Written By Gina Gallucci-White

Gardening season is upon us. Time to break out the tools, get your hands dirty and bring color back to the yard.

“If you have an existing garden, you don’t have to do a lot,” said Steve Allgeier, master gardener coordinator for the University of Maryland Extention. “Just clean up debris.”

Mary Toy of Westminster, who lives in a home that dates back to the 18th century, likes to have plants native to Maryland in her garden, such as lilacs and black-eyed Susans. Her husband, Howard, tends to their vegetable garden, where he grows garlic, asparagus and tomatoes.

The Toys lived in Washington, D.C., for several years before moving to Carroll County.

“We always had a small garden,” said Mary. “Out here [in Westminster] we have 25 acres. We can spread out.”

Mary used to buy fresh-cut flowers for her home. Now she can just go into her yard and pick some.

The couple, who have been married for 45 years, enjoy their time outside.

“[Gardening] enhances the look of the house,” said Mary. And it is an enjoyable hobby.

Steve Allgeier got involved in gardening as a child. He rediscovered it as an adult.

“I like seeing the change in the garden,” he said.

“Gardening is getting out and managing. It pays to look periodically at your garden.”

“Take a little time every day or two to check your garden,” he said. If a you wait too long, you will have to spend a lot of time pulling up weeds and may not detect a problem early enough.

“Periodic checks can save a plant,” said Allgeier. “You can pinch off a diseased part, and weeding may lead you to discover places where insects are hiding.”

Mary says her preparation is pretty basic. She rakes leaves, pulls weeds and works in fresh compost before planting.

Ross Snell, owner of Snell’s Greenhouses in Mount Airy, says that one of the biggest mistakes he sees residents make when preparing their gardens is mulching on top of perennials.

“That’s how they are lost,” he said. The mulch “just smothers it.”

Snell also suggests putting some type of border between the garden and grass. The border will help stop grass and weeds from migrating and “it’s a nice way to define the flower bed.”

“This year is going to be a really great year for perennials,” he said. “They will bloom much longer.” Pansies are popular sellers at Snell’s.

When it is time to plant flowers or vegetables, Allgeier suggests checking out local nurseries and garden centers to see what is available.

“When buying a plant,” said Allgeier, “take a look at its overall health before you purchase it. Does it have firm leaves? Is it green?”

Allgeier suggests doing research before buying certain plants. Some are listed as perennials but are perennial only in certain parts of the country, like Florida.

Planting Tips

When planting your garden, do not put plants too close together. Plants need a free flow of air. Make sure to rotate vegetables.

“If you want success, start small,” said Allgeier. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

People tend to buy hostas, irises, and peonies. But,” said Allgeier, “don’t fall in love with one plant. Diversify your landscape.” “We live in an area where many plants do well.”

Deer and other wildlife can wipe out entire gardens in a matter of days.

Some gardeners cover their plants or use a spray to deter deer. Others let their dogs stand guard. Allgeier has a friend who uses a radio to shoo deer away. Some plants are marketed as deer-resistant, but the animals may eat them anyway.

“It’s a tough issue,” said Allgeier. “There are all sorts of strategies. Deer keep a lot of people in business.”

Gardeners should be aware of diseases, fungus and mildew that can harm or kill their plants.

Some people like to use fertilizers to make their plants healthier. But Allgeier believes gardeners should perform a soil test first.

“I tell people, Ôbefore you fertilize, look at your soil test,’” he said. “It’s inexpensive and it gives you information you can’t see.”

Fertilizers should be used twice a year, said Snell. Slow-release and liquid fertilizer are popular choices.

For those who use manure as a fertilizer, Allgeier suggests testing it before using it in your garden. It may contain an herbicide. “The manure may be tainted,” he said.