Gardening requires homework, experts say

March 15, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Because gardens don't sprout up through magic, gardeners must do prep work before they do handiwork.

Vendors at a flower and garden show at Hagerstown Community College on Sunday talked about common mistakes people make before digging in the dirt.

"Test your soil," said JoAnn Francis, manager of Cavetown Home Center.

Often, people add chemicals before they figure out what soil they have and what it needs, she said.

Bob Garrett, who is in training to be a master gardener for Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County, suggested stepping back and thinking.

Before buying anything, "have a plan first," he said.

Know your outdoor space, how it can be used and what would fit, Garrett said.

That's just what J. Richard Ott, the owner of Ott's Horticulture Center in Chewsville, did and had on display as an example for his customers.


On graph paper, Ott sketched a prototype garden, with Globe Cryptomeria here and Fire Power Nandina there.

Ott set up a small garden with a sample of those plants and others.

Besides knowing the soil, people also need to get a good sense of the location, he said.

Imagine a 12-foot-by-12-foot living room, he said. If you get a St. Bernard puppy who will stay in the room, think ahead three years, when the little dog grows large, to figure out if the space will work.

"Start small," said Tuba Greenfield, a master gardener with Maryland Cooperative Extension. "Like anything else in your life, you can't do it all at one time."

"Make sure you know your plant," said Dan Yates, an arborist representative with Bartlett Tree Experts. "Most people choose them (by) how they look when they see them in the nursery."

Five years later, when the shrub is eight feet wide, people call a removal service for help.

Blue spruce trees, for example, are popular, but they don't do well in a humid environment and might attract pests, Yates said.

What's the purpose of having the plant? Design? Shade? A nice scent?

At the Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown booth, veterinary technician Heather Martin reminded people that plants and pets are sometimes a bad match.

Chives, parsley and oregano are safe, but tulips, daffodils and lilies are toxic to pets, said Martin, who was sitting with Fancy, her mellow 4-year-old Lab.

A pamphlet produced by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals dug deeper. It listed more than 80 common plants to keep away from animals, including ferns and rhododendron.

Sunday was the second and final day of the flower and garden show, which was sponsored by HCC's Alumni Association.

With thousands of people coming to see about 90 vendors at HCC's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, the show was expected to raise about $40,000 for college projects.

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