03/27/09 — Achieving garden greatness

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Achieving garden greatness

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on March 27, 2009 1:46 PM

Gardening doesn't have to be hard.

In fact, it can be quite easy.

You just have to do your research.

Daniel Casey, owner of Casey Garden Center on U.S. Hwy. 70 West, and Karen Bussey, horticulture agent with the Cooperative Extension, say you need to read up and make sure you know what the plants you want to plant need.

"Read about it and see what it likes," Casey said. "Sun, shade, soil moisture, climatic zones -- put the plant where it wants to be."

Just knowing your plant, what it needs and providing that for it makes all the difference, Ms. Bussey said.

If you have never gardened before or find yourself often looking at dead plants after trying your hardest to keep them alive, you should start by picking plants that are native to the North Carolina environment, Ms. Bussey said.

Those are much easier to work with because they are "adapted to the weather and the soil," she said.

And since they are in their element, the plants require less maintenance.

"When you get into plants that are more exotic, you have to manipulate the environment more if you want them to flourish," she said.

"Sometimes you can really push the limits of plants, and that's why people can grow things from other places. But it takes a lot of effort because you have to repair the soil."

Casey says that with any plant you choose, you need to start by giving it "good soil."

"Amend your soil with compost. It adds nutrients and organic matter. And adding organic matter adds moisture," he said.

It's also good to use mulch when you're planting, he said, because it allows the soil to hold even more moisture.

And you need to make sure that you have the correct tools to start your gardening with.

For those just beginning to garden, there are a few vital tools to have.

"You should have shovels, rakes, a wheelbarrow, pitchforks, spades and hand trowels. You should also have a good pair of pruners," Casey said.

Flowers are good to start your gardening off with because they add a lot of color and beauty to outdoor spaces without a ton of maintenance.

There are several flowers that are good to start your gardening experience with, Ms. Bussey and Casey say.

"As for using bulbs, daffodils are the easiest. They are pretty hearty, and they are perennial so they will keep coming back year after year," she said. "You can divide them, and they will spread like crazy."

Casey suggests using any perennial, since they only have to be planted once, not yearly.

"Lantanas are good. There are different colors of those. And verbenas. Black-eyed Susans are also a good flower to start with," he said. "They are all very easy, and there are a lot of varieties to choose from."

But Casey said that it is still a little early to be planting flowers.

"You want to wait until after April 15," he said. "That's about the last frost that the county sees."

As for trees, the easiest one to work with is a crepe myrtle.

"It's an easy-to-grow flowering tree," Casey said. "And it's beautiful."

Most trees and shrubs are pretty easy to handle, Casey said, but you have to make sure you water them well.

"When you first plant, make sure your trees and shrubs get enough water," he said.

The amount of water that they need depends on the tree, but, again, research what it needs and follow those guidelines, he added.

In this economy, people are also looking to grow more of their own food.

And vegetable gardens aren't scary at all, Casey said.

"You can grow tomatoes, squash, peppers and cucumbers pretty easily," he said.

"And you can even do carrots," Ms. Bussey said. "Lettuce is pretty easy, too. It needs a little less direct sun. It should have been started already, but if you buy some that is already started, you can transplant it until mid-April."

Herbs also are easy, she said.

"There are so many drought tolerant herbs, and they aren't much maintenance," she added.

If you are skeptical about starting a garden in your yard and amending the soil there, Casey suggests trying container gardens because you can more easily control the soil and moisture content.

You can place just about any flower or vegetable in a container garden, and you don't need that much space.

"Someone who lives in an apartment can have a container garden outside on their terrace, or if you live in a place with a very small yard, container gardens are good for that," Casey said.

"Vegetables like tomatoes and peppers are good for people who don't have a lot of space," Ms. Bussey said.

In gardening, there really isn't an "advanced" level, Casey Garden Center Manager Kim Kendall says.

"If you can grow one thing, you can grow just about anything," she said.

When Ms. Bussey thinks of advanced levels of gardening, she said she thinks more of the gardening art aspect, like topiary art.

"That's when you get into having a skill and technique," she said.

"As far as growing plants, I think everyone can do it -- if you just research what it needs and knowing what place it will be successful."

There are flowers and trees that aren't as easy as some, but they aren't difficult either, Casey said.

"A lot of people get interested in roses once they have done gardening for a while," Casey said.

Hybrid Tea roses are a little more work because they require more maintenance with pruning the plant back, and with preparing the soil for them.

"It's best to put them in a bed by themselves," Casey said.

But Knockout roses are easier.

"Knockout roses are the best of both worlds," he said. "You get the color and the look but with low maintenance. And you can put them with everything else."

A lot of people have trouble with hydrangeas, but Casey says they just need to have them in the shade, and they will be fine.

Azaleas also require a little more maintenance with pruning and soil preparation.

"They want part shade and soil that has a lot of organic matter (compost)," Casey said.

Fruit trees and berries are other options, and ones that really aren't hard to be successful with, but Casey says that you just need to know what will grow well in North Carolina.

"Pears, apples and figs are very easy. You can grow peaches and plums. Peaches just require a little more spraying," he said.

"Pecan trees grow well here. And blueberries and blackberries do, too. Muscadine grapes are also good for the area."

In the end, try to use in your garden what you will enjoy, Casey said.

And if you don't know, then ask, Ms. Kendall said.

"Always ask questions. Don't be afraid," she said.

"People don't ask questions because they think everyone should just know about this stuff. Everyone doesn't know," Casey said.

"I would rather you ask questions than not know what you are doing," Ms. Kendall said. "I want to sell you something that is going to last."

Casey Garden Center sells a wide range of flowers, trees, shrubs and fruit and vegetable plants as well as mulch, soil, bug spray and gardening tools.