Curb your enthusiasm

April 24, 2013 

Do you follow the old carpenter’s adage of “measure twice, cut once,” or are you more the “git’er done” type when it comes to projects around the home? I confess I’ve wasted a lot of effort and money doing things wrong because I got an idea and jumped right on it. Especially when it comes to impulse purchases of plants, there are many ways to go wrong.

Take dogwoods, for example. Is there anything more beautiful than a flowering dogwood in the spring? They grow beautifully all over Missouri, so how complicated can they be? Yet, even in my fourth landscape I’ve yet to succeed. The first three tries failed because I planted dogwoods in a prime, sunny location—when they’re meant to be an under-story tree getting only dappled sunlight. Last time, I found a better location but chose the wrong variety.

The type I covet is covered with blossoms first, then leaves. What I hurriedly bought is the type that blooms later, after leafing out, and it’s a huge disappointment. I’m almost glad the deer damaged it this winter; now I have an excuse for yet another attempt! Next time, I’ll do my research before succumbing to a sale at the nursery.

In addition to choosing the wrong plants and planting them in the wrong places, beginning gardeners often plant things too early. Some plants, including tomatoes, require the soil to be warm before they’re planted. I saw people buying tomato plants two weeks ago, which is too soon even in a normal spring. Early spring is the time to plant lettuce, peas, pansies and kale—not tomatoes, petunias or vincas.

It’s gratifying to see so many people willing to try growing things, and especially their own veggies. With a little preparation and research, it’s a good family activity and encourages healthy eating. If you’re a rookie, remember that it’s important to amend the soil (i.e. adding humus to clay soils). Never plant or even dig in wet soil; your plants won’t thrive and you can damage the soil structure. And feel free to ask questions.

Most gardeners are generous with advice and sometimes they’re happy to share plants. I’m so glad I gave my neighbors a start of my late uncle’s prize peach-colored iris, because my own patch later died. I really enjoy seeing theirs thrive.

Always read plant labels and use the expertise of garden center staff. You can also call the Master Gardeners’ Hotline and the Missouri University Extension Service, or join an online discussion. One helpful online newsletter, Savvy Gardener, lets readers follow the weekly adventures of a local family as they combine timely, expert gardening advice with stories of their own failures and triumphs. With so much information available via the Internet, I tell myself ignorance is no longer acceptable.

This is the most exciting time of the year for those who choose to beautify their property with trees, shrubs and flowers. Some choices don’t matter much while others, such as which tree to plant where, can have long-term consequences. Whether you’re planting two pots of geraniums or an entirely new landscape, I hope you’ll do a little research and make the best investments for your growing success.

Carol Rothwell is a member of the Lee’s Summit Beautification Commission and a Lee’s Summit resident.

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