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North Hills Monthly

Start the Season Right with Spring Gardening Tips

Mar 30, 2020 12:26PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Shadyside Nursery

Who doesn’t want a gorgeous yard and a beautiful garden? You’ve studied the seed catalogs and are dreaming about those wonderful plants growing in your yard. But do you really know what you’re doing?

One of the quickest ways to get discouraged and start hating your garden is to go too large, too fast.

“If you take on an unmanageable task, you are going to spend too much time trying to maintain your yard and garden, and not enjoy it. It will be much more enjoyable if you make it smaller,” said Bill Brittain, co-owner of Shadyside Nursery.

Before heading out the door to plant and prune, take stock of gardening tools to make sure that you have the proper tools and that they are in good shape.

“A good solid pair of sharp pruners is key; you want a strong, sturdy steel pair, something like Fiskars,” said Brittain. “You want to spend a little bit more because they will last you a good 15 to 20 years.”

A tree saw is handy to cut larger branches; a hand mattock (a tool that is shaped like a pickaxe) is also useful, and you need those good old standbys like rakes and shovels. And make sure your gardening tools are sharp. 

“You can use a whet stone or grinder to sharpen them; they will work so much better and it will be a lot less frustrating for you,” Brittain said.

Preparation is key before you start pruning. While spring is a great time to take care of this task, Brittain recommended doing a little research to make sure that you don’t cut too much, injuring the plant or destroying upcoming flowers and blossoms.

“You want to be cognizant of where the flowers come from,” he explained. “I always Google a plant before I start cutting it. I do it to be cautious; you can always cut more off later.”

You can also consult experts. “You can talk with an arborist to make sure it is a good time for that tree or plant to be pruned,” said Brittain. “With oak trees, for example, there is only one time of year to prune.” 

Spring is a good opportunity to rid your yard of all of the old leaves, twigs and branches that have fallen over the winter months, and old, dead flowerheads should be removed. It is also time to fertilize. 

“There are two types of yards—those that have been fertilized and those that have not. And you can tell the difference,” said Brittain. “Our soil is not that good in western Pennsylvania, and you really want to put a nutrient-rich, pelletized fertilizer on your grass and around your plants.” 

Having healthy plants and grass also helps prevent other pests such as aphids and spider mites that often attack weaker plants.

Researching what types of plants, trees and flowers typically grow well in your area also helps to ensure success. With the abundance of deer and other possible pests, ask experts at garden centers or seasoned gardeners which plants are resistant to these nuisances. 

“The deer in our area can be very difficult, but there are plants such as lilacs, butterfly bushes, forsythias and petunias that they don’t like,” said Brittain, adding that you can also plant behind fences. “It is heartbreaking to put all that work into planting to have it all destroyed.” 

If you’re hoping to get children interested in planting, there are a lot of fun options available, added Brittain. “Buy some little dollar plants like impatiens and put them in a small flowerpot in a protected area,” he said. “They are easy to grow, and kids will love them.”