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North Hills Monthly

Sustainability, Healthy Eating and Urban Living Influencing Gardening Trends

Feb 29, 2020 10:50AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

A framed vertical succulent garden. Photo by Karel Ulizio

The seed catalogs are arriving, and warm weather is right around the corner, which means gardening can’t be far behind. In fact, many gardeners are already starting seedlings or have never stopped gardening, maintaining houseplants and other indoor spaces with plants.

“If you have a houseplant, you are a gardener,” said Master Gardener Karel Ulizio, Penn State Allegheny County Extension. 

Lifestyle trends are translating into gardening this season, according to Ulizio, including the movement toward sustainability, healthy eating and urban living. Additionally, more and more studies are being released citing the benefits of nature. And what better way to enjoy the outdoors than digging in the earth?

“You can start with something as simple as succulents; they are easy to grow and take care of. Gardening feeds your soul, and this is an easy way to start,” Ulizio said. 

Vertical gardening has become very popular in the last few years and combines sustainability, healthy eating and the urban living movements. According to Ulizio, who often does presentations on the subject, vertical gardening is a method of gardening that utilizes various techniques that allow the plants to grow upward and vertically rather than along the ground. 

“The plant can be an edible, ornamental, or a combination of the two,” she said, adding that since the gardens are vertical, they are ideal for small areas common to urban living, such as patios or balconies.

And due to their very nature, vertical gardens lend themselves to repurposing. “There are so many items that can be repurposed into a vertical garden—wooden pallets, plastic containers—the list goes on and on,” Ulizio said. 

Common vertical garden frameworks include fences, window boxes, hanging baskets, raised beds and tomato cages. Vertical gardens are a good method to increase yield in a smaller area, plus they are less disease-prone because there is more circulation, Ulizio explained.  

“You can also plant earlier in the spring and continue later in the fall if the garden is on a wall because the microclimate created by a warm wall protects against killing frosts longer,” she said. 

With more young people choosing smaller living spaces and urban living, vertical gardens are perfect, growing up balcony walls or units on a small porch. They are also quite appealing to older gardeners.

“With vertical gardens, you don’t have to stoop down to work in your garden,” Ulizio said. 

Many gardeners like the idea of growing their own food so that they can control what goes on their plants and vegetables. Plus, vegetable growing is a great way to get children involved in gardening at an early age.

“They can see the whole process from start to finish and see their efforts come to fruition,” Ulizio said.

There are many gardening ideas available through a quick search on the Internet and more and more items are available to help you get started. “You can easily create a vertical garden for under $100,” Ulizio said. 

Sustainability comes to the forefront when it come to composting waste, especially when the byproduct can be used to fertilize the garden. 

“Again, it is a great way to control what is put on your plants. Growing your own food is really the only way to truly know what goes on it,” Ulizio said. 

While it might not be a trend, a concern for gardeners this season is the Spotted Lanternfly, a pest that may become a problem in western Pennsylvania.

“It has already become a big issue in the eastern part of the state. They can make life outside impossible and have the potential to be devastating to our region,” Ulizio said. 

For more information about vertical gardens, gardening questions and information about workshops and presentations by the Penn State Master Gardeners, visit or contact

Spotted Lanternfly a Potential Threat to Western PA Agricultural, Landscape Industries

The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive pest that has spread rapidly throughout the southeastern part of the state and may soon cause concerns here, according to Glen Bupp, Penn State Extension Master Gardener coordinator for Allegheny County.

The Lanternfly looks like a moth, but is a leafhopper that feeds on plants by inserting its long proboscis into wood and sucking out the nutrients.

“The insects can swarm, and heavy feeding can reduce tree vigor, destroy agricultural yields and become problematic to the homeowner,” Bupp said.

The fly’s excrement, called honey dew, contains a high amount of leftover sugar from the plant. “When populations are high, the honey dew covers everything under the plant like decks, roofs, cars and sidewalks. The surface becomes slippery and smelly, and will eventually grow black, sooty mold that can be difficult to remove,” said Bupp.

The Spotted Lanternfly poses a major impact to Pennsylvania’s grape tree fruit, hardwood, nursery, and landscape industry. While as of this date there are no established populations in Allegheny County, it is a real threat.

“An infestation could lead to a quarantine zone. With direct connection to southeastern Pennsylvania via the turnpike and railroads, we must be diligent in stopping this pest,” Bupp said.

Penn State Extension Master Gardeners will be hosting presentations on the Spotted Lanternfly in the area. For more information, visit or contact