In case you couldn’t tell by the thick layer of pollen you’ve been scrubbing off your car every other day, spring is officially here. The QC is already filled with beautiful blooms of every color and variety, which you can view at botanical hot spots like Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary and Charlotte Garden Club events.
But you don’t have to be a professional gardener to make your lawn into a gorgeous spring oasis. Follow these tips from the professionals to get your yard or garden into springtime shape (no green thumb required!)
Get inspired before you start planting
Looking at your empty flower beds and not sure where to begin? Call your friends who live further south, suggests Paul Freeman, chairman of the Charlotte Garden Club’s lecture committee and owner of Freeman Landscape Architecture.
“As the climate continues to change we should be looking South for plant inspiration,” Paul says. “It’s getting warmer everywhere. There are some plants that did well here 10 or 20 years ago, but now it’s getting too hot for them.”
If a plant is surviving and thriving in your southern pal’s perennial bed, it’s a good bet that same plant will do well here in Charlotte, Paul says.
Another great way to get a feel for what plants will flourish in your yard? Take a quick stroll around the block.
“Pay attention to your neighbors’ plants and see what’s there and what seems happy,” Paul says. “You’ll likely find there are palettes of common plants that are common for a reason: they do well with little to no care.”
Head to the nursery armed with info
Before you head to the nursery, you’ll also need detailed knowledge of the sun and shade schedule of your desired planting area — preferably throughout different times of the year.
And one note from Paul about buying plants: be open-minded and willing to buy from anywhere and everywhere.
“For example, the big box stores may get a bad rap, but you can find some interesting stuff if you look,” Paul says. His advice: find out what day the plant shipment arrives at the store and buy your plants then, before they’re picked over, overwatered and otherwise mishandled.
When selecting plants, you’d think something native to North Carolina would be a safe bet. But don’t let a plant’s native origin constrain you, Paul says. He plants flowers and shrubs from all over the place.
Paul just added Illicium paviflorum and Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’ to his personal garden.
“The illicium or Anise is a native evergreen and can be used like a Rhododendron (although minus the blooms) but it does have a scented leaf when crushed,” he says. “It seems it’s getting too hot for Rhodos and our native Dogwood. The pittosporum has a wonderful orange blossom fragrance. We’re using these in combination with a red maple to build a sound/privacy barrier along one side of our garden that is heavily trafficked.”
Jump into planting with both feet
When it’s time to plant, Paul says don’t get scared.
“People are intimidated by gardening for some reason, or they’re afraid to make a mistake. But that’s how you learn,” he says. “I always say, and it’s kind of a joke but not really, if you’re not killing plants, you’re not gardening. You have to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.”
Plant high in clay
If your shovel strikes red clay during the planting process, don’t despair. It’s not a death sentence for your well-laid gardening plans.
“Clay’s not as horrible as everyone thinks it is — you just have to get your plants up out of the wetness of it so they can breathe,” Paul says.
Prune your shrubs and deadhead your flowers
Perennials and flowering shrubs may add a burst of color to your yard, but neglecting maintenance can make your once-beautiful garden look overrun.
In Wing Haven’s most recent newsletter, multiple gardeners gave tips on pruning and deadheading.
“Prune azaleas and camellias right after they bloom,” said Andrea Sprott, the garden curator at the Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden. “You can tip-prune to shape them, or cut them back severely. Just remember if you cut back severely, be sure they stay hydrated when it gets hot.”
One of Wing Haven’s gardeners Damou Sako said pansies need to be deadheaded.
“Well-fed pansies produce a lot of flowers so remember to deadhead,” he said. “This helps pansies rebloom more quickly and keeps them looking tidy.”
The same goes for daffodils and tulips, according to the experts at Blackhawk Hardware.
However, they do recommend keeping the plants’ leaves around for at least six weeks to help bulbs restore energy for another beautiful bloom next year.
Enjoy your garden through the seasons
As spring turns to summer and summer fades into fall, your lawn and garden will need an ever-changing maintenance plan. Check out Blackhawk’s monthly to-do lists to stay on top of things and keep your plants healthy. Here are a few of their recomendations for April and May:
- Thin out cool-weather vegetables like carrots and lettuce to provide them with more light and growing space. If you’re wondering what to do with those baby greens, try munching them in a spring salad.
- Divide existing perennials and provide growing stakes to prevent bending and breaking of bigger stalks. Do the work now for a beautiful show later this year!
- Once the heat starts to set in and your spring annuals begin to droop, replace them with heat-resistant plants like Lantanas, zinnias, marigolds, and black-eyed Susans. Getting these summer-bloomers into the ground earlier will give them a chance to establish their root system before the scorching days of June and July begin.
- Plant warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, okra, squash and beans, and continue to harvest your winter and spring vegetables and herbs. It’s also salad season! Eat your lettuce while it’s tasty (before the Charlotte heat turns the leaves bitter).
Need more inspiration?
Later in spring, visit six private residential gardens in South Charlotte as part of the Charlotte Garden Club’s Art in the Garden tour on May 15 and 16. The gardens include a spectacular “forest bathing” oasis with a labyrinth and massive stone hive, impressive garden makeovers in the suburbs, and Charleston (plus Hawaiian) -inspired spaces for outdoor entertaining. You’ll also meet “en plein air” artists painting in each garden, plus representatives from Mecklenburg Master Gardeners, Soil3 and Stewart’s Village Gallery.
What are your favorite gardening tips for spring? Share them with us in the comments!