This week I went to Bartlett’s Greenhouses & Florist to get the dirt on spring gardening. In the interest of full disclosure, my uncle is part owner - which is how I got the inside track.
Now, Italians are known for having green thumbs. My dad’s father, Poppy, had the best vegetable garden in town. My mom’s dad, Grandpa, had a rose garden. My Aunt Jan can make ANYTHING grow beautifully - me? My husband calls me the plant killer. Sigh. He exaggerates; but only a little. I have some hearty house plants that have survived with me, but I can’t seem to get the veggies and herb to do real well. Currently I’m blaming it on the backyard. But here’s what I learned from Nancy Bartlett, designer and owner of Bartlett's
First off, you’ve got to prep your dirt. If you’re planting in the ground itself, add some lime, peat and even a fresh layer of top soil. Churn it all up good so you’ve got several inches of soft dirt. If you see cracks in the top of the soil, it means the Ph is low - add some more lime.
If you’re potting in plants (shout out to my patio growers!) same thing; prep your pots and dirt. Especially if you’re re-using from last year.
In north Jersey, and the northeast in general, you want to wait until AFTER Mother’s Day - or May 15th thereabouts. This should pretty much guarantee you won’t catch a late season frost, destroying your brand new plants. Though it HAS happened so watch the forecast for a week or two.
Once your dirt is ready, and the calendar is in the right spot - head to your local garden center. I say the local one because those plants were likely grown nearby. I’m a big fan of local food, even when you’re growing your own. So check the neighborhood greenhouse out, or at the very least, ask where the plants were started. If you’re gonna grow Jersey tomatoes - they best be from Jersey! Look for plants that are lush and green and overall look healthy. There’s no appropriate size for an herb plant. When you bring them home, you’ll want to transplant them within a week or two to a bigger pot. Nancy suggests getting several of your most frequently used herbs, like basil and parsley, and planting them together so you have a large container of what you’ll use the most of. The others can get their own pots, or share a large planter. They’ll all play nice together. Water the plants well, and feed them either every 3-4 weeks OR if you get a daily system, every day. Herbs need about 4-6 hours of sunlight daily, the veggies will need more. After all, those plants are working a LOT harder!
Another tip for basil, and coriander in particular, if they start to flower, trim those parts off. All plants flower, that’s how they make seeds, but if your herb plants flower, it changes the taste and texture of the herbs.
Now, go grab that mint plant and let’s make some mojito’s! Summer is right around the corner! Happy gardening and buon appetito!