It's Time to Wake Up Your Spring Garden

Advice for those of us without the greenest of thumbs.


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Photographs Courtesy of Matthew Sabellico

Trees are budding, and the snow is melting — uncovering those plain patches of yard that are begging for some color. If you’ve yearned to start a garden, now’s the best time. We turned to Matthew Sabellico, head grower at Sabellico’s Greenhouse & Florist in Hopewell Junction, for some tips to help make your garden flourish.

With a fourth-generation greenhouse, garden center, nursery, farm market, and florist shop, Sabellico emphasizes that “we have made most of the mistakes that one can make in gardening, farming, and growing, and want to share our experience with the community to make it easier for them.”

 

Q. When should homeowners begin thinking about their garden?

It is never too early. If you have established gardens, when you are cleaning up in fall, think about what worked well, what didn’t, and things you would like to try next season. 

For a brand-new garden, planning is very important. Choose a spot that has lots of sun, and easy access to water. Flower gardens give you more options of plant material from big to small, and sun to shade. 

I love the old saying, “Gardening requires huge amounts of water, mostly in the form of perspiration.” So plan accordingly. 


RELATED: Everything You Need to Know To Help Your Garden Grow 


Q. How does one prepare a new flowerbed? 

Soil type is important. Here in the Hudson Valley, I have seen every type of soil you could imagine. Most gardens have less-than-ideal soil. You can improve its structure — making clay more porous, sand more water-retentive — by adding amendments.

The best amendment is organic matter: the decaying remains of plants paired with manure. It releases nutrients that are absorbed by soil-dwelling microorganisms and bacteria. 

To add amendments to unplanted beds, spread the material evenly over the soil, then work it in by hand or with a rototiller to a depth of about 9 inches. 

 

Q. How does one choose what to plant? 

Consider sun exposure, access to water, height and size, and growth habits. You don’t want to plant a shrub or tree by your house that will grow to block the windows, impact your house’s foundation or clog septic pipes with its roots. 

Do some research to determine what you like. Visit your aunt who has been gardening for 50 years. Visit a botanical garden or estate garden. Go online, look at pictures, and print some out to bring with you to the garden center so the staff can help direct you. 

Q. How much and how often should a garden be watered?

A lot of factors play into the frequency and amount of water needed. How mature are the plants? Young plants don’t want to be drowned with water. Overwatering is just as detrimental to a plant’s health as underwatering. 

Nice, even moisture in the soil is generally the best for most plants. This can be best achieved by using a soaker hose or soaking nozzle. I know sprinklers are convenient, but they are not always the best option. More water winds up evaporating and soaking the top of the plant than soaking into the ground. Plus, wetting the leaves and flowers will make the plant more susceptible to disease. All plants are different and require different care.

 

Q. How do you keep animals out of the garden? 

An 8-foot-tall deer fence will work wonders. Many people’s favorite plant varieties are not deer-resistant. Fencing will allow you to use almost anything your heart desires without constant worry. 

If fencing is not an option, there are some great deer-repellent sprays on the market. It is always smart to rotate your sprays because deer can become immune to the smell if you constantly use the same product. 

There are many deer-resistant plant varieties that probably won’t be the deer’s first choice of meal. But remember that if they are hungry enough, they will eat anything they can get. Traps and sprays are effective for groundhogs, rabbits, and squirrels. For bird problems, netting is most effective. There are also scare techniques like motion-active sprinklers, fake birds of prey like owls, reflective tape, and the old-fashioned scarecrow.


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