing color and brightening moods.

If you glance longingly at the lush plants on other people’s porches, patios and yards but believe you have the proverbial brown thumb, don’t despair.

Growing plants and seeing them thrive can be very rewarding and can be a great activity to share with children. And gardening success can be as simple as following a few basic guidelines, offered by longtime gardening enthusiast Angie Eckert, who also oversees the garden center at Eckert’s in Belleville.

Know your watering quota.

Before heading out to buy any plants, it’s important to know how much time and care you are willing to devote to them, including how often you are prepared to water them.

Just how much watering they will need depends on the kind of plants, lighting conditions - and if they’re planted in a hanging basket, another type of container or in the ground.

In general, hanging baskets are going to require the most frequent watering because they are exposed to air on all sides. This means that, in the heat of the summer, hanging baskets placed in full sun are going to need watering twice a day, Eckert explained.

“I don’t know about you, but watering twice a day doesn’t fit into my busy lifestyle,” she noted.

If you anticipate problems keeping up with frequent watering, stick to larger size containers or plant directly in the ground. These won’t require you to be as ready with the hose or watering can. And you can hedge your bets even more by adding a water-retaining polymer when planting and selecting drought-tolerant plants.

Pick the right plants.

Most Eckert’s customers are looking for long-lasting color from the plants they choose for their gardens, she said. If that’s your aim, you may need to look beyond what’s in bloom at the time of purchase.

“That creeping phlox may be cute as a button at the moment but, in a couple of weeks, it’ll be done blooming for the season. But, if you can be a little patient, other plants have longer-lasting flowering periods (six weeks or more).”

And don’t completely overlook non-flowering plants. Some have striking multi-toned foliage that can be as eye-catching as blooms and will last throughout the growing season.

Likewise, it’s important to choose plants well suited to local growing conditions and to the lighting conditions where you want to plant.

Eckert said the St. Louis area is in Zone 6, according to the USDA Plant Hardiness map. “If a plant is classified as Zone 7 or higher, it won’t survive our (normal) winters.”

She noted that the winter of 2014 was an extreme winter, and gardeners can expect that some plants from previous years won’t come up this spring.

“But don’t lose hope. Last winter wasn’t typical.”

She also explained lighting guidelines. In garden speak, if a plant is listed as full sun, it needs six-plus hours of sun daily; part sun, four to six hours; and shade, less than four hours.

The plant finder on the Missouri Botanical Garden website (www.missouribotanicalgrden.org/plantfinder) can also be a big help when selecting plants. This nationally recognized database has information on thousands of plants. It that can help you determine whether a plant will hold up to local weather, what lighting conditions it needs, blooming periods and, in general, how easy it is to grow.

Take care in the planting.

Get your plants off to a great start by following proper planting protocol.

If planting in containers, use a potting soil or soilless mix. Soilless mixes are usually much lighter, making them ideal for large pots that you want to be able to move easily, she said. (Remember, water-retaining polymers can be added to the mix, if desired.)

Fertilizer, regular (applied approximately every other week) or slow-release (applied once a season), is also recommended.

If planting directly in the ground, be sure to loosen the soil one and a half times the diameter of the hole needed for planting. You can also mix in aged compost. Rich soil appears loose, crumbly and dark in color. If your soil doesn’t fit this description, you may want to consider getting a soil test.

Ask for help at your garden center.

Still have questions? The experts at your local gardening center can provide more specifics for your situation, especially if you bring photos, Eckert said. Photos can help garden staff better understand such things as lighting, drainage and competition from nearby tree roots as well as gauge the size of available space.

Their advice can help your plants flourish and your gardening knowledge grow.

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