Our Horticulture Superintendent Shares Seven Spring Planting Tips
Let’s face it: It’s been a long, brutal winter. But spring will be here soon, and when it arrives, you’ll want to be ready to dig into your garden and flower beds again.
Forest Park Forever Horticulture Superintendent Roman Fox wants you to be ready, too. Many of the principles he and his team use to keep Forest Park looking its best can be applied to anyone’s home plantings.
I sat down with Fox on a recent miserable, slushy morning, and he shared these seven valuable tips that I can’t wait to put to work in my yard:
1. Be patient.
Though earlier is better when it comes to planting, this year’s wet winter means you’ll want to make sure the soil is dry enough before you start working in it.
“You can cause long-term damage to your soil if you start working in it when it’s too wet, though you may not see the effects for a long time,” Fox advises.
Fox says soil should not be wet to the touch. Soil should be moist, not wet.
2. Make way for the new.
If you’ve visited Forest Park in the winter, you may have noticed that seed heads and other ornamental features of the grasses are still intact. But they won’t be for long.
“We leave those parts of the plant in place for visual interest and for wildlife. We remove the dormant material before new growth begins emerging.” he says.
So, remove and compost any dormant plant material — as well as leaves and other debris — before warm spring weather arrives.
3. Mind your mulch.
Mulch helps retain moisture and suppress weed growth, and it really doesn’t matter what kind you use — it’s more important to watch where you put it.
“Ideally, you want a mulch bed that’s two inches or less deep,” Fox says. “You also need to avoid piling it up against a tree, where it can cause rot, and of course you don’t want to cover your plants with it.”
Fox notes that you also don’t need to remove all of last year’s mulch, as long as it hasn’t developed a crust that can keep moisture from getting through it.
“You can just turn it over and then add new mulch to get to that two-inch maximum,” he explains.
(Fun fact: most of the hardwood mulch used in Forest Park comes from a Central Missouri wine and whiskey barrel manufacturer!)
4. Yes, your soil can be too fertile!
Slow-growing plants that don’t require much energy, like many Mediterranean plants, actually prefer less fertile soil. It’s mainly the fast-growing ornamentals and vegetables that need super-rich soil.
“The most important thing to remember is to know your plants,” Fox says. “If you can’t tell what the plant needs from the tag or label, ask the people working in your nursery. They’ll be happy to help you.”
5. Don’t lose your edge.
Maintaining a sharply-defined edge around your bed doesn’t just look neat and orderly — it also keeps grass from infiltrating your carefully placed plantings.
“A nice edge creates an air-gap barrier that keeps grass from shooting its tendrils under the ground and into your garden,” says Fox.
In Forest Park, edges usually consist of a four to six-inch vertical cut that slopes upward into the bed. If you’re in doubt, go deeper rather than shallower.
“For example, if you’re using a brick border, put the bricks in end-to-end rather than laying them flat,” he says. “It will take more bricks, but it will be harder for grass to get into your garden.”
However, be mindful of tree roots. Do not sever tree roots when digging your edge.
6. Keep it up.
Keeping a bed in shape throughout the summer requires some diligence—though you don’t have to go crazy with it.
“There is no such thing as a no-maintenance garden,” Fox warns. “That said, you don’t have to spend all your time in the garden, or even check it every week. Just be aware of it and take care of problems as they arise.”
You should also pay attention to plants that don’t do well, as well as those that do. Is a plant’s failure due to a one-time incident, like being accidentally stepped on, or is it failing to perform year after year? The answer to that question can help you decided if you should revive or replace.
And of course, keep weeds at bay.
7. It bears repeating: Know your plants!
While some of Forest Park’s beds are formal, others are less formal — but Forest Park Forever’s horticulturalists work hard to make sure they know the plants and the growing conditions before anything goes in the ground.
“Of course, you have to know how much sun, shade and moisture your plants need or can tolerate, but you should also look around at the other elements of the landscape,” Fox says. “In the Park, we don’t want to cover a statue, for example. At home, you don’t want to plant something in front of your new porch that’s going to hide it in five or ten years.”
Also, as perennials begin to grow, they may benefit from being divided. But don’t do it too quickly—plants need to be in growth mode to do well after being divided. Again, do your research and know what your plants need to thrive.
“The bottom line is, you can do things now to help your plants all summer,” Fox says. “What we do now — in the Park or at your home — will help later in the year.”